An Archbishop, Archaology and Ancient Poems

I realise the above is a rather odd title for a blog post, but this is Books, Films and Random Lunacy after all. Bare with me, dear reader, as I tell the story of the day I met the former Archbishop of Canterbury and wrote my first official piece of journalism in the process…

For the last couple of years I’ve been a part of my local ‘Write on! Young Writers’ Group,’ a scheme which is run by Writing West Midlands, a wonderful charity organisation that encourages and supports creative writing in my region. The ‘Write On! Young Writers’ Groups’ are held throughout the West Midlands and each workshop takes place in a venue where the members can find artistic inspiration. Our group meets at Polesworth Abbey, a house of worship located in Warwickshire.

Fr. Philip Wells (the Abbey’s official) and Writing West Midlands’ own William Gallagher, recently held an event to commemorate the work of local poet John Donne and the Abbey’s rich history with the former Archbishop Lord Rowan Williams as the guest speaker.

As the evening’s journalist, I had the very interesting and intriguing experience of covering the event, as well as interviewing its participants, including Lord Rowan himself.

Check out my article on ‘John Donne Day 2015’ below    

An Evening at Polesworth Abbey: April 15th 2015

An Archbishop, Archaeology and Ancient Poems

On Wednesday the 15th April, 2015, I had the pleasure of attending an evening of entertainment and celebration at Polesworth Abbey.

The event was held to honour the Abbey’s four-hundred year plus connection with the poet John Donne on his national day.

This historic link was first brought about by friendship, as Donne wrote the poem Good Friday (Riding Westwards) in 1613 for his good friend Henry Goodere. A Polesworth local who then lived in Polesworth Hall, which has since been renovated into the Abbey’s Gatehouse.

To celebrate this historic association, Father Philip Wells of the Abbey called upon the services of writer William Gallagher and the pupils of the local Nethersole Academy to create a show for the good people of Polesworth and also to welcome the former Archbishop of Canterbury: Lord Rowan Williams to the parish.

On arrival, the evening’s audience were treated to the first leg of an historical performance. They were guided on a tour of the Abbey by a trio of hermits, played enthusiastically by the Nethersole students. The people witnessed an energetic and amusing show as they went from room to room, being deliberately and comically hurried onto the next sight.

The first stop on this whirlwind tour was to the refectory where three more students read out some 21st century interpretations of a missing page from a centuries-old book of prayers. This religious tome was written by an actual hermit who once inhabited the Abbey walls.

The delightfully creative and silly pieces of writing read out were composed by children both from the school and the Young Writers’ Group which is held in the Abbey. They were funny, poetic and displayed great imagination.

From there, the visitors were hurried into the church where they saw a number of pupils re-enacting an archaeological dig; a great source of pride among the parish. The kids played the roles of the archaeologists whilst their teacher interviewed them as a BBC correspondent.

Then to the last chapter of the Hermits’ tour in which the audience saw two young men recite John Donne poetry. They read their way through the old English text with skill and projected the language in a manner which Donne himself would have been proud of.

The performances of all the children in this moving production were a joy, each cast-member from the hurrying hermits to the poetry readers and archaeologists did an excellent job and set the tone for the evening ahead.

From there, Fr Phillip took to the stage, delivering a powerful recital of John Donne’s Good Friday (Riding Westwards,) acting out the lines with vigour and passion as his congregation looked on. Fr Phillip went on to talk about the Abbey’s connection with the great poet, speaking about Donne’s work; the importance of heritage and its remnants within us.

He then made a massive announcement, saying that the radiocarbon dating from the latest archaeological dig revealed the Abbey was more than a hundred years older than previously thought. Making the building’s past even richer, finding layers of history that were formerly undiscovered.

Then the jubilant Father introduced the former Archbishop Lord Rowan Williams to the stage. A renowned scholar and poet in his own right, Lord Williams spoke eloquently of the universe’s many contradictions and the way in which poets, writers and artists tap into them. He also noted that mankind is full of contradictions and the world itself is not perfect or without faults. The Lord Williams’ deeply inspiring speech continued as he dissected John Donne’s Riding Westwards poem.

Written on Good Friday 1613, the piece talks about the agony of Christ’s crucifixion, not only for Jesus himself but the people watching. The poem’s rich verses tell of the writer riding west to avoid the pain of seeing Christ upon the cross.

Lord Williams’ musings on this poem were deeply insightful, examining the true power of words, uncovering metaphors of humanity and religion in the 16th century verse.

As Lord Williams left the stage to powerful applause, Fr Philip returned to thank everyone involved in the event. As the joyous  congregation tucked into wine and nibbles, Lord Williams graciously joined them to pose for pictures and signed autographs.

A triumphant end to a successful evening.

Polesworth Abbey is not merely a place of faith, but a piece of architecture that embodies a thousand memories of centuries past.

It is a house of worship and heritage with love at its heart.


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