Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Touching Anglican History

The Bishop touches history On Monday Laura and I joined the some of the other St Alban’s guest bishops on an excursion to Cambridge, about 90 minutes by car (at 80mph!). A lay canon of the cathedral had arranged a visit to his college (Trinity Hall) and, because is a large donor to manuscript restoration work, a behind the scenes visit to the manuscript collection of the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College. This was a real highlight for me—I might even say one of the most exciting days of my life! I knew that we were going to see some important medieval manuscripts. What I did not know was that our guide was Christopher De Hamel, author of one of the definitive books on the history of the Bible. He sat us around a table in the rare book room, and brought out numerous documents related to the history of the English church. He let us not only look at them, but also touch them (this is almost unheard of!). Here is a list of just some of the items he let us handle: --Handwritten letters by Anne Bolynn, Henry VIII, Thomas Cramer, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. --The original draft version of the 39 articles with annotations by Archbishop Parker and Queen Elizabeth I. --The Gospel book given by Pope Gregory to St Augustine of Canterbury in the 6th Century when he came to England. This is a national treasure—on the order of the Declaration of Independence for us. It is the oldest non-archelogical object in Britain and is the Gospel that every Archbishop of Canterbury uses at their consecration. When it travels is does so in an armored car under guard. --An Irish Psalter similar to the Book of Kels from the 7th Century. --A political tractate owned and used by St Thomas Becket. --The bill for the execution of Thomas Cramner, what he had for lunch the day he was killed, how much for the wood cost for the fire, etc. (In the video this is what I am looking at). And many other historical items. I don’t think my collegues realized that they were being granted an opportunity that even most scholars have never had. It was truly a once in a life-time moment for me. We also visited the manuscript room of the Fitzwilliam Museum and there got to look at the recently discovered and restored Macklesfield Psalter, described as the “the most important illuminated medieval manuscript found in living memory.” It was discovered on a back shelf of a private library, bought by the Getty Museum, but the British Government prevented it being sent to the US. So today was a day of “touching Anglican history” in a way that few will ever experience. I felt very blessed. Returning to St Alban’s, the Bishop hosted our group for an outdoors cookout in his lovely garden. Today (Tuesday) is our last day before we travel to Canterbury tomorrow. We are getting ready to go to London for a boatride on the Thames, if the weather holds.

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