Wednesday, December 01, 2004

London Day 7

A month after the trip and I'm finally finishing my intinerary... Here's the last day:

To balance out my experience with the H.T.B. Anglicans, I needed a good dose of English Catholicism - available at Westminster Cathedral (not to be confused with the Anglican Westminster Abbey). Unlike the Brompton Oratory which I found a bit dreary, this expression of English Catholicism was hopping, especially for a weekday mass... in Latin. Moreover the mass was held in the Chapel of St. George and the English Martrys. While digging for a new railroad in France they unearthed a graveyard, in which happened to lie one of the Jesuit missionaries who had been martyred in his attempte to minister to England when Catholicism was illegal. (Somehow they got his body back to Jesuit H.Q. in France, and now it's back in England.) Check out his silver face. That must have made going undercover as a Jesuit quite difficult. Not to mention the taunts of classmates during those difficult Middle School years.

More DAY 7
After a quick stop off at James Gibbs' St. Martin in the Fields (most American Churchs are built on the Wren/Gibbs model), it was off to the British Library for another culture binge. Here is an abridged list of what I saw:

1. A forged letter from "Jakob Richter" requesting permission from Russia to study at the British Library. The actual author was Lenin. It worked.

2. Manuscript copies (as in hand written by the authors) of the Halleluia Chorus, Beethoven, and (full stop... now resuming list with new category of accomplishment) John Lennon. They have headphones so you can listen to the music while reading. The Chorus actully made me weep. Of all the analogies to describe what the Bible is, the Bible as musical score is my favorite. The Bible is just the notes on the page - lifeless on their own, but waiting to be lived out in preaching, in the arts, or in the well-lived Christian life.

3. And speaking of the Bible, the British Library has Tischendorf's famous manuscripts. If you don't know the story of the Tischendorf discoveries... It's very interesting. They had them open to some interesting passages: One was open to a copy of the Gospel of Mark without the last chapter, one to a copy with the last chapter. Some biblical scholars refer to the ending of Mark as superfluous because the earliest manuscripts don't contain it. Whatever your opinion may be regarding this scribal variation, without that controversial chapter we would be without a significant episode in the life of St. Francis. If it wasn't for the verse in Mark 16:15 "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation," then Francis would never have preached to the birds. By the way - I'm not just being funny. That verse really is the reason that Francis did what he did. For visual aids, take your pick: Classic (Giotto) Contemporary (Spencer) or Kitsch (No artist from what I can tell will take the blame).

Incidentally, the reason this manuscript variation is such a big deal is quite simple: It's one of the only major ones. WIth just a quick glance at all the New Testament fragments at the Library, seeing how well they correspond to the Bible today should be evidence to anyone that, whether you believe in the message or not, the Bible is quite reliable indeed.

3. The earliest Beowulf manuscript. Like the Elgin marbles in the British Museum, Beowulf is important because it was read as an allegory for the English rising from wild barbarism to civilization.

4. Jane Eyre manuscript. Favorite line: After the minister asks at a wedding whether there is a reason why the couple should not be joined together, one character says "I declare the existence of an impediment."

5. William Butler Yeats manuscripts, read while I listened to his musical Irish voice recite his work. Man that guy was Irish.

6. The real Magna Carta!

7. Lindisfarne Gospels... but as pointed out by Far Country Tell, now electronically accessible.