Hidden in central London, a garden for peace and reconciliation

Although I was looking out for the St Ethelburga’s Garden for Peace and Reconcialition, even so, walking down busy Bishopsgate, I missed this tiny passageway to the garden first time round… Doesn’t look very promising, does it?!

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But luckily I retraced my steps, and entered into a beautiful little corner that let me time travel

… or mind travel, anyway!

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It was so quiet that I could even hear the birds singing, so I kept having to look up to see where I was. These noisy neighbours quickly reminded me!

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The garden belongs to one of the oldest medieval churches in London. St Ethelburga’s Church managed to survive both the Great Fire of London AND the Blitz. However, it was destroyed almost completely by an IRA bomb in Bishopsgate in 1993. For some time it was thought to be beyond repair, but then a charitable trust was formed, and it was decided to rebuild the church as a Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. Amongst its roles, is research into how faith communities can work in the resolution of conflict. That it looks outwards to all parts of the world is reflected in the peace garden.

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IMG_9472IMG_9464The garden was first designed by Sylvia Crawford, and recently redesigned by Jeremy Rye. Amongst its gems is the St Ethelburga’s Rose, specially created by Peter Beales Roses. In the centre is a large Bedouin tent (made from woven goats hair, several herds-worth I imagine) in which meetings and seminars on conflict, peace and reconciliation are held. And also visitors are invited to come in and enjoy the peace. And if it feels particularly peaceful, that’s because it has been carefully designed to be so. As the booklet says:

The Tent was designed by Professor Keith Critchlow, an expert in “sacred geometry”, who was charged to create a safe and dignified space without using the symbols of any specific religion.  He has used the universal languages of geometry, algebra, astronomy and harmony to create a perfectly proportioned space in a tranquil peace garden with a Lebanese fountain and an olive tree.  The windows carry the word peace in 7 languages.

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But it was too tempting to sit outside, admire the points of interest and just wish I could be there at night when the lanterns were lit. Sir Thomas Wyatt seems to have been following me around recently (although luckily only in print) and may even have visited the church at any point – it had been standing for perhaps a hundred years by the time he was born –  so it seems appropriate to put up one of his poems as a celebration for this lovely garden. Maybe the poem is more about the difficulties of peace, but conflict and the need for reconciliation is actually at the heart of this garden. It feels like an oasis, but one that understands completely why it is needed rather than forgetting the outside world.

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I Find no Peace

I find no peace, and all my war is done.
I fear and hope. I burn and freeze like ice.
I fly above the wind, yet can I not arise;
And nought I have, and all the world I season.
That loseth nor locketh holdeth me in prison
And holdeth me not—yet can I scape no wise—
Nor letteth me live nor die at my device,
And yet of death it giveth me occasion.
Without eyen I see, and without tongue I plain.
I desire to perish, and yet I ask health.
I love another, and thus I hate myself.
I feed me in sorrow and laugh in all my pain;
Likewise displeaseth me both life and death,
And my delight is causer of this strife.
Sir Thomas Wyatt
And hard really to leave. Particularly to hit the rush of the crowds outside rushing backwards and forwards – and not expecting to be joined by a peaceful writer coming in to them at such a different angle. I was pleased that some of them looked up to where I was coming from, as if I had appeared from Narnia’s wardrobe. Which in some ways I had!
More information about the garden can be found here, and there’s a particularly beautiful poem about poetry and peace by Denise Levertov here.

 

 

 

A sprig of jasmine in a water bottle – a walk round Scicli Cemetery

The gardens I remember the most aren’t always where I expect to find them. On our holiday in Sicily last week, we stopped the car to walk round this massive cemetery. From the road it looked like a row of beach huts so we wanted to know what it was like inside…

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But inside it was the care taken by the cemetery gardeners and families to make the place beautiful that was particularly moving, often it was the smallest, gentlest planting that made us stop and think. This was so much about love.

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As was the way the silence was broken by birds singing loudly and enthusiastically in the surrounding trees…

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So here’s the poem I wrote there. I think I can safely say it’s the first poem I’ve ever written in a cemetery…

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Watching my husband text at Scicli Cemetry

So many roads of the dead to walk down.

I try to hear all their voices but listen

to the birds instead, their small but constant

conversation. Sometimes, in an effort

to make this a heavier memory, I rest my hand

on a gravestone, see a small child’s angel

wrapped in the shadow of a grandmother’s

cross, hope the proximity of a footballing dad

with the teenage cyclist is deliberate,

the fresh wild flowers amongst dusty

plastic roses, a sprig of jasmine

in a water bottle, yews, more yews.

Would I want to be with my mother’s family,

or rest in my husband’s crypt?

My children – no, they’ve no place here,

and I’m at the crossroads looking down

at so much love, so much hope,

when I catch him, my partner in life,

and yes, death too, bent over his phone,

as if any of it really mattered

when our lives are so free, being temporary,

and he’s laughing at a joke that I know

he’s already planning to tell me later,

and still, still, the birds sing on.

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