11 July 2009

Dance me to the end of love

The Bridge of Sighs at Saint John’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

My summer school in Cambridge ended around lunch time yesterday [Friday]. With an afternoon free, I thought it would be nice to spend a little time visiting some colleges I had only had a glimpse of before, and so I strolled off to see Saint John’s with its “Bridge of Sighs,” Clare with the oldest bridge of its kind on the Cam and its views of the river and the Backs, and Queens’, with its spectacular Mathematical Bridge.

The summer school, organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, was on the theme of love and many of the speakers spoke of how God’s love for us and our love for God is a ladder or bridge across the gap between heaven and earth, between God and us.

I thought of that as I crossed each of these bridges, and those thoughts kept coming to the fore as I realised how almost every Cambridge college had been set up as part of a monastic or religious foundation, with the chapel at the heart of each college.

Saint John’s was founded by Lady Margaret Beaufort at the instigation of her confessor, Bishop John Fisher, who was later one of the Catholic martyrs of the English Reformation.

On the Front Gate is an image of Saint John the Evangelist, with his symbol of an eagle and holding the poison chalice from which he drew the potion in the form of a snake or serpent. The chapel was built by Gilbert Scott and has a choir that is almost equal to that of King’s in fame and reputation. The Bridge of Sighs, built in 1831, links Third Court at Saint John’s with New Court.

Punters under the bridge at Clare College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Clare College is the second oldest college in Cambridge. The chapel has an altar piece by Cipriani of the Annunciation and an octagonal antechapel. Clare also has the oldest bridge crossing the Cam and the first in classical style. From the bridge, there is a stunning view of the Gibbs Building and the Chapel at King’s College next door.

The Mathematical Bridge at Queens’College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Picturesque Queens’, with its mediaeval brickwork, Tudor half-timebering, cloisters and unique moondial, stands on the site of a former Carmelite friary. Erasmus lived here in 1510-1514 when he taught Greek in Cambridge.

The Mathematical Bridge, linking the older, mediaeval buildings with the very modern parts of Queens’, was first built in 1746. Traditionally it was supposed to have been built without nails. But this was found to be untrue when the bridge was rebuilt in 1905 … it always had iron screws or bolts at its joints.

Crossing back over the bridge again, I thought again once more of the image of God’s love as a bridge, and the theme of love that ran through our summer school all this week. Back in Dublin this afternoon, when rain put an end to watching cricket on the television, I was sitting listening to a recording of Leonard Cohen’s concert in London last year and started looking back at last year’s concert in Dublin and looking forward to this month’s concert in Dublin too.

I joked once again that at my funeral it would be nice to have my coffin taken out of the church to the sound of his Dance me to the end of love.

During the funeral itself, the hymns I would like include Abide with me, Lead kindly light, Thine be the glory and How shall I sing that majesty. But Leonard Cohen’s poems and songs are deeply spiritual with strong Biblical images. As I listened, I thought of the dramatic impact of David Frost’s reading from the Song of Songs earlier this week. If you read Dance me to the end of love as a prayer or a psalm, then it becomes a song of love, describing the love God has for us and the love we hope God receives from us.

Dance Me To The End Of Love

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Oh let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me slowly what I only know the limits of
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on
Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long
We’re both of us beneath our love, we’re both of us above
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
Raise a tent of shelter now,
though every thread is torn
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in
Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love.

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