November 2018

I was once lucky enough to stay in Rome at the Anglican Centre, the home of the Anglican Bishop in Rome—the C of E’s representative to the Vatican. The Anglican Centre is a rather glamorous set of rooms on the second floor of the Palazzo Doria Pamphili, the first floor of which is a well-known art gallery.
The bathroom has a specially reinforced floor to protect the priceless Caravaggio that is on show a foot or so below the shower basin, but even so I didn’t hang around in the shower for too long. I was wary of provoking an international incident, ruining a famous piece of art as I splashed around singing Amore in a poor Italian accent.
The highly decorated ceiling of my bedroom was a present from Pope Innocent X, one of the Pamphili’s, to his mistress. If he treated her as well in all things as he did in ceilings then she was a very lucky woman indeed.
It is always wonderful to see things that are very beautiful and very old. The past seems to have an abundance and richness, particularly in the decorative arts, which we lack today and that money can’t buy. Of course, you do not have to delve very deeply into the past to see that grand, opulent beauty was the preserve of the very, very few, and that most people lived in abject poverty. For all the inequality and injustice in the distribution of wealth in our own country and our own day at least sufficient food and warmth is the privilege of the many and not the few.
One of the reasons why churches and cathedrals are such repositories of beauty is because they were pretty much the only important places accessible to the ordinary person. They were shared spaces that the whole community could invest in, giving the best back to God and claiming some beauty, opulence and abundance for themselves.
One unintended consequence of the growth of private wealth has been the decline in the quality and beauty of public buildings. As we have all invested in our homes and our private space, so we have invested less and less in our public space. Think how modern town halls and libraries compare to their Georgian and Victorian predecessors.
Good churches should try to buck this trend. The theology of the abundance of God’s love for us and the abundance of God’s gifts to us is one of the most powerful we have for sharing the good things of this world with the many and not the few, and in the public space and not the private.
This abundance can have many forms. My own favourite Roman church is St John Lateran. It has a marvellous baptistery in which is inscribed, in great letters, the following, written by Pope Leo the Great in the fifth century:
A heaven-destined race is quickened here from holy seed:
begotten by the Spirit that upon the waters moved.
Plunge sinner then, who would be pure, into the sacred streams;
whom the flood old receives, return to life renewed.
No difference divides the newly born,
united by one source, one Spirit, and a common faith.
What children of God's Spirit she receives as virgin progeny
does Mother Church bear here from out this stream.
Would'st thou be sinless? Cleanse thyself beneath the show'ring flood,
by thine own sins or by thy father's guilt oppressed.
Here springs the fount of life by which the entire earth is laved
since from Christ's wound it takes its origin and source.
Await the heavenly kingdom, who are reborn in this font:
eternal life does not accept those who are born but once.
Though his sins be many or grievous, let none draw back afraid;
reborn from out this stream, a Christian he shall be
If you walk past our font and see the baptismal waters there reflect on this and the abundance of God’s love for you.

Holy Trinity, Prestwood is an Inclusive Church. We are part of the Church of England.
We are in the Oxford diocese and the Wendover Deanery.

The Parochial Church Council of the Ecclesiastical Parish of Holy Trinity, Prestwood is a registered charity, no. 1129233.

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