Monday morning brought… well, rain. Nevertheless, by the time we had shared breakfast with our friend and loaded his suitcases into the car we had the first tentative gleams of sunshine, so we decided to wander into Sheffield itself to visit the cathedrals. Yes, plural. There is the Catholic Cathedral Church with some wonderful wall painting and the Anglican Cathedral. The former we already knew, the latter, newly reopened, we had not yet visited. However, there were other wall paintings to see on the way. The graffiti in Sheffield is particularly good and we had to get some photographs of that too.
The Cathedral Church of St Marie is a relatively modern building and I have written about our first visit there. Even so, on this second foray, we found, even more, to admire and debate. The Stations of the Cross set off one discussion and the place simply oozes craftsmanship and symbolism. It is wonderful to have this gorgeous replica of a much older style, gleaming with gold and colour as many of our churches would once have been. It opens a door to the past and shows how much must have been lost during the Reformation.
A short stroll through city streets where the plaintive song of the pipes haunted the morning took us to the Anglican Cathedral. I’d had reservations there… a very modern addition to the west end of the thousand-year-old church here stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb from outside and, of course, many of these old buildings were scarred by the 1960s. We had no idea what to expect.
We needn’t have worried. Gate posts made from church masonry showed the quality of the building before we even got to the door. Inside the strange melding of the modern and ancient worlds showed this to be a place living and evolving, with the juxtaposition of many styles and ages forming an oasis of calm beauty in the city. From the silence of the chapel in the crypt where the light burns before a Byzantine icon, reflecting softly on the steel of the Sheffield nativity, to the high, vaulted ceilings of the chancel and the magnificence of the stained glass… the place is gorgeous. More importantly, it feels alive. It doesn’t matter what outer form shapes the faith and Light of the congregation, there is a beauty to a place where faith is a warm and living thing.
A glance at the clock told us we would have to leave. There was, after all, a train on which to put our friend. However, by the time we reached the door, the heavens had opened again and it was heaving down with rain. A later train, perhaps… it was a long walk back to the car… so we dived for the tea shop across the way and indulged in a cream tea apiece. Outside the rain abated slowly, and as we left we had time to acknowledge the sacred heart of Nature in the beautiful old trees outside the church.
It really doesn’t matter where you look. The world is alive around us, and whether we see it as the creation of a single god, a goddess, a whole pantheon or a natural phenomenon the earth is a beautiful and sacred thing and even the rain-washed city seemed to vibrate with life and Light.
There was a shadow though, as it was time for another of those goodbyes. As we hugged in the sunlight on the roadside I was glad and grateful the three of us had shared a few days in communion with the land and the ancient traces of its people. The story of which we are a single thread continued around us as buses and shoppers passed, yet the chapter we had written over the weekend is a beautiful tale of friendship and laughter, earth and light.