'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

On A Mission

To St Begh's in Whitehaven on a hot Sunday morning - as roady for La V's daughter who was harping her way through the 300th anniversary celebrations of the Benedictine mission to West Cumbria. Those present included most of respectable Irish working class West Cumbria, at least one bishop, and more abbots than you could shake a thurible at. La V was much affected by the occasion, this being the church at which her family worshipped when she was a child. The homily, delivered by one of the abbatial party, suggested that they were playing a long game: preparations seemed to be already underway for the mission's 600th anniversary. What struck me most forcefully - in between some unfortunate remarks about how you just don't seem to get pious women these days - was a glimpse of a sort of alternative history of Cumbria, congruent with but quite different from the version in which I grew up. The Mission sees itself as the lineal successor - with an unfortunate intermission of two centuries - of the Benedictine Abbey of St Bees, expropriated by the state in the 1530s and whose wreckage was reconstituted a generation later as the school for good Elizabethan protestant young gentlemen which I attended and whose own history is just as selectively cherished. Contemporary history got a less enthusiastic welcome: the major competition facing the mission these days was clearly neither the Established nor the Dissenting Church, but shopping and football. I'd never really thought of the Premiere League and Retail Therapy as the lineal descendants of innovation, modernism, Freemasonry and communism, but the Abbot may well have a point . . .


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