04 October 2015
It is amazing how conversations can eventually turn to rugby these days. After preaching at the Harvest Eucharist in Christ Church, Taney, this morning [4 October 2015], I found myself renewing many old friendships.
I had referred to my homesick travels through Wexford the previous day [3 October 2015], and inevitably some of the conversations tried to locate me.
We talked about boats in Courtown, crabbing in Cahore, former Rectors of Wexford, shared friends in Wexford, old family connections in Bunclody, and rugby in Enniscorthy and Wexford.
Some of the conversations managed to drift across to Achill Island or even (in one corner of the Sinnamon Hall) to Calne in Wiltshire.
But inevitably – and not only in male company – the conversations returned to the outstanding performance of Ireland in the Rugby World Cup.
Later, two of us crossed the city to the Phoenix Park fora light lunch at the Boathouse Café in Farmleigh, followed by a walk around the lake. But I was back home in time to be ensconced in a comfortable position to see Ireland playing against Italy.
Despite a weaker than expected Irish performance throughout the game, it is comforting to see Ireland is holding on to its standing in fourth place in world rugby placings.
On the other hand, I find it difficult to comprehend how many Irish people are rejoicing at England’s exit. Looking at Facebook postings, it seems many Irish people were cheering for any side playing against England, and the gloating is both unhealthy and unneighbourly.
I have always felt comfortable in Ireland and in England, and while I am as aware as anyone of the differences that separate us, they are nothing compared to the shared similarities that should always make us the best of friends and the best of neighbours.
Five weeks ago [29 August 2015], while two of us were walking back to Trumpington after lunch in the Orchard in Grantchester, two pretty villages close to Cambridge, I heard the delightful observation: “There is something very, something very English about England.”
Yes, there is something very English about England, as there is something very Irish about Ireland. But the similarities are greater than the differences, and the differences do not create the same chasm as the one that exists, for example, between England and America.
Both Winston Churchill and the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw are credited with saying: “England and America are two countries divided by a common language.” Last week, the Revd Sally Hitchner, Chaplain at Brunel University, drew attention to a modern take on this saying when she reposted a Facebook posting by Scott Waters of Florida, who shared some interesting observations on a recent holiday in England.
I was amused by his observations that “soccer is a religion, religion is a sport,” and that in England “you’re defined by your accent.” What he says about trains and the hospitals, and very interesting comparisons of English and American experiences of racism and policing. Most telling of all, his repetitive observation: “There are no guns.”
I was in England again a few weeks ago, mostly in small towns, but here’s some of what I learned:
● Almost everyone is very polite
● The food is generally outstanding
● There are no guns
● There are too many narrow stairs
● Everything is just a little bit different
● The pubs close too early
● The reason they drive on the left is because all their cars are built backwards
● Pubs are not bars, they are community living rooms.
● You’d better like peas, potatoes and sausage
● Refrigerators and washing machines are very small
● Everything is generally older, smaller and shorter
● People don’t seem to be afraid of their neighbours or the government
● Their paper money makes sense, the coins don’t
● Everyone has a washing machine but driers are rare
● Hot and cold water faucets. Remember them?
● Pants are called “trousers”, underwear are “pants” and sweaters are “jumpers”
● The bathroom light is a string hanging from the ceiling
● “Fanny” is a naughty word, as is “shag”
● All the signs are well designed with beautiful typography and written in full sentences with proper grammar.
● There’s no dress code
● Doors close by themselves, but they don’t always open
● They eat with their forks upside down
● The English are as crazy about their gardens as Americans are about cars
● They don’t seem to use facecloths or napkins
● The wall outlets all have switches, some don't do anything
● There are hardly any cops or police cars
● 5,000 year ago, someone arranged a lot of rocks all over the place, but no one is sure why
● When you do see police they seem to be in male and female pairs and often smiling
● Black people are just people: they didn’t quite do slavery here
● Everything comes with chips, which are French fries. You put vinegar on them
● Cookies are “biscuits” and potato chips are “crisps”
● HP sauce is better than ketchup
● Obama is considered a hero, Bush is considered an idiot.
● After fish and chips, curry is the most popular food
● The water controls in showers need detailed instructions
● You can boil anything
● Folks don’t always lock their bikes
● It’s not unusual to see people dressed different and speaking different languages
● Your electronic devices will work fine with just a plug adapter
● Nearly everyone is better educated then we are
● If someone buys you a drink you must do the same
● There are no guns
● Look right, walk left. Again; look right, walk left. You’re welcome.
● Avoid British wine and French beer
● It’s not that hard to eat with the fork in your left hand with a little practice. If you don’t, everyone knows you’re an American
● Many of the roads are the size of our sidewalks
● There’s no AC
● Instead of turning the heat up, you put on a jumper
● Gas is “petrol”, it costs about $6 a gallon and is sold by the litre
● If you speed on a motorway, you get a ticket. Period. Always
● You don’t have to tip, really!
● Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Cornwall really are different countries
● Only 14% of Americans have a passport, everyone in the UK does
● You pay the price marked on products because the taxes (VAT) are built in
● Walking is the national pastime
● Their TV looks and sounds much better than ours
● They took the street signs down during WWII, but haven't put them all back up yet
● Everyone enjoys a good joke
● There are no guns
● Dogs are very well behaved and welcome everywhere
● There are no window screens
● You can get on a bus and end up in Paris
● Everyone knows more about our history then we do
● Radio is still a big deal. The BBC is quite good
● The newspapers can be awful
● Everything costs the same but our money is worth less so you have to add 50% to the price to figure what you're paying
● Beer comes in large, completely filled, actual pint glasses and the closer the brewery the better the beer
● Butter and eggs aren’t refrigerated
● The beer isn’t warm, each style is served at the proper temperature
● Cider (alcoholic) is quite good.
● Excess cider consumption can be very painful.
● The universal greeting is “Cheers” (pronounced “cheeahz” unless you are from Cornwall, then it’s “chairz”)
● The money is easy to understand: 1-2-5-10-20-50 pence, then-£1-£2-£5-£10, etc bills. There are no quarters.
● Their cash makes ours look like Monopoly money
● Cars don’t have bumper stickers
● Many doorknobs, buildings and tools are older than America
● By law, there are no crappy, old cars
● When the sign says something was built in 456, they didn’t lose the “1”
● Cake is pudding, ice cream is pudding, anything served for desert is pudding, even pudding
● BBC 4 [he means Radio 4] is NPR
● Everything closes by 1800 (6pm)
● Very few people smoke, those who do often roll their own
● You’re defined by your accent
● No one in Cornwall knows what the hell a Cornish Game Hen is
● Soccer is a religion, religion is a sport
● Europeans dress better than the British, we dress worse
● The trains work: a three-minute delay is regrettable
● Drinks don’t come with ice
● There are far fewer fat English people
● There are a lot of healthy old folks around participating in life instead of hiding at home watching TV
● If you’re over 60, you get free TV and bus and rail passes.
● They don’t use Bose anything anywhere
● Displaying your political or religious affiliation is considered very bad taste
● Every pub has a pet drunk
● Their healthcare works, but they still bitch about it
● Cake is one of the major food groups
● Their coffee is mediocre but their tea is wonderful
● There are still no guns
● Towel warmers!
Throughout Britain, Roman sites and ruins are popular tourist attractions. The better-known sites that I have visited include the Roman baths at Bath, the amphitheatre and walls in Chester, and Hadrian’s Wall which starts (or ends) at Wallsend near Newcastle.
London takes its name from Londinium, now part of the Square Mile or the City, Bishopsgate takes its name from the Roman gate that stood at the junction of Wormwood Street, while the street called London Wall loosely follows the north edge of the old Roman wall.
The most complete Roman building in London is the second century Temple of Mithras, at the corner of Queen Street and Queen Victoria Street. The crypt of Saint Bride’s church on Fleet Street includes portion of a Roman building with a decorated floor.
But many of these sites are difficult to visit either because of the large number of tourists, as in Bath and Chester, or because they are in the middle of busy commercial areas, as in London.
Little-known Roman site
One quiet mid-week afternoon this summer, I decided to return to a little-known Roman site that I had first visited over 40 years ago, and that is still relatively undisturbed because of its rural location, despite being close to a busy motorway junction.
The village of Wall, three miles south-west of Lichfield, is in tranquil and rural south-east Staffordshire, and has a story going back 2,000 years. The Roman ruins in a field beside the village are the remains of a once important military fort and staging post on Watling Street, the Roman military road from London to Chester and North Wales.
This is Letocetum, established in the early 1st century AD on Watling Street, near the junction with Ryknild Street, now the A38. The site is mentioned as Etocetum in the Antonine Itinerary and the name be a Latin form of a Celtic name meaning “grey-wood,” perhaps because of the ash and elm trees on the site.
A small native settlement may have occupied the site before the Romans arrived, possibly as the main trading station on the boundary between two British tribes, the Corieltauvi in the East Midlands and the Cornovii to the west. These tribes offered little resistance to Roman rule.
Early Roman presence
The first Roman activity in Wall began around 47-48 AD when a marching camp was built. This was a defended enclosure built by a legion at the end of a day’s march. Eventually a permanent series of forts was built on higher ground to protect the imperial Roman highways.
When the Roman XIV Germanic Legion first settled at Letocetum, it used existing trackways. A stone-surfaced road was needed to allow reliable movement, and Watling Street was given a stone surface past Letocetum around 70 AD. Watling Street stretched from Letocetum to London in one direction and to Wroxeter in Shropshire and Chester in the other direction. Ryknild Street connected Letocetum with Cirencester to the south-west and Yorkshire to the north-east.
As the Romans advanced into Wales, the fort or staging post at Wall provided overnight accommodation, fresh horses and other facilities for travelling Roman officials and imperial messengers.
Tracing the buildings
I stood in the field and with the help of the signs and a locally-produced guide, could figure out the foundations of many of the original buildings in the settlement, including a Roman hostel or mansion and a stone bathhouse, built ca 130 AD after Letocetum ceased to have a military function and became a civilian settlement.
The mansio offered lodgings for officials travelling along Watling Street, while the bath house served the travellers and the growing civilian population. When the first mansio and bath house were completed, workers were needed to provide wood for the bath house, to look after animals, and to repair vehicles used by official travellers. In this way, the civilian population continued to grow.
The first mansio was built between 54 and 60 AD, and fully occupied one terrace. It was of a sleeper beam construction, the walls were wattle and daub, some were plastered and some were painted with simple linear decoration. The rooms were arranged around a square courtyard about 19 by 19 metres. At some stage, the thatch roof went on fire and the building was destroyed, probably at the beginning of the second century.
The evidence for the layout of the second mansio is fragmentary. It had a courtyard with walls of plaster and daub and some rooms were painted in vivid colours. A large well in the courtyard was over six metres deep.
This second mansio was dismantled ca 140-150 AD when the third mansio was being built. At the same time, the well was filled in. About the same time, the second hilltop fort was abandoned and the town stopped being a military site.
The third and best-understood mansio was built on a stone base ca 130 AD. It was at least two storeys high, fronted by a colonnade with a tiled roof and supported on wooden columns. A large door formed the main entrance, and the entrance hall led to a colonnaded atrium or courtyard with a plastered floor. The central area may have been open to the sky, with an herbaceous garden, and timber posts around the edges of the colonnade supported a balcony above.
The entrance hall was flanked by rooms accessible from the central courtyard. The room on the west had washing facilities, the room to the east may have been a guardroom. On the west side of the courtyard, three small rooms opened out onto the central colonnade at ground level. These rooms were probably used as private accommodation in the mansio.
The Roman baths
To the west of the mansio was the public bath-house, separated from it by a cobbled road about three metres wide. A paved area led to a colonnade with large doors opening into a large, covered courtyard that may have been a basilica.
The earliest bath house was unearthed during excavations in 1956. The condition of a worn coin found there indicates this bath house was built around 100 AD. The surviving masonry is of high quality with finely dressed stone and a wall that is 1.2 metres thick. It is thought that the second mansio, the last fort, and the first bath house all ended approximately at the end of the military period on the site.
At the far north end of the bath complex, the stoke-room or praefurnium had wood-burning furnaces with underfloor heating for the tepidarium or warm bathroom, the caldarium or hot bathroom, and the laconicum or dry sweating room.
In the field between the mansio site and Watling Street, a round depression in the ground may mark the site of a Roman amphitheatre. A large earthenware vessel in the likeness of Minerva was found near the modern church, so this may have been the site of a temple of Minerva. A rectangular cropmark in the field north-west of the bathhouse is only visible in dry weather but may be the site of another temple.
The settlement reached its peak in the second and third centuries AD, when it covered 8 to 12 hectares (20 to 30 acres). At the end of the third century, the town relocated within high defensive walls astride Watling Street.
A lost Roman milestone at Chesterfield, south of Wall, recorded the name of the Emperor dating it to 268-270 AD, but has been missing since the 1970s.
The fall of Wall
The late defences at Letocetum were built about 300 AD beside Watling Street, about 150 metres east of the mansio. They included a stone wall about 2.7 metres thick, three ditches and a turf rampart. These defences may have built during a general uprising by Welsh tribes. The revolt was soon quelled, but to guard against further disruptions a series of strongholds was established at Letocetum and other places along Watling Street.
Letocetum lost its public buildings near the end of the third century, and the bath house and mansio were abandoned, probably for economic reasons. The latest coin to be found at Letocetum dates from the reign of the Emperor Gratian in 381 AD. Roman administration collapsed at the beginning of the fifth century and nothing has been found at the site that dates after this time.
Letocetum went into decline after the Romans withdrew in the fifth century. The place lost all importance when nearby Lichfield developed as the seat of a bishop in the 7th century.
The present village of Wall emerged on the site once occupied by Letocetum, but was never more than a small village. Wall House on Green Lane dates from the 18th century, and probably stands on the site of the mediaeval manor house. Wall Hall, dating from the mid-18th century, stands on the site of a 17th century house. By the late 18th century, several houses were built on Watling Street, west of Manor Farm, and they formed the lower part of the village.
The parish church, Saint John’s Church, is a Grade II listed building, and may stand on the site of a Roman temple to Minerva. It was built in 1837 and was consecrated in 1843. The architects were Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1877) and William Bonython Moffatt (1812-1887), and is one of their first churches as partners. Some of the stained glass windows are Charles Kempe, one of the great artists of the Tractarian Movement.
Wall remained part of Saint Michael’s Parish in Lichfield until 1870. Today it is united with Saint Michael’s and Saint Mary’s in Lichfield.
The site at Wall is owned by the National Trust and managed by English Heritage. But the place is so quiet and so relatively unknown that there is no-one at the gate to charge an entrance fee and the museum, which is run by volunteers, is often not open. The Wall Heritage Walk leaflet, available from the museum and in the village, takes visitors along self-guided walk around the village and the countryside of the Roman settlement.
Watling Street became part of the road designed by Thomas Telford linking London with North Wales and the ferries to Ireland. The re-routing of the A5 with the Wall Bypass in 1965 relieved the village of traffic, and Wall returned to the quiet life. But the A5 junction and the M6 toll at Wall junction make Roman Wall an ideal place to visit during a stop on a long journey.
After visiting the site, we had lunch at the Trooper, an inn that is more than 150 years old, before continuing on our walk through Chesterfield and other small villages in the Staffordshire countryside, before returning through Shenstone to Lichfield.
Canon Patrick Comerford lectures in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This feature was first published in the October 2015 editions of the ‘Church Review’ (Dublin and Glendalough) and the ‘Diocesan Magazine’ (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory).
Harvest Thanksgiving Eucharist,
Christ Church, Taney,
10.15 a.m., Sunday 4 October 2015.
Readings: Joel 2: 21-27; Psalm 126; I Timothy 2: 1-7; Matthew 6: 25-33.
May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
I want to thank your rector, Canon Robert Warren, for inviting me to your Harvest Thanksgiving celebrations this morning.
No, despite what it says in the current edition of Taney News, I am not the new Minister in Dundrum Methodist Church. In the past, like so many of my colleagues, I have experienced the generous hospitality of this parish at Diocesan Synod, and I have preached here once too.
It is good to be back here on a Sunday morning, and it is particularly pleasing to see that two of my students, the Revd Cathy Hallissey and the Revd Nigel Pierpoint, have been so warmly welcomed: you are blessed to have them here, and they are blessed to be with you here.
I have been at their ordinations in recent weeks, and the joy was enhanced by the fact that despite the poor summer weather we have had this year, the sun came out on both Sundays. What an interesting version of am “Indian Summer” we have had in the past two weeks or so.
This weather in many ways compensates for the summer rains, and it was interesting, while I was in Wexford yesterday, to see how farmers are gathering in a late harvest. Hopefully, this weather compensates for the poor performances earlier in the year.
I was in Wexford yesterday because I badly need to get in touch with my roots every now and again. Despite living in Dublin for so many years, I still yearn for those fields of green and gold that give that sense of belonging that many of us get when we move out of the city and into provincial and rural life.
Going back to places that shape us and give us identity helps to integrate ourselves, spiritually as well as every other way, and helps us to prepare ourselves for the next steps forward in life.
It is as though, psychologically and spiritually, we need to take stock of what is in the barn, be aware of the riches and blessings we have from God in the past and in the present, so that in faith we can move forward.
Autumn seems a good time to take stock in all those ways. The summer holidays are over, the children are back at school, colleges and universities have reopened, it’s time to take a few steps back and just see where we are going.
Not like a collector, gazing at stamp albums or shelf after shelf of unread books, even unreadable books, or paintings he knows the realisable price of, but not why they are valuable.
But to take stock of the riches we have been blessed with, to realise what we have and what we no longer need, what we have been blessed with and what we can bless others with, what is there and what is missing.
Too often it is easy to think without thanks. On the other hand, though, generosity needs to be sustainable, or like every other aspect of financial life, if we do not ensure that our generosity is sustainable, we may lose the ability to give, we may dry up, and we may then come to resent our giving in the future.
But if we take a reality check, take account of the blessings we have, then we may become emboldened, enriched, equipped, so that we can continue to give without, on the one hand, running dry, or on the other hand, beginning to resent our own generosity.
I see that in Taney Parish this year you are looking at the wear and tear on the fabric of the church and the Parish Centre and the opportunity to refresh the Church fabric and furnishings.
To do this, this year’s ‘Harvest Appeal’ is being used to establish a fund so this can be achieved in time for the bicentenary celebrations in 2018, which are at the planning stage.
That is some achievement: 200 years of witnessing to Gospel, 200 years of inviting people through the Church into the Kingdom; 200 years of reassuring people that in Christ we know that we are loved by God and that we need constantly to work at loving one another.
We seem to be trapped in a decade of centenaries at the moment, remembering one more battle, one more revolution, one more gunshot, one more killing, and it is going to escalate when the New Year begins.
But sometimes it is good to remember our blessings rather than our hurts.
So by 2018, you will be recalling past rectors, curates and parishioners who have made this parish what it is today. As the Prophet Joel says in our Old Testament reading this morning: “be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things” (Joel 2: 21).
In our Post-Communion Prayer this morning, we pray that we may be “wise stewards of the good things we enjoy.” Being good and faithful stewards, you can not only conserve that, but be prepared to continue that into future years, with faith, with vision, with hope, with love.
As well as teaching your new curate and your new deacon, lecturing in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, I also serve on the boards and trustees of one of the oldest Anglican mission agencies, Us, or the United Society, previously known as the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.
Us, the old USPG, is more than 100 years older than this church building – it was founded back in 1703.
And I spent the best part of a week this summer at a residential conference, hearing about the fresh new things that are being done by an old mission agency.
Sheba Sultan, a writer and member of the Church of Pakistan, spoke about the challenges facing women in Pakistan.
Canon Delene Mark from South Africa spoke of people trafficking, especially the trafficking of young women, and the abuse of young women, yet could still tell us how the Church can ensure the Gospel is good news for women. He said: “The Gospel is good news for women. How? Only through us.”
The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, author of The Essential History of Christianity, discussed gender justice with Dr Paulo Ueti, a theologian and New Testament scholar from Brazil.
The Revd Dr Monodeep Daniel, of the Delhi Brotherhood Society, drew on the Old Testament story of the rape of Tamar (see II Samuel 13) as he spoke of the way the Delhi Brotherhood works with women who suffer domestic and sexual violence, especially women who suffer doubly because of their gender and their caste.
Anjum Anwar is a Muslim woman on the staff of Blackburn Cathedral. She challenged us about how we live as good neighbours with people of different religious beliefs and values given the tensions we live with in the world today.
Since that conference in High Leigh at the end of July, I have also been receiving regular briefings about how Us is co-ordinating fundraising in England on behalf of the Anglican Diocese in Europe as it reaches out to refugees arriving throughout Europe.
The Diocese in Europe is working on the frontline with refugees, and has asked Us to be the official agency for Anglican churches in Britain and Ireland to channel donations for its work, providing emergency medical support, food, shelter and pastoral care for refugees.
The initial focus, of course, is on the situation in Greece and Hungary, working with people who are fleeing conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. The need for healthcare is particularly acute. Many refugees, including the elderly and children, are arriving in need of urgent medical care, but Greece’s overstretched public resources, and the lack of medicines in the country, mean many refugees are going untreated.
In Hungary, volunteers from church and community have been distributing aid packages.
All this work shows how relevant mission is in the world today. A mission agency that is over 300 years old is meeting the most contemporary and the most pressing needs in our world today.
These people are like the birds of the air, unable to sow or reap or gather for themselves. But by caring for them, by responding to their needs, the Church is showing that God still cares for them, that we know they are loved by God and so are worth caring for ourselves.
Getting ready for your bicentenary celebrations is not an end in itself. It is taking stock, it is getting ready, it is celebrating.
But in doing this you are recharging your batteries, making sure that the welcome here you provide for synods and conferences and community groups is sustainable and can be carried forward, hopefully, over the next 200 years.
“Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6: 33).
May you be enriched and blessed as you prepare for your coming celebrations.
May you be recharged, find new energies and be equipped with new enthusiasm.
May you find new and imaginative and creative ways of being engaged with the world, so that others know of the love of God, and express this in love for others. Amen.
And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
you crown the year with your goodness
and give us the fruits of the earth in their season:
Grant that we may use them to your glory,
for the relief of those in need
and for our own well-being;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lord of the harvest,
with joy we have offered thanksgiving for your love in creation
and have shared in the bread and wine of the kingdom.
By your grace plant within us such reverence
for all that you give us
that will make us wise stewards of the good things we enjoy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was preached at the Harvest Thanksgiving Eucharist in Christ Church, Taney, on 5 October 2015.