'Twas the week before Christmas, and all through God's house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse...'
Over the weekend I was up in Staffordshire and Derbyshire with my cousin, hoping for a little light church-crawling (the weather having ruled out most other options). However, as things turned out, not one of our target churches was open. All were locked and lifeless, with no indication of where to get a key and little sign that anyone had ever thought to enter - and these were not little out-of-the-way churches in remote and isolated spots; all were in fair-sized villages, one (Morley) is among Derbyshire's finest medieval churches, and two (Uttoxeter, Ilkeston) were big and interesting town-centre churches. All locked, all lifeless - and this in the weekend before Christmas, the last of Advent. The contrast with the teeming crowds in the shopping centres could hardly be more pointed, or more dispiriting.
Still, the glorious cathedral-like St Oswald's in Ashbourne was open and alive, with visitors wandering at large, the twilight interior illuminated by dozens of Christmas trees, and a small-scale devotional service under way. And, next day in Derby, the cathedral too was open - a vast and gorgeous Georgian box attached to a mighty medieval tower. A grand collection of opulent 17th- and 18th-century memorials (and coffin plates) here, all firmly Classical, with barely a Christian symbol to be seen - no continuity with Nazareth, only with Imperial Rome and Periclean Athens...
'Pride was the source of that refusal, and the remembrance of it was painful. A few years ago, I desired to atone for this fault; I went to Uttoxeter in very bad weather, and stood for a considerable time bareheaded in the rain, on the spot where my father’s stall used to stand. In contrition I stood, and I hope the penance was expiatory.'