Thursday, 28 October 2010

Turn but a stone

OK, let's see if I can explain this thought coherently; I'm fluey and word-deprived.

My poem-obsession of this week - the one that's taken up residence in my brain and started chattering away in the empty spaces between proper thoughts - is Francis Thompson's 'The Kingdom of God'. Especially this bit:

The angels keep their ancient places;–
Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ‘tis your estranged faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.
But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry;– and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.
Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry;– clinging Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water
Not of Gennesareth, but Thames!

Good advice - at least, it's working for me. I haven't seen any angels, but... well, something close. Anyway, today is the feast of St Simon and St Jude, two apostles about whom real information is hard to come by. Everyone knows St Jude, patron saint of hopeless causes (what is it about that which so attracts the imagination?), but St Simon is even more obscure than his obscure companion. The Catholic Encyclopedia entry on him notes what little information there is.

One of the less credible legends about him claims he was martyred at Caistor, in Lincolnshire. By 'less credible' I mean 'absurd'. I'm sure this is a real legend because the internet says so, but I can't find a citation which explains where it might have been recorded; however, it sounds medieval, so I'm going with that. This is what an online history of Caistor says:

"Simon Zelotes was one of the original twelve disciples of Christ. His first visit to Britain was reportedly in the year 44 A.D. during the Claudian War. Evidently his stay was short at this time and he returned to the continent.

In 60 A.D. Simon was recruited by Joseph of Arimathea in Gaul at the beginning of the Boudicean War. Simon arrived in Britain during the first year of the Boudicean War (60 A.D.) when the whole island was convulsed in a deep, burning anger against the Romans.

It is recorded that Simon was unusually bold and fearless, as his name implies. In spite of the turmoil seething through Britain during the Boudicean War, Simon openly defied the Edict of Paulinus, and the brutal Catus Decianus, to destroy anything and anyone Christian.

Simon decided to conduct his work in the eastern part of the Island. This section of Britain was the most sparsely inhabited by the native Britons and consequently more heavily populated by the Romans. He was far beyond the strong protective shield of the Silurian arms in the south and the powerful northern Yorkshire Celts. In this dangerous territory Simon Zelotes was definitely on his own...The evangelizing mission of Simon was short-lived. He was finally arrested under the orders of Catus Decianus. As usual his trial was a mockery. He was condemned to death and was crucified by the Romans at Caistor, Lincolnshire, and buried there on 10 May, 61 A.D."

This is nonsense, of course, but in the light of Francis Thompson and medieval imagination, which I've written about before (and it's complete coincidence that that post also mentions Caistor, perhaps the only two occasions in my life I've given any thought to the place): anyway, in that light, I have to praise a religious mind which can conceive of apostles martyred, not in Edessa, but the Fens.

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