The roof of St Peter's

Up among the angels...

The roof and north clerestoryOnce I wrote a poem about coming into St Peter’s of a quiet lunch-time to pray - the poem was called ROOF. It’s possible you may have read it, as it was published in this magazine a while back. I have now been asked to try and explain, more or less, what I was on about - why I have this continuing love affair with a collection of ancient timbers.

I believe, first of all, it has something to do with space. Space, of course, not only has dimensions, it also has ambience - its own special quality. (In this case, maybe all the prayer and worship, rising generation after generation, have soaked into the actual fabric like incense, sloshing wonderfully about up there with angels swimming in it. Sorry, getting whimsical. But I do occasionally wonder whether I’d have experienced the same thing if I had walked in under that roof the day after the nave was built.) I have a similar sort of experience when standing under majestic, over-arching trees gazing up into the branches - something in me seems, birdlike, to wing free of my grounded self and soar into the vaulted upper air in an exhilaration of delight. Oh, the glorious liberty... I don’t wonder that birds sing! In the same way, that space up there between the clerestory windows calls to me "Come on - this is where you belong." Just be ready to grab hold of my boots, somebody, that’s all.

Now, why? Angela Tilby, in her splendid book ‘Let There Be Light’ (DLT), which is a series of meditations on the seven days of creation, devotes her second chapter to the firmament - the blue dome of heaven. She suggests that there are parallels here to the womb - a space made for us in which we are given special permission to become, to grow into the free, mature Christ-images God calls us to be. A protective space then, yet not constricting, room amply wide enough for us to stretch our wings and thoroughly to explore this flying business, yet not so vast that we are overwhelmed into insignificance.

Then, too, it’s dark up there. Perhaps this is a womb-echo again, but there’s more than a touch of night sky as well. Mysterious, numinous, immeasurable, the deep and dazzling darkness - yet warn and homely, and if you listen closely you can almost hear the beating of a great heart. Yes - there’s definitely a... Presence.

That’s it, I think. The Infinite and Unknowable brought near and familiar and, well, Human. And as for the sense of welcome, of invitation to share in that Humanity… am I just being whimsical again? But you’ll have to come and be still there for a while, and see for yourself.

Richard Evans
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 1st April 1999