Moving stones

StoneApart from noticing how cold it is, people coming into St Peter’s during April will probably have seen the wooden cover where a flagstone has been removed from the centre aisle just inside the west door. This is where a leaking heating pipe is being repaired. A rather practical and mundane matter perhaps - except of course to Trevor and others concerned with tricky maintenance problems. However, it does set one thinking about stones. Much of the floor of the church is made up of headstones moved from the graveyard when it was reduced in size, not covering the graves of people buried under the church as many visitors suppose. Some of these are quite old, but it is certain that other stones are even older.

Just a few feet from this wooden cover, in front of the warden’s pew next to the publications display, is a stone that came to my notice a few weeks ago when I was sitting at the back. Many years of wear have exposed the flaky nature of the surface, evidence of how it is made up of harder and softer elements, stimulating thoughts about infinite variety in the nature of things. Even in our modern homogenised world a stone is not just a stone, but has subtle differences of texture which make it unique and give it character. The uneven surface also gives clues to how the rock was formed from layers of sediment many millions of years ago, leading one to speculate on its family history. What was the land like when this stone was formed? Who or what, if anyone - or any thing - was around at the time? Who were the craftsmen and labourers whose efforts quarried, dressed and laid the stone? Where had it been before coming to St Peter’s? The concerns and dreams, thoughts and prayers (and probably a few curses) of these artisans are somehow bound up and included in our present existence.

The leaching of white mineral salts in the surface of the darker stone gives evidence of continuing change from within, a ‘dynamic of existence’ - I hesitate to call it life, but clearly there is ongoing movement, an active history of which we are now a part, which will continue for many centuries yet.

It was the mysterious monochrome picture produced by this leaching process which first caught my attention, the soft and subtle shades of grey, hinting at ocean waves - a quiet valley between cliffs - a difficult and dangerous path - thought drifting from speculation to prayer - or was it the other way round! One felt somehow drawn in, as through a door, to a world of mystery where there is some profound meaning to be grasped.

Making friends with the stones may sound a bit odd, but it is an enlarging thought that they are in some sense part of the St Peter’s community - along with the living stones who come to the church day by day and week by week.

Jim McLean
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 30th April 1999