Not for the first time I return to T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets where he writes: ‘Here, the intersection of the timeless moment/Is England and nowhere. Never and always.’
I think of it as I look at a postcard of the Galilee Chapel in Durham Cathedral. Mrs Llew and I first encountered it in 1986. There was (is) something numinous about it. It had clearly spoken to our daughter, who introduced us to it.
And then I walk in my mind – again with Mrs Llew – along a road across marshlands in West Wales, where we discovered the ruin of an ancient manor, overgrown by brambles and shrubs, hidden in the woods – and where, further on, we turned off the road and into a green dell where the Church of St Lawrence, Gumfreston, has stood since the 12th Century.
At the foot of the slope three holy springs bubble to the surface, a place of devotions probably for as long as the church has been there.
Finally I’m back in London, in the Church of St Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield, founded by the man who also founded the nearby hospital of the same name.
I think of the tradition that (I quote from a website) ‘For everyone who being converted and penitent shall pray in this place shall be heard in heaven, or, seeking with a perfect heart help from any tribulation, without doubt shall obtain it’.
What a contrast there is here, in the hope and healing of the hospital and church, with the nearby sites where Protestant martyrs were burned at the stake, William Wallace was executed, and only a boundary throw south stood Newgate prison and its public gallows – and where the Old Bailey stands today.
Fifty years ago I was aware, not of the neighbouring darkness, but only of the church and its Lady Chapel which I often visited in my lunch hour and with me, in my mind, the future Mrs Llew, whom I had only recently met. I have a battered black and white postcard of the Lady Chapel
On my way to the church I bought my lunchtime sandwich at Hart’s Corner, a butcher’s shop and café at which my father, more than 40 years earlier had collected old boxes to take home to his mother in Clerkenwell for firewood.
As I’ve mentioned before, Mrs Llew and I merrily whiled away the evenings of that summer with our friends in the Fleet Street pubs while the printing presses thundered all around.
And we took time to buy our engagement ring. In nearby Hatton Garden of course. Where else?