Tag Archives: Religion

Scrap Book Project – A Story for Easter

This is the story of Mary Jones from my Bible Studies exercise book when I was about six years old.

Mary Jones was from a poor family who lived at the foot of the Cader Idris mountains in the village of Llanfihangel-y-pennant near Dolgellau in wales.  She was born  into a family of devout Methodists and she herself professed the Christian faith at eight years of age.

Having learned to read in the circulating schools organised by a man called Thomas Charles it became her ambition to possess a Bible but there was no copy on sale nearer than Bala – twenty-five miles away. Having saved for six years until she had enough money to pay for a copy the story goes that she started out one morning in 1800 and walked barefoot all the way to obtain a copy from the Reverend Charles who was the only man with Bibles for sale in the entire area.

According to one version of the story Thomas Charles told her that all of the copies which he had received were sold or already spoken for and Mary was so distraught that Charles spared her one of the copies already promised to another.  In another version, she had to wait two days for a supply of Bibles to arrive, and was able to purchase a copy for herself and two other copies for members of her family.

According to tradition, it was the impression that this visit by Mary Jones left upon him that impelled Charles to propose to the Council of the Religious Tract Society the formation of a Society to supply Wales with Bibles.

Her Bible is now kept at the British and Foreign Bible Society’s Archives in Cambridge University Library. It is a copy of the 1799 edition of the Welsh Bible, ten thousand copies of which were printed at Oxford for the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge.

How much of the story is true will probably never be known.  However, Thomas Charles undoubtedly used the story to persuade the Religious Tract Society to establish a new organisation, the British and Foreign Bible Society.  This came into existence in 1804 and over the next two hundred years years distributed thousands of Bibles to people across the world.

The society – often known simply as The Bible Society – still distributes Bibles to places like India and Africa and is an ecumenical and non-sectarian organisation and the story of Mary Jones and her determination to own a Bible was central to its creation, its continuing ethos and to its work.

mary Jones Bible

_____________________________________________

Related Articles:

Hillmorton Chapel and St John The Baptist Church, Hillmorton

Childhood and Religion

Picture Stories From The Bible

The Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000

Scrap Book Project – Hillmorton Chapel and St. John The Babtist Church

Wesley Road Chapel Hillmorton

When I was a boy I used to like stories from the Bible and  although a lot of the learning bits about going to school I found thoroughly uninteresting and a bit of a chore I did enjoy religious education and especially used to look forward to morning assembly when once a week the Minister from the Methodist Chapel, the Reverend Brian Keene, nearby used to attend and tell a story or two in a short sermon.

Some of my school reports from this time revealed quite stunning results in religious education and at the same time as I was without fail picking up a disappointing sequence of Ds and Es for the important subjects like arithmetic and English I was consistently being awarded As and Bs in religion.  In 1963 I scored an unbeatable 100% in the end of year exams.

Strictly speaking we were a Church of England family but the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist in Hillmorton was in a sorry state of neglect and significant disrepair on account of the fact that the Vicar had little interest in his parish or his congregation because he preferred his drink.  People use to say that you always knew when he was coming because the beer bottles used to rattle in the whicker basket that he had attached to the handlebars of his bike.   He didn’t hold many services in the Church, well, certainly not as many as he was supposed to, and there was definitely no Sunday school.

For this reason I was sent to the Methodist Chapel where the Reverend Keene and the Sunday school teacher Christine Herrington made us feel most welcome.  I liked the Reverend Keene, he was down to earth and amusing and later he used to come to secondary school to teach religious studies and take a weekly assembly there as well.  I remember that he smiled permanently and had a most pleasant disposition that was appropriate to a minister of the church.  One morning in 1969 without any warning the Headmaster announced at morning assembly that following an operation he had died suddenly and I was really sad about that.

I don’t suppose so many children go to Sunday school any more but I used to really enjoy it.  The origin of the Sunday school is attributed to the philanthropist and author Hannah More who opened the first one in 1789 in Cheddar in Somerset and for the next two hundred years parents right across the country must have been grateful to her for getting the kids out of the way on a Sunday morning and giving them some peace and quiet and a chance of a lie in.

In contrast to the Hillmorton County Junior School I seemed to be learning something at Chapel and what’s more I was being really successful.  Every year we used to take an exam, well, more of a little test really, and if you passed there was a colourful certificate with a picture of Jesus and signed by absolutely everyone who was anyone in the Methodist Church hierarchy.  I was awarded a first class pass three years running and even though the school headmaster had written me of as an educational no-hoper I wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned because I was becoming convinced that I was going to be a vicar.

The Wesley Road Chapel is a place with fond memories and I was disappointed and sad when I discovered last year that it no longer functions as a church and was to be demolished and the land sold for housing development and another little piece of my childhood will be swept away by the wrecking ball and the bulldozer.

I had heard it said that people went into the clergy after getting a calling from God and I used to lie awake at night straining out listening for it.  It never came.  I also understood that it might alternatively come as a sign and I used to walk around looking for anything unusual but this never happened either.

One night, some time in 1966, I think God dialed a wrong number and got dad instead because overnight he suddenly got religion in a very big way and we all started going to St John the Baptist which by now had got a new vicar.  His name was Peter Bennett and he was starting to deal with the problems left behind by the previous man who had retired somewhere into an alcoholic stupor.

At twelve years old I was too old for Sunday school and went to church now instead, I was confirmed in 1967 and joined first Pathfinders and then the Christian Youth Fellowship Association or CYFA for short which was (and still is) a national Christian youth club.  The good thing about CYFA was that I got to go away to youth conferences and camps and there were lots of girls there too.

Left to right – Reverend Peter Bennett, ?, Heather Salisbury, Elizabeth Salisbury, ?, Andrew Petcher, Katherine Bennett, ?.

I auditioned for the choir with my friend David Newman but whilst he was accepted on account of the fact that he had a good singing voice I was rejected on account of being tone deaf but to compensate for this disappointment the Vicar appointed me a server which meant that instead of choir boy blue I got to wear a scarlet cassock and had the important job of carrying the cross down the aisle at the beginning of evensong and putting the candles out at the end.

In 1969 there was a new face at the church when the Vicar got a Curate, a sort of assistant, called Haydn Smart and I liked him immediately. He was only about thirty and brought a new youthful dimension to St. John’s.  With Haydn as a role model I became even more convinced that I was destined to a life in Holy Orders.

Reverend Haydn Smart Hillmorton

None of this could last of course and with no sign of the calling, and with dad’s religious fervour waning, my attention began to drift off in other directions such as pop music, girls and woodpecker cider and gradually I just stopped going to Church and to CYFA, left the bell ringing group and all of my scripture exam certificates were put away in an envelope in the family memory box and simply forgotten.

Footnote:

In 2012 I visited the city of Padova in Northern Italy and dropped in to the Basilica of Saint Anthony (A Basilica is technically a double Cathedral because it has two naves) and inside there was a pile of postcards in different languages with an invitation to write to the Saint with a request.  I assume this could be like writing to Jim’ll Fix It Father Christmas or to ask for a cure for a gammy leg or something but I thought that I might use the opportunity to enquire why that elusive call never came?

__________________________________________________

Related Articles:

Mary Jones’ Bible

Hillmorton Chapel and St John The Baptist Church, Hillmorton

Childhood and Religion

Picture Stories From The Bible

The Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000

_________________________________________________

Scrap Book Project – Picture Stories From The Bible

When I was a boy I used to like bible stories and when I was quite young my parents gave me an impressively substantial ‘Picture Stories From The Bible’.  It had a burgundy cover with its title in gold letters and inside it contained water colour comic strip style stories of the scriptures.  God was depicted as a booming voice from heaven, angels would swoop about in the sky and occasionally descend to earth to give helpful advice and deliver messages and the stories were full of sagely old men with kind faces, white beards and flowing robes.

I read the stories over and over again, for me some of the best were David and the slaying of Goliath, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea and then, there was Samson who used his tremendous strength to defeat his enemies and perform other heroic feats such as wrestling a lion, killing an entire army with nothing more than a donkey’s jawbone, and tearing down an entire building with his bare hands.

At the time my favourite was always the story of Noah and his Ark and I can remember being slightly sceptical to read that he allegedly lived until he was nine hundred and fifty which even at seven years old seemed a bit far-fetched to me.  Adam, the first man, did nearly as well but only lived until he was nine hundred and thirty.  My favourite story about Noah now however, is not the Ark, but the fact that after the great flood he settled down and became a farmer, experimented by planting some vines and invented wine.  We should all be eternally grateful to him for that!

At school too I always enjoyed bible stories and to illustrate this I have come across an old drawing that dad kept for many years in his scrapbook.  This was my early attempt to create a pictorial record of the feeding of the five thousand and it always amused him because he always wondered where the other four thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine people were!  Please try and remember that I drew this picture nearly fifty years ago so I have absolutely no explanation to offer as to why it has failed so miserably to capture the scale of the event and why there is only one person in it.

Actually, as it happens, there were a lot more than five thousand because this didn’t include the women and the children.  Possibly the person in the picture is Jesus himself and the crowd is behind me listening attentively, or perhaps I was just being meticulous and concentrating on producing a perfect picture, or maybe it was the end of the day, the school bell rang and I simply ran out of time but I am afraid I will just never know.

The feeding of the five thousand was always one of my favourite bible stories and it is also one of the most important and the only one of the miracle stories, apart from the resurrection that is (which is the most important of all), that is recorded in all of the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  These days there is obviously a lot of scientific and theological debate about the miracles and I don’t know if they were true or not but as a child I recall that these were ripping good yarns.

This one goes something like this.  It had been a difficult week.  Jesus had been having a bad hair day, and I think I have captured that nicely in my picture.  He had been pretty annoyed when he learned the bad news that his friend and spiritual mentor John the Baptist had been executed by King Herod the day before for criticizing him for his wedding arrangements (thank goodness we live in more enlightened times) and he felt the need to have some time alone, so he wandered out of the town of Bethsaida, which was near the Sea of Galilee and went to a quiet place he knew next to the River Jordon.

A real problem for Jesus was that he was very popular because he was known as a great prophet and deliverer of miracles so people pestered him a lot and followed him wherever he went and it was hard for him to get quality time to himself.  On this occasion, as usual, the crowd followed him out of town and in their rush they forgot to stop by at the corner shop on the way out and pick up a sandwich or whatever for later on.

Jesus stayed out all day moping around and as it was getting dark the disciples started to get concerned and came to him and suggested that he send the people back home because they didn’t have enough food to feed them if they all spent the night out in the wilderness.  It’s quite likely that they didn’t want to be stuck out here all night themselves in the wilderness and probably had thoughts about a glass of wine or two at the local inn.  Jesus had other ideas and gave the disciples a challenge and said  ‘they need not depart, give ye them to eat’.

I can imagine that the disciples thought this was a huge joke but Jesus just told them to see what food was available.  Luckily they came across a boy who for some reason had a basket containing five loaves of bread and two fishes, he was probably planning on having a b-b-q later or something and making a shekel or two, but the disciples quickly confiscated it and gave it to Jesus.  No one knows how the boy felt about this, it’s quiet possible that he wasn’t especially pleased to have his groceries appropriated in this way.

The disciples gave the food to Jesus who must have felt like a contestant on “Ready Steady Cook”.  Imagine him looking expectantly through the bag of today’s ingredients and trying to figure out what on earth he was going to do to feed all the hungry mouths.  What are you going to cook for us today chef? They might have asked.  What can you do with bread and fish?  Unless you are Rick Stein of course!  What Jesus did, and this is where he is brilliant, is that he took the food, probably added a bit of wild asparagus or whatever else was available, blessed it and broke it up and multiplied it many times so that there was more than enough to go round.  It was a miracle on a grand scale.  Even without a b-b-q he managed to feed everyone, the five thousand men and all the women and children and afterwards he had twelve baskets full of leftovers for the beggars and the birds.  Brilliant!

I’m afraid that I have to concede that my humble picture has really failed quite miserably to capture the huge scale of the event …

__________________________________________________

Other posts about Religion:

Mary Jones’ Bible

Hillmorton Chapel and St John The Baptist Church, Hillmorton

Childhood and Religion

Picture Stories From The Bible

The Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000

__________________________________________________

Mary Jones’ Bible

This is the story of Mary Jones from my Bible Studies exercise book when I was about six years old.

Mary Jones was from a poor family who lived at the foot of the Cader Idris mountains in the village of Llanfihangel-y-pennant near Dolgellau.  She was born on 16th December 1784 into a family of devout Methodists and she herself professed the Christian faith at eight years of age.

Having learned to read in the circulating schools organised by a man called Thomas Charles it became her ambition to possess a Bible but there was no copy on sale nearer than Bala – twenty-five miles away. Having saved for six years until she had enough money to pay for a copy she started out one morning in 1800 and walked barefoot all the way to obtain a copy from the Rev. Charles, the only man with Bibles for sale in the entire area.

According to one version of the story Thomas Charles told her that all of the copies which he had received were sold or already spoken for and Mary was so distraught that Charles spared her one of the copies already promised to another.  In another version, she had to wait two days for a supply of Bibles to arrive, and was able to purchase a copy for herself and two other copies for members of her family.

According to tradition, it was the impression that this visit by Mary Jones left upon him that impelled Charles to propose to the Council of the Religious Tract Society the formation of a Society to supply Wales with Bibles.

Her Bible is now kept at the British and Foreign Bible Society’s Archives in Cambridge University Library. It is a copy of the 1799 edition of the Welsh Bible, ten thousand copies of which were printed at Oxford for the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge.

How much of the story is true will probably never be known. However, Thomas Charles undoubtedly used the story to persuade the Religious Tract Society to establish a new organisation, the British and Foreign Bible Society. This came into existence in 1804 and over the next two hundred years years distributed thousands of Bibles to people across the world.

The society – often known simply as The Bible Society – still distributes Bibles to places like India and Africa and is an ecumenical and non-sectarian organisation and the story of Mary Jones and her determination to own a Bible was central to its creation, its continuing ethos and to its work.

mary Jones Bible

_____________________________________________

Related Articles:

Hillmorton Chapel and St John The Baptist Church, Hillmorton

Childhood and Religion

Picture Stories From The Bible

The Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000

Rome, The Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica

“From the dome of St. Peter’s one can see every notable object in Rome… He can see a panorama that is varied, extensive, beautiful to the eye, and more illustrious in history than any other in Europe.”                                                          Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad

By mid afternoon when we crossed the River Tiber over the Ponte Sant’ Angelo like time travellers we had completed the ancient, the medieval, and the modern and now it was time for the religious.  Rome is the most important holy city in Christendom and St Peter’s Basilica at the heart of the Vatican City is the headquarters of the Catholic Church and is a place where some of the most important decisions in the history of Europe and the World have been made over the centuries.  (A Basilica by the way is a sort of double Cathedral because it has two naves).

The route took us past the Castel Sant’ Angelo, which was the Pope’s ‘safe house’ in times of danger and into the busy square outside the Basilica where a long queue of people seemed to snake forever around the perimeter waiting for their turn to go inside.  We joined the back of it and were pleased to find that it shuffled quite quickly towards the main doors and soon we were inside the biggest and the tallest church in the world that has room for sixty-thousand worshippers at one sitting and even Micky overcame his usual reluctance to visit the inside of a religious building and joined us.  It was busy inside but not uncomfortable and we soaked up the atmosphere as we passed by chapels with precious holy relics, the tombs of dead Popes and rooms with glass cases full of religious artefacts.

 

Outside we saw the Swiss Guards in their striking medieval uniforms of blue, red and yellow and the Vatican post office doing a brisk trade in post marking letters and postcards.

The Vatican is the third smallest state in Europe after Monaco and San Marino and its status is guaranteed by the Lateran Treaty of 1929 when Church and State, who had been squabbling since Italian unification, finally thrashed out a compromise deal that was marked by the building of a new road the Via della Conciliazione which, I have to say, to me seems rather sterile and lacking any real character.  It is expensive however and from a street side stall we bought the dearest water I have ever had at €4 for a small bottle.  We weren’t going to fall for that again so later on Kim refilled it from a public fountain by the side of the road.

The Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II took us back over the River Tiber and not unsurprisingly onto the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II which leads inevitably to the Vittorio Emanuele monument at the other end.  As it stretched out in front of us there was about a kilometre and a half to walk and all of a sudden my itinerary looked for the first time to be overly ambitious.  We had seen everything that we had planned to see but now there was a long walk back to the train station and everyone was hot and tired.

 

This long road is flanked with Palaces and Churches and Piazzas but our feet and legs were leached by the effort and aching and it was desperately hot so all we wanted was a bar and a cold drink even if it did cost another eye-watering €25 for five drinks.  We found a place about half way along the road and stopped for half an hour to rest and recover in the comfort of an air-conditioned bar and yes, sure enough it cost us €25.

Holy Baptism

I was baptised on 14th November 1954. Being only five months old at the time I don’t recall a great deal about the occasion but I do remember attending a christening on the island of Ios in Greece in September 2009.

We had walked to a tiny beach we like and on the way back as we passed a church some preparations being made for a baptism and the building and all around it were being decorated in pink and white in readiness.  We enquired about the event and the lady in charge invited us to return at eight o’clock that night to see the ceremony and we agreed that we would.

We put on our best clothes and later we returned to the church to see the baptism ceremony of the little girl into the Christian Orthodox Church.  This is a major event in the life of any Greek family because of the numerous rites which accompany it, many of which go back to the earliest centuries of Christianity.

It was a lovely experience and now this holiday we had seen a funeral on Serifos, a wedding on Sifnos and a baptism on Ios.  A Greek baptism is a sacred and religious rite that is performed on a baby to cleanse the soul and renounce Satan.  It is a complex initiation that starts with an exorcism and officially ends forty days later when the baby is presented to the congregation to receive Holy Communion.

We weren’t able to stop for the full forty days and we began to feel a bit like intruders on a private family event so before it was all over we left the church and selected a taverna where we enjoyed another satisfying meal and a jug of red wine before returning to Homer’s Inn Hotel for a final drink on the balcony.

Santiago de Compostella and the Way of St James

Sir Walter Raleigh wrote:

Give me my scallop shell of quiet;
My staff of faith to walk upon;
My scrip of joy, immortal diet;
My bottle of salvation;
My gown of glory (hope’s true gage);
And then I’ll take my pilgrimage.

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the autonomous region of Galicia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is located in the most northwest region of Spain in the Province of A Coruña and it was the European City of Culture for the year 2000.

I didn’t know this but after Jerusalem and Rome it is the third most holy city in Christendom and the cathedral is the destination today, as it has been throughout history, of the important 9th  century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James.  Santiago is such an important pilgrimage destination because it is considered the burial site of the apostle, James the Great and legend holds that St. James’s remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where they were buried on the site of what is now the city.

People continue to take the Pilgrim trail and there were many here today who could be identified by the pilgrim staff and the symbol of the scallop shell.   The shell is the traditional symbol of the pilgrimage because the grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes that pilgrims travelled, all eventually arriving at a single destination.  It is also symbolic of the pilgrim because just as the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela.

There was certainly no mistaking that this is a very holy city indeed and the route to the Cathedral was lined with churches, monasteries and seminaries and finally we emerged into the central square, the Praza de Obradoiro, where the Cathedral, which is depicted on Spanish eurocent coins, loomed high above in a most spectacular and impressive way.  Inside, the Cathedral is nearly a hundred metres long and over twenty metres high and is the largest Romanesque church in Spain as well as being one of the biggest in Europe.

We walked for a while through the ancient streets and through a quaint little green open space and then our thoughts turned to food so we returned to the city and upon our recommendation, from our previous visit, went to the Restaurante de Buen Pulpo for a tapas lunch.  Disappointingly there were no sardines that we had told everyone about, but we chose instead calamari, clams, Galician cod, tortilla and salad and some Estrella Galicia of course.   The food was reasonably priced and tasted divine and afterwards we left the little restaurant and continued to explore some more of the old city and after a couple of hours I felt confident enough to declare to myself that this one of the nicest places that I have ever visited.

Because of its Celtic roots Galicia doesn’t have sombreros or flamenco or even bull fighting and in a side street adjacent to the cathedral there was a man squeezing the life out of some bagpipes that sounded as though he was castrating an extremely uncooperative cat.  It was excruciatingly painful so we moved on and walked around the streets for a second time.  It is an interesting fact that Galicia has a culture, which is both unique and distinct from the rest of Spain, and the core of this difference is centred upon Galicia’s identity as a Celtic, rather than a Latin or Hispanic sub nation.  Galicia along with Andalusia, Catalonia and the Basque Country are acknowledged as independent historical nationalities under the Spanish Constitution and as a consequence enjoy special rights and privileges.

We made a second circuit of the ancient city and this was when we became of the hypnotic appeal of retail outlets for the girls.  There was a full range of shops from expensive boutiques to cheap market stalls but all of them just drew them in by a sort of invisible tractor beam.  They didn’t need anything or even want anything, they weren’t going to buy anything but they just couldn’t help being sucked in to jewelers or shoe shops just to take a look around.  That is the difference between men and women and shops, women browse and men are purposeful and the two styles are completely irreconcilable.

After a final drink in Santiago de Compostella at a terrace garden bar we returned to the car park and drove with great expectation the twenty kilometres along the Autopista del Atlantico back to Pontescures and the Hotel Corona de Galicia.  Upon arrival it seemed that (surprise, surprise) the bathroom problem had been rectified and we checked into our rooms on the fourth floor.

Religion, Hillmorton Chapel and St John The Baptist Church

When I was a boy I used to like stories from the Bible and  although a lot of the learning bits about going to school I found thoroughly uninteresting and a bit of a chore I did enjoy religious education and especially used to look forward to morning assembly when once a week the Minister from the Methodist Chapel nearby used to attend and tell a story or two in a children’s sermon.

Some of my school reports from this time revealed quite stunning results in religious education and at the same time as I was without fail picking up a disappointing sequence of Ds and Es for the important subjects like arithmetic and English I was consistently being awarded As and Bs in religion.  In 1963 I scored an unbeatable 100% in the end of year exams.

Strictly speaking we were a Church of England family but the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist in Hillmorton was in a sorry state of neglect and significant disrepair on account of the fact that the Vicar had little interest in his parish or his congregation because he preferred his drink.  People use to say that you always knew when he was coming because the beer bottles used to rattle in the whicker basket that he had attached to the handlebars of his bike.   He didn’t hold many services in the Church, well, certainly not as many as he was supposed to, and there was definitely no Sunday school.

For this reason I was sent to the Methodist Chapel where the Reverend Keene and the Sunday school teacher Christine Herrington made us feel most welcome.  I liked the Reverend Keene, he was down to earth and amusing and later he used to come to secondary school to teach religious studies and take a weekly assembly there as well.  I remember that he smiled permanently and had a most pleasant disposition that was appropriate to a minister of the church.  One morning in 1969 without any warning the Headmaster announced at morning assembly that following an operation he had died suddenly and I was really sad about that.

I don’t suppose so many children go to Sunday school any more but I used to really enjoy it.  The origin of the Sunday school is attributed to the philanthropist and author Hannah More who opened the first one in 1789 in Cheddar in Somerset and for the next two hundred years parents right across the country must have been grateful to her for getting the kids out of the way on a Sunday morning and giving them some peace and quiet and a chance of a lie in.

In contrast to the Hillmorton County Junior School I seemed to be learning something at Chapel and what’s more I was being really successful.  Every year we used to take an exam, well, more of a little test really, and if you passed there was a colourful certificate with a picture of Jesus and signed by absolutely everyone who was anyone in the Methodist Church hierarchy.  I was awarded a first class pass three years running and even though the school headmaster had written me of as an educational no-hoper I wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned because I was becoming convinced that I was going to be a vicar.

I must have inherited this from my mother…

001

I had heard it said that people went into the clergy after getting a calling from God and I used to lie awake at night straining out listening for it.  It never came.  I also understood that it might alternatively come as a sign and I used to walk around looking for anything unusual but this never happened either.

One night, some time in 1966, I think God dialed a wrong number and got dad instead because overnight he suddenly got religion in a very big way and we all started going to St John the Baptist which by now had got a new vicar.  His name was Peter Bennett and he was starting to deal with the problems left behind by the previous man who had retired somewhere into an alcoholic stupor.  At twelve years old I was too old for Sunday school and went to church now instead, I was confirmed in 1967 and joined first Pathfinders and then the Christian Youth Fellowship Association or CYFA for short which was (and still is) a national Christian youth club.  The good thing about CYFA was that I got to go away to youth conferences and camps and there were lots of girls there too.

I auditioned for the choir but was rejected on account of being tone deaf but to compensate for this disappointment the Vicar appointed me a server which meant that I got to wear a scarlet cassock and had the important job of carrying the cross down the aisle at the beginning of evensong and putting the candles out at the end.

None of this could last of course and with no sign of the calling, and with dad’s religious fervour waning, my attention began to drift off in other directions such as pop music, girls and woodpecker cider and gradually I just stopped going to Church and to CYFA, left the bell ringing group and all of my scripture exam certificates were put away in an envelope in the family memory box and simply got forgotten.

In 2012 I visited the city of Padova in Northern Italy and dropped in to the Basilica of Saint Anthony (A Basilica is technically a double Cathedral because it has two naves) and inside there was a pile of postcards in different languages with an invitation to write to the Saint with a request.  I assume this could be like writing to Jim’ll Fix It Father Christmas or to ask for a cure for a gammy leg or something but I thought that I might use the opportunity to enquire why that elusive call never came?

Craggy Island Parochial House

__________________________________________________

Related Articles:

Mary Jones’ Bible

Hillmorton Chapel and St John The Baptist Church, Hillmorton

Childhood and Religion

Picture Stories From The Bible

The Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000

_________________________________________________

Bosnia and Herzegovina

In the early 1990s the state of Yugoslavia started to disintegrate and a declaration of Bosnia and Herzegovina sovereignty in October 1991 was followed by a referendum for independence in February and March 1992. The turnout in the independence referendum was 63.4 per cent and 99.7 per cent of voters voted for independence.  Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence on 3rd March.  There was a lot of unhappiness, genocide, ethnic cleansing and war to come but eventually I had an opportunity to visit the country in 2008.

We set off from Podstana in Croatia and the first part of the drive wasn’t as dramatic as the road from Šibenik to Split the day before and shortly we arrived in the busy town of Omiš where there was another opportunity to head inland through the mountains towards the Bosnian border at Imotski but I ignored that and stuck to my original stubborn plan.  The views didn’t improve a great deal as we drove through redundant shipyards and derelict industrial areas south of the town but eventually we left these behind and reached a sign declaring that we were now on the Dalmatian Riviera. 

I was taking it steady as usual and making frequent stops at laybys with scenic views to admire the scenery and  let the line of traffic building up behind me pass by.  It was about eleven o’clock and we were about half way to Mostar so as we were making good progress we made more stops whenever a photo opportunity presented itself.

At this part of the coast there is an interesting diplomatic arrangement at the town of Neum which is the only seaside town in Bosnia and occupies about twenty kilometres of coastline that splits Croatia in two and which requires driving through border controls at both ends, which quite frankly is a bit of a pain in the arse for traffic travelling to and from Dubrovnik.  The two countries are currently in negotiations about the establishment of a ‘privileged economic zone’ for Bosnian businesses within the port of Ploče to give Bosnia an economic supply line from the sea, though this is hindered by the opposition of Croatian people to the concept of a partial loss of sovereignty. In exchange Croatia would like easier passage through the narrow strip of Bosnian territory near Neum but this is opposed by the Bosnian people.  The Croatian solution is simple and they have just begun construction of a three thousand metre long bridge that will cross to the Peljesac peninsular and solve the problem by bypassing Bosnia altogether and not surprisingly the Bosnian Government doesn’t like this. 

 

I mention this because just at the point that I should have been turning left for the border town of Metković the road was closed because of the construction work and we were directed towards a detour that was sign posted Dubrovnik and Mostar.  We only had a very basic map so it was difficult to say with any degree of accuracy where this detour would take us but there was no alternative but to follow it along with all of the other bemused drivers.  The road conditions had been slowly deteriorating as we drove further south but now things went from bad to worse and this was a road that was completely unsuitable for the volume of traffic that it was now taking or the size of the lorries and the buses who were all competing for inadequate space.  We were on full pothole alert now as we negotiated our way around this thirty kilometre diversion that completely destroyed my estimated timings.

Finally the never-ending detour through the mountain passes came to an end and we reached the border crossing and passed into the sovereign state of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  When I studied European history at University I was always intrigued by this mouthful of a name because it sounded different and intriguing.  And it was!  There was a straight road that ran adjacent to the fast flowing Naretva River that was swollen from the melt waters of the snow-capped mountains that we could see in the distance.  Surprisingly the road surface was much improved from that in southern Croatia but the condition of the houses and buildings in the villages en route did not.  Every village we passed through had evidence of war damage with the scars of machine gun and mortar fire and houses with roofs that had collapsed under a direct hit from a shell.  We stopped at the picturesque town of Pocitelj that has a western castle and an eastern mosque and picturesque bars and houses that had clearly been restored.  We didn’t stop long because we didn’t have any Bosnian Marks and the street vendors selling fruit were a bit too persistent.

Although we were in Europe this felt like a different place altogether and being predominantly Muslim it felt as though we had crossed into Asia.  It was about sixty kilometres to Mostar and when we arrived there it was a total shock.  We drove past bombed out and abandoned buildings and parked the car in what looked a precarious spot next to magnificent old buildings that had been completely destroyed during the war of 1992 to 1993.  Walking around I was struck that this is what most of Europe must have looked like after the Second-World-War and it was sad and a very sobering experience.

To be continued…

A Year in a Life – 16th December, Mary Jones’ Bible

This is the story of Mary Jones from my Bible Studies exercise book when I was about six years old.

Mary Jones was from a poor family who lived at the foot of the Cader Idris mountains in the village of Llanfihangel-y-pennant near Dolgellau. She was born on 16th December 1784 into a family of devout Methodists and she herself professed the Christian faith at eight years of age.  Having learned to read in the circulating schools organised by a man called Thomas Charles it became her ambition to possess a Bible but there was no copy on sale nearer than Bala – twenty-five miles away. Having saved for six years until she had enough money to pay for a copy she started out one morning in 1800 and walked barefoot all the way to obtain a copy from the Rev. Charles, the only man with Bibles for sale in the entire area.

According to one version of the story Thomas Charles told her that all of the copies which he had received were sold or already spoken for and Mary was so distraught that Charles spared her one of the copies already promised to another.  In another version, she had to wait two days for a supply of Bibles to arrive, and was able to purchase a copy for herself and two other copies for members of her family. According to tradition, it was the impression that this visit by Mary Jones left upon him that impelled Charles to propose to the Council of the Religious Tract Society the formation of a Society to supply Wales with Bibles.

Her Bible is now kept at the British and Foreign Bible Society’s Archives in Cambridge University Library. It is a copy of the 1799 edition of the Welsh Bible, ten thousand copies of which were printed at Oxford for the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge.

How much of the story is true will probably never be known. However, Thomas Charles undoubtedly used the story to persuade the Religious Tract Society to establish a new organisation, the British and Foreign Bible Society. This came into existence in 1804 and over the next two hundred years years distributed thousands of Bibles to people across the world.

The society – often known simply as The Bible Society – still distributes Bibles to places like India and Africa and is an ecumenical and non-sectarian organisation. The story of Mary Jones and her determination to own a Bible was central to its creation, its continuing ethos and to its work.

_____________________________________________

Related Articles:

Mary Jones’ Bible

Hillmorton Chapel and St John The Baptist Church, Hillmorton

Childhood and Religion

Picture Stories From The Bible

The Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000