Shampoo and Worship Centres

We have just spent a few days in the South – Midlands, then Yorkshire, seeing lots and lots of old friends. One of whom, whom we were staying with, had something very odd in her bathroom – a sachet which contained, it said, ‘Plain Shampoo for Normal Hair’. Well, there’s a thing. It has apparently been an inescapable aspect of hairwashing for the last decade that you, the punter, are left to decide between Yak-Milk and Ylang-Ylang Shampoo for Seriously Stressed hair, and Brazilian Fever-Tree Shampoo for Hair With Learning Difficulties, I mean, the whole thing can take hours if you let it.
Anyway, further along the road, staying with other hospitable folk in the Yorkshire Dales, the Northern Professor went to church. In a long, low, millstone grit building with a squat, square tower. A proper Yorkshire church, in other words – it might as well be sporting a blue plaque saying ‘Anne Brontë Caught Consumption Here’ (we were only about ten miles from Haworth). Our friend, the one with whom he went, that is, was saying that the Vicar was talking largely about creating a ‘Worship Centre’, and holding up as an example, the not too distant church of Great Mitton. We had trouble with the idea of a Worship Centre. It somehow suggested that having lowered your knees onto a purple hassock embroidered with Alpha and Omega and composed your mind to godliness, you would discover that your religion had been outsourced to Pondicherry and that, having been played ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ for forty-five minutes, you would find yourself connected to a courteous Hindu who has been impeccably trained to answer one of six questions, none of which yours, in fact, was; who would end this fruitless encounter by telling you to have a nice day. As it happened, later that day we went to Great Mitton. This was because in the 17th century, a tough and extremely Catholic lady called Isabel Shirebourne created a sequence of monuments for her family which clearly convey a message: summable up with the words ‘Reformation? What Reformation?’ The Shirebournes are, as far as we can see, the last people in England to be represented on tombchests with their legs crossed, like Crusaders, before the Gothic Revival of the Victorian period. This was all very interesting, as were other family monuments: one put up by the last survivor commemorated her cousin and, apparently, lover: ‘he was with his brother in the Preston affair 1715 whear he lost his Fortune with his health by a long confinement in prison’. Um, the ‘Preston Affair’ is more usually referred to as the First Jacobite Rising, i.e., high treason. The element of taking English history and reconfiguring it from a Catholic perspective was quite remarkable. But I haven’t got around to the Worship Centre. Oh, boy. There may be those who think that the House of the Lord ought to look like a second-rank Trust House Forte hotel, but I’m not sure who they might be. The principle seemed to be to have taken everything out which would take, lay hideous carpet, put a smoked glass screen in front of the belltower with engraved crowns zooming about on it as if in Harry Potter, and install a coffee machine. Basically I think the notion was to create a ‘milling about taking photos’ area for weddings and baptisms. It was hideous, and served simply to blur any possible distinction between having your wedding in church or in a hotel. I could see a steely glint forming in the eye of our host, churchwarden that he is; I think the vicar of St John’s may be in for a tough time.
After that we went to Stonyhurst, where the Northen Professor had business. When the Shirebournes died out, shortly after that funny business at Preston, they gifted Stonyhurst to the Jesuits, and it’s now a school. But it has a wonderful museum/library, whence we were bound. While the NP was head-down transcribing manuscripts, I had a look around. The notion of a public-school museum is fairly eclectic. There were musk-ox horns, a stuffed lion’s head, snakes in formalin, the odd fossil, well, much as you’d expect. But over the bookcases (in just the way that the 17th century worthies are deployed in the Upper Reading Room of the Bodleian) are portraits of all the Inca Kings, there’s a fine Mexican crucifix hanging casually in a corner in which Christ has visibly turned into the Maize God, the skull of St Thomas Cantilupe sits casually on top of a cabinet wrapped in a bit of cloth, there are reliquaries, deathmasks, bits of Chinese art, a stray Buddha, a model of the Holy Sepulchre made out of mother-of-pearl … and that’s just the tat. There are manuscripts of the great English Jesuits, St Robert Southwell, St Edmund Campion and so forth, and some very rare books. If all did ‘ave their rights, as they say in Warwickshire, they ought to have the Stonyhurst Gospels, currently in the British Library, which is the oldest book in the country to be preserved still in its original binding – it came out of the tomb of St Cuthbert. And, naturally, they have a tremendous collection of vestments: another Helena Wyntour cope had turned up. She was another Catholic gentlewoman of the 17th century, who spent her entire fortune making vestments of silk, gold and pearls, to the rage and despair of her relatives. There is a significant case for treating her as the most important woman artist of the English seventeenth century, they are absolutely extraordinary. Meanwhile, there we were in the Trough of Bowland, a weirdly secretive part of the country, in this dark limestone prodigy-house of the sixteenth century with the wind howling round and rain falling in sheets: we felt on the whole that fascinating though it was to visit, we were glad that we were not facing being banged up there for seven years. Though at one point we were all turfed out for a fire-drill, and I have to say that the collection of juvenile Catholics of all colours and both sexes who poured out of the grim portals looked as if they were on the whole having a nice time.

5 Responses to “Shampoo and Worship Centres”

  1. a scholar Says:

    I think you’ll find that where you use the word “cope” a moment’s reflection should have supplied the more accurate “chasuble”, also I think if you were to look more carefully at a map you will find that you have confused the Trough of Bowland with the Forest of Bowland. At one point your syntax is not wholly clear: are you attempting to imply that your husband attended a service in a Protestant church? One can only assume that he did so from mixed motives, the desire to sneer at the paucity of worshippers most probably chief among them.

  2. arnold Says:

    An’ if Cuddy ‘ad ‘is reets, as they say on Tyneside, the Stonyhurst Gospel would be in Durham Cathedral, where we have just celebrated the 900th anniversary of the translation of St Cuthbert’s relics.

    I am told that hideous modern furnishings may not be entirely unknown even in the churches of the Roman obedience. Can you confirm this?

  3. Jon Says:

    The great thing in prospect about Worship Centres is that they will all be built on tick (i.e. Gordon Brown’s PFI). This means that you’ll get in Jarvis to build the thing, and after 30 years you’ll find out that it was financed by the scientologists, to whom ownership now reverts.

  4. an unconfident poster Says:

    Sorry to use the Deep North space for a comment about partner site RS but I have noticed that there have been no comments for the rogue semiotician for the whole of September. I did in fact post a comment just the other day but it was not displayed. I thought perhaps it had been rejected as too low brow but maybe it was a victim of poor technology.

    I enjoy reading the comments section of these blogs so if there is a problem I hope it can be remedied.

  5. Eddy Says:

    St Andrew’s, Kildwick - not St John’s.


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