Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A martyr, a sinner, a saint

Hello God.

The other week you introduced me to St Bartholomew the martyr and this week it was St Edmund. He appears to be next in line in my whistle stop tour of the saints... There are some big guns up in heaven, aren't there?

Some people who gave their lives because of you. St Edmund (so the story goes; only your good self will know the truth of it) was tied to a tree and a group of narky Danish bowmen shot arrows at him until he was dead. And all because he wouldn't renounce you.


Once again I say it; what an easy little life I have. I can pretty much guarantee that no-one is going to tie me to a tree and shoot arrows at me. As far as I know.

Of course, little is known about St Edmund other than that he was the King of East Anglia for a time and his demise was probably around 870AD. He loved you. He is now known as Edmund the Martyr and when I was on holiday on the Suffolk coast last week we went to the Parish Church of St Edmund, Southwold to have a look round.

What a lovely church it is. Huge and airy with a beautiful vaulted ceiling and treasures. There would have been more treasures but for a very unpleasant man who was known as William 'Basher' Dowsing in 1644. Mr Dowsing turns out to have been an iconoclast; a man whose job it was to remove all 'Monuments of Superstition or Idolatry' as specified in some ordinance or other by people who weren't on your list of friends.

I'm no historian.  I just checked that on Google but I imagine you remember it well.

How did it go down with you when some thug came in and smashed all the stained glass and snapped little statuettes off the pillars and scribbled on the faces of the saints with a knife? Were you tempted to do something horrible to him?  Lightning? Plague? Maybe you did? she says, hopefully...)  I can't imagine how awful to watch the church that I love being vandalised. It must have been terrible. Alternatively, does it not bother you half so much to watch the glass and stone and paintings and things being desecrated as it does to watch people turn away from you?  Perhaps you grieved less over the destruction than the man who was the destroyer.

There's only one surviving stained glass window thanks to the aforementioned and from the outside it gives the church a slightly strange, blank look, but on the positive side when you get in it's a gloriously light and airy space. Even with pillars down both sides the nave is wide and spacious-feeling and the sun lights it up beautifully. Every cloud...

As we went in the building a nice lady handed me a laminated sheet of paper that told me about the church and gave me a bit of a guided tour. They even had a table with games and puzzles for the children as well, for which I blessed them more than they'll know. We've looked round enough churches and monuments with the girls cantering round with shouts and squeals to know that it doesn't always make us particularly welcome visitors and my musings are usually cut short because of the lack of games and puzzles.

I love looking round other churches. I always sit somewhere and imagine what it would be like to sing here; to listen to a sermon and to meet with you; because you are there as well as with us in our church and in the market place and on the beach.  I imagine the sun behind the stained glass on a rainy day and I look at the inscriptions on the walls. Here was a memorial to a Mr Thomas Nunn. For some reason it really moved me. It said, 'Thomas Nunn, gentleman'.

To the memory of Thomas Nunn, Gentleman; 
who lived in Hope 
and died with the glorious Expectation 
of a joyfull Resurrection 
through JESUS CHRIST. 
He was an affectionate Husband, 
a tender Parent, a sincere Friend 
and a good Man. 
And exchanged this mortal 
for an Immortal Life
 on 27th September 1762, 
aged 76 years.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, give or take a few months, Mr Nunn passed away and someone engraved this for him. Last week I stood at the very front of the church and looked to my left and there Mr Nunn's memorial was high on the wall. There was a little connection between me and a man who lived long ago and maybe one day when we're all with you I'll be able to find him and say to Mr Nunn; I loved your memorial. What a way to live and what a way to die. Can there be a better epitaph than this? An affectionate husband, a tender parent, a sincere friend, a good man. Changed this duff life for a far, far better one on 27 September 1762 and there he is with you now where he wanted to be, singing your praises and feeling the warmth of your presence still in the very beginning of his eternity. Waiting for us all to join you.

Your family stretches down through the ages.  I love knowing that in this church on a Sunday in the morning and the evening a group of people I don't know are meeting to sing praises to you and to learn about you and who live for you just as we are doing the same at our church here at home. A family even though we are miles apart and don't know each other. I love it that a man who lived and died miles away, years away, touched my life for a few minutes last week.

I'm talking about Thomas Nunn, not so much William Dowsing.

I don't know what old Basher Dowsing did with his life and how he faced whatever sort of death he had but I wonder if he ever stopped to consider what it was that inspired people to kneel before the cross before he ripped it down and smashed it? I wonder if he ever doubted himself. Did he? Did you ever ask him what he thought he was doing?  You did something amazing with St Paul on the road to Damascus - did you send a vision to Mr D as well?  Or maybe we'd have heard about it if you had. There's nothing on Google.

Well, that's it for now.

I just wanted to pass on my appreciation for another lovely church and the kind ladies that thought to put out some entertainment for the children so that we could have a wander round and soak up a little bit of your presence while on holiday. Thankyou for the bit of history that I learned about, thankyou that some beautiful objects did survive William Dowsing's rampage and thankyou for Thomas Nunn, whose faith is still making an impression two hundred and fifty years after his death.

Rest in peace with Jesus, Mr Nunn.  See you one day.

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