This was the heading of the poster on the wall, showing a cartoon monk surrounded by the full timetable of monastic hours which he was bound to keep…
The children looked, open-mouthed for a second or two (all that praying!), then ran off giggling to get into costume.
I had joined a year 4 class from CK Primary School at the climax of their history/RE project on the medieval church, and we had come in character as a band of pilgrims to Gloucester Cathedral.It was interesting to watch them adapt to their roles (which they have been getting to know these for a week or two) and interact with each other,- the “Wife of Bath” widow on another man-hunt, the knight back from the wars to thank God for his deliverance, the cut-purse whose roguery caused genuine disruption as the morning progressed.
The education department staff are superb and led a fascinating tour, showing us forgotten corners and delights that the casual visitor would miss (well, this one certainly had). I feel very much at home in Gloucester Cathedral. After all, it’s the site of both my ordinations, of my children’s confirmations, of countless other special celebrations and many a God-moment, and much of my training took place in its comfortable shadow. But yesterday was quite different.
There were awestruck moments, as the children touched mason’s marks on the great pillars in the nave, and felt themselves connected through their fingertips with men who had lived and worked here so many centuries before.
There was a corporate shock, as they looked at the carving of the apprentice-boy who fell to his doom from the high scaffolding, and saw that the carving above his head exactly matched that far far above their own…
“Did it really happen right here?”…and they looked down, half expecting to see his crumpled body lying at their feet.
There was a moment in St Andrew’s chapel, with its Victorian reproduction of the glorious paintwork of the medieval church, when they were asked as all good pilgrims were to spend a moment in silent repentence,- and I was caught by happy surprise when I was invited to stand and pronounce words of forgiveness as they had been spoken so often before. And another moment of unexpected holiness when they arrived at the tomb of Edward II, the goal of the medieval pilgrims, and were invited to offer the artefacts they had brought with them, and spend a moment or two imagining the prayers they might have offered at the shrine. The first two or three groups were perfunctory, but gradually the time the children spent kneeling grew longer and the silence more profound.
We’d reached the end of our pilgrimage experience but nobody was in a hurry to return to the 21st century. As we walked back to the education centre, to make cockle shell badges, devise our own mason’s mark and write a pilgrim prayer on our footprint, we sang a pilgrim song together.
“You are older than the world can be
You are younger than the life in me
Ever old and ever new
Keep me travelling along with you.”