Canterbury Tales - Salisbury

Torch of The Faith News on Saturday 31 August 2013 - 16:16:59 | by admin

Salisbury Cathedral is a truly magnificent construction, having the tallest church spire and largest cloister in the UK. The oldest still-working mechanical clock in the world is also housed here, together with the best surviving example of the 4 original copies of Magna Carta, signed in 1215 AD.
The cloisters are a cool and sheltered place to stroll in the heat of a summer day and to access good vantage points up to the soaring spire. If you look close enough below, you will see Angie waving through one of the elegant arches on the opposite side of the cloistered garden!
For all that, we found it hard to pray at Salisbury. In the town we noticed clear evidence of the occult, whilst the cathedral had the feel of a vast themed public attraction, with hordes of bustling tourists. Even when the 'Our Father' was recited, during a minute of quiet-time each hour, the crowds continued to chatter and move about; in the other places on our journey, we had noticed that most people observed a respectful stillness. We also found the East End Trinity Chapel to be a shadow of its former glory; its modern confusion of coloured glass and the American-cityscape design emblazoned on the fabric altar-frontal caused the chattering stream of sightseers to miss three key elements from the days of Christendom.

These remain, unobstrusive and unobserved by many contemporary passers-by. The first of these is this touching, 14th Century, wooden statue of the Blessed Virgin and Child. We prayed before Her for the intentions of our pilgrimage. 

The other two items relate to the former shrine of St. Osmund; the lid from his coffin and the tomb-base of his shrine which was dismantled at the Reformation. It is worth noting the foramina, or apertures, along the side of this tomb, as they express something of Catholic spirituality and sensibility.
The Catholic Faith strongly affirms the goodness of the created world, the dignity of the human person and the profound unity of the body and soul.

The Catholic practice of preserving saints' relics relates both to the fact that the body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit and that the soul of the saint is already in Heaven. By honouring the relics of saints we honour the saint and, more than that, we worship God Who gave them the grace of Holiness.

The openings in a tomb, such as that above - and as illustrated in the stained-glass at St. Thomas Becket's tomb in Canterbury - allow the pilgrim to get as close as possible to the saint and to touch the blessed tomb with their own hand, head, lips or ailing limbs. This expresses a very deep union with God and His saints in Heaven and the pilgrims on earth; the union of Head and members in one Body, in one family. In the Catholic Church, because God became man in Jesus Christ, then Heaven and Earth can be united. Such truths are also expressed in the soaring vaults of the cathedral which sweep down to the ground via graceful arches and sturdy pillars.

Catholicism is not merely a cerebral assent to conceptual formulas but a living organic faith which engages all the facets of the human person, including their body, senses, immortal soul and the powers of memory, intellect and will. It is a belief system which holds as true that things/matter/events can be made holy and can bear grace to human beings.

St. Osmund, Bishop of Sarum from 1078 - 1099, was a living witness to this practical faith in his own times.

Bishop Osmund, nephew of William the Conqueror, was famed for his sanctity and love of chastity; which preserves love from aggression and selfishness. He compiled the Use of Sarum which unified liturgical expression throughout the land. In 1086, Osmund was present when the Domesday Book was accepted by the great landowners who swore fealty to the sovereign. He built up a quality cathedral library; even helping to transcribe and bind new books himself. In these acts we observe again those hallmarks of Christendom; the unification of the sacred and the secular; the private and the public; the faithfulness to God and to man.

When Osmund died his bones were buried in a shrine at his cathedral at Old Sarum. This cathedral was demolished and his bones translated to the present one, a couple of miles away at Salisbury, which was then being constructed around 1220 AD. He was canonized in 1456. The floorplan at Old Sarum is clearly marked on the ground and we enjoyed driving out there and praying at the former site of the High Altar in the old church.

Old Sarum is rich in history. This area was originally the site of an Iron-Age hill fort. Later, the Romans used this as an outpost and they were followed by Saxons who developed a small town here. In the 11th Century, William the Conqueror used Old Sarum as a base and the Normans developed the area further - with a castle used by King Henry I and a cathedral and palace for Bishop Osmund - prior to the move to the present location at Salisbury. We've wanted to visit here for years and were able to spend a pleasant hour or so walking around the remains of the motte, from the motte and bailey castle, and looking back towards the needle-like spire of Salisbury in the distance.
St. Osmund - Pray for us!