By The Ven David Gunn-Johnson
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
I am so privileged! With the support of a long-suffering wife and an indulgent Dean I am able to spend time in Salamanca, that is when contagion and its constraints permit. It is a lovely place. The buildings are marvellous and some of the parapets were once described to me as “Lacework in stone”. The Salmantinos are justly proud of their two Cathedrals, the old and the new conjoined and they seem equally at home with the traditional and the modern. Is this the only Cathedral to have an astronaut carved among the figures?
I was invited to lunch with the monks of the Carmelite monastery just a few moments away from my lodgings. Father Ruiz is the uncle of a friend who introduced me to the Father Prior who extended a warm invitation. The interlacing of relationships at work! The hospitality was splendid, even to the monks encouraging Father Prior to feed and ‘water’ me over and above their normal meal! One of the monks, who is also a professor at the University, asked, “Why Salamanca? What is it about this place that brings you here time and again?”
I had to think for a moment but the answer was and still is, “The people”. This produced a roar of laughter from one side of the table because on that side they were all Salmantinos and all assumed that I meant them rather than the others. I had no idea.
Later on I was showing another group of friends photographs of our Cathedral and some of the events both liturgical and secular that take place there. Now the people there are very like the people here. They love their Cathedrals (plural) but many seldom visit. They were absolutely bowled over by the images of Exeter Cathedral, the choir singing, the celebration of the Eucharist, the concerts. Again the question was posed, “Why, when you have all that do you come here? Your Cathedral, the green countryside, the autumn colours, the rain (I think that last bit was meant to be ironic). Again the answer was, “The people”.
Then I came home again and, glad to be here, came into the Cathedral to be greeted by the warmest of smiles and a handshake from a dear friend, with the words. “It’s good to have you back”. That smile and handshake, for me, set the Cathedral aglow. It is all about the people.
Be it the city that is Exeter or that which is Salamanca, be it the Cathedrals of Salamanca or of Exeter and be the architecture never so wonderful, what makes them as they are now is “The people”. People of this generation certainly but also people all through the centuries who have lived and worshipped in their communities.
To our Cathedral, for generations, folk have brought their joys and sorrows, their doubt and belief, their hopes and fears: these are all soaked into the stonework and make it what it is for us. We do the same and by what we do here, by how we treat people here, we make our own mark which will soak invisibly and indelibly both into the stone and into the hearts of those around us.
Our beloved Queen Elizabeth died while I was in Salamanca. My friends all watched the live broadcasts avidly. When they arrived for the service in Windsor Castle the chapel was described as “Capella Ardiente”, the glowing chapel. “Why glowing?” I asked. The conjectural response was, “Well, your Queen brought a glow to people’s live when she was alive, why would she stop now?”
Shall we make our Cathedral glow? Or shall we darken it with shadows? We need to remember that whatever we do in this place, it touches lives now and lives yet to be.