I didn't actually find it very easy, that February morning, even to get into the Cathedral. As so commonly nowadays, there were people guarding the way in; their expressions that elusive combination of Welcome and We Want Your Money. The usual large notice explained how much it cost, by the minute, to keep the Cathedral open. But I had twenty eight years experience of little boys inviting me to 'sponsor' them. The thing to do is to look apoplectic; the best way I know of doing this is surreptitiously to chafe ones face. This makes it go red. Wide-open eyes complete the effect. I swept in past the obstacles, unpestered and unrobbed. You can guess what I had come to revisit: in the North aisle ... just past the Chantry Chapel of Bishop ffoliott ... there it was. A simple monument designed and executed in good taste. The broken column; the stark words "My beloved wife!" And, round at the side, unobtrusive, the name Westmacott ... it must have been just about the last monument he carved. Pedants among you may calculate that it was a posthumous work.
But there had been one change since last I stood on that spot remembering the comedies and tragedies in which a great lady had played so large a part. Beside her monument, there was now a simple modern altar, with two lit candles upon it. Then I remembered: the Common Worship Calendar of the Church of England, 2000, had included her, with the simple description Priscilla Proudie, Educationalist and Worker for Women's Rights. And today was her 'feast' day. I moved out of the way just in time to avoid the sharp end of a verge: the Dean's Verger was clearing the way for Mrs Dean herself, the Very Reverend 'Danny' Danvers. I took up a retiring position beside the inconspicuous slab commemorating Mr Septimus Harding, and watched her liturgical style. Very decent; much more "Catholic" than that of most of the Roman Catholic clergy I had seen liturgising during that grim fifteen months when they were trying to keep me out of the Catholic Priesthood. Not quite Staggers, but very probably Cuddesdon. And nothing polyester about her chasuble. Of course, I knew a bit about Danny ... tipped, you know, to be one of the first Women Bishops. And she'll undoubtedly be far and away a better bishop than any of her Brethren (probably end up alterius orbis papissa in sede stercorata Cantuariensi). The quality of the Bench of Bishops is nowadays so abysmally low in the Church of England; not surprising, really, considering what the job has become. (It's the same with regard to headmasterships in Public Schools: nobody who's any good wants the job any more so it goes to failed Deputy Heads, a sad and saddening class of men.) The first women bishops will be outstanding, although the second batch will probably show signs of reversion to mediocritas haudquaquam aurea. (Within a decade, the women appointees will be every bit as ghastly as the men. No? A modest wager? Ten guineas?)
You've no idea how satisfactory it is to be now in Full Uncommunion with the remnants of the Anglican ecclesial experiment. It no longer matters to me if they have women in their ministry, any more that it matters that the Baptists should do so. What a wearisome old wrangle all that was! And, every year, new evidence is provided that "the vivifying principle of truth, the shadow of St Peter, the grace of the Redeemer, [has] left it". People ask if one misses the C of E. What? The "House of Bondage"? Not for a minute. But I'll tell you what I do miss: the Church I was formed by. Mascall hurrying down the Cornmarket and the baroque splendours of the ball-room at Nashdom and the Farrers amid the flashy horrors of Keble; Hope Patten presiding at Walsingham and my confessor and director John Hooper ensconced for hours in his confessional in Mags just behind Our Lady of Joy, dog across his feet. And, perhaps best of all, simply going into a country church at the end of a muddy lane
And there on the south aisle altar
Is the tabernacle of God.
There where the white light flickers
By the white and silver veil,
A wafer dipped in a wine-drop
Is the Presence the Angels hail,
Is God who created the Heavens
And the wide green marsh as well,
Who sings in the sky with the skylark
Who calls in the evening bell,
Is God who prepared His coming
With fruit of the earth for his food,
With stone for building his churches
And trees for making his rood.
There where the white light flickers
Our Creator is with us yet ...
But fulsere vere candidi nobis soles ... quod vidimus perisse perditum ducimus ... Fuit Lesbia.
I slipped out, unobserved, with no moist eye, after the reading (the last chapter of Proverbs; I had forgotten how truly biblical Mrs Proudie was) and made my way to lunch with a Staggers contemporary, Fr Colin Spikenard - now a brother priest in God's Own Ordinariate - and his wife Jill. There was news we had to share with each other. And I could do with a gin.
This is a very occasional series. But you will, DV, get to know some time what I learned over lunch.