Can you backdate a marriage?

Marriage Register

How interesting to learn about the new rules that will govern couples in England and Wales who have been in a Civil Partnership who wish to change (upgrade?) their relationship status to a marriage.

It seems that they are going to be able to do so easily and will receive a “backdated” marriage certificate which will state that their marriage began when they entered into their Civil Partnership.

I’ve some reservations about this but I know it will be warmly welcomed by many and it would be churlish to oppose it.

It is interesting though and there will be pressure now in Scotland for the Scottish Government to do the same.

Here are some obvious issues.

  • It is quite odd to think that some might find themselves to have been married without their, at the time they entered into their marriage, believing that they wanted to be married.
  • People who have been blessing Civil Partnerships are going to find that they’ve been blessing marriages all along.
  • People will be able, I think, to find themselves married who never went through any ceremony at all – they may simply have signed the papers. (This is a new thing).
  • There’s no doubt going to be some grumpiness from those who trusted the politicians who said that Civil Partnerships were definately not marriages and that it had been invented in order to do something different to marriage.
  • In a sense, it is rewriting history. People are going to have marriage certificates that date from a time when they were not in fact married at all.
  • The Bishops of the Church of England in the House of Lords might feel that the Government has pulled the rug out from under them.
  • I think, that people can end up married whose proposal to marry has never been published either by banns on in a registrar’s office. I’ll be interested to see whether the registrars publish the names of those converting their status. My guess is that they won’t and thus people will end up married in law who have never had their intent to enter marriage advertised to anyone.
  • It is quite odd to think that a status like marriage can be backdated. Is there any comparable status that can be changed like that?

Personally, I would have preferred the solution to be that people would get new full marriage certificates when they requested to change their relationship status into a marriage. I think this because I think that marriage ought to require a clear statement of consent at the time it is entered into. (Indeed, many of the rules surrounding marriage are about getting unambiguous consent from both parties, freely given).

Interesting times. Uncomfortable times for the churches, particularly the Church of England.

Photo Credit – Dale Gillard Copyright: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


Sermon preached on 28 September – Who do you think you are?

Who do you think you are?

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“Hello, can you help me, this is ICM and we are conducting a telephone poll in connection with the recent referendum would you be willing to answer some questions.”

And I said yes – and the questions were mostly about whether or not I’d found it easy to vote in the referendum (I had) and about whether or not I had any concerns about widespread fraud having taken place (I had no concerns at all).

When I said I had no concerns, she asked me why? Why did I have no concerns?

Well, I know people who were there, I said – people from both sides who were at the counts and who saw what took place. And I was involved myself.

It took quite a long time to answer all the questions but it went fairly smoothly until the end when she said, “Can I ask you some questions about who you are?” I agreed to this and readily gave away my age and all kinds of other information that one doesn’t normally dare ask someone in polite conversation.

“And can I ask you what job you do?”

“Yes, no problem, I’m a priest.”

“Thank you sir – oh, I need to ask you what kind of priest. [Read more…]

You can’t bomb people into being nice Westerners

In a way, watching the debate yesterday in the House of Commons on whether the UK should join in with Air Strikes against the so called Islamic State felt different to me from the last times we’ve had similar debates.

This time I felt I was open to persuasion. As the debate began, I hadn’t made up my mind what I thought was right. I accept the arguments that such action this time is legal. (In the past I’ve marched against UK involvement convinced that it was illegal and wrong from the outset). I’m not a pacifist and don’t automatically assume that using force is wrong. That means that each time I need to be persuaded.

As I’ve said before, I once had aspirations to be a Member of Parliament and when crucial votes come around I find myself inevitably absorbed by them wondering how I would have voted. In this case, I’m sure that I would have entered the chamber undecided and left having firmly made up my mind.

The more speeches that I heard in favour of military action, the more troubled I was about it. In particular, I was troubled to hear the Archbishop of Canterbury throwing his lot in with the government and advocate new bombing missions.

It seems to me that the following points remain unanswered.

  • Likelihood of success.  This is a key point for anyone trying to assess using Christian criteria whether military action is just. How many bombs do we need to drop before we realise that air strikes alone are not sorting out the conflict in Iraq? The lessons of the past do not point to an easy or quick solution. I was particularly alarmed by the suggestion by the Prime Minister that this could take three years. I don’t believe any0ne can see what lies ahead in three years time in Iraq. These are not air strikes – this is a war. What’s more I don’t even know how we will judge success.
  • We are not fighting a conventional enemy but a set of ideas. Bombs do not destroy ideas they disperse them. The “Islamic State” people may claim to have territorial claims to a part of the world but that doesn’t mean we are fighting another state in the way that the West understands that. Controlling territory on the ground doesn’t mean that you control people’s minds. ISIS and al-Queda are as much a set of ideas as an army controlling a people. We need concrete strategies for making lives better and the underlying philosophical principles that are behind the terror attacks need to be taken to pieces and few of us know how to do that.
  • What about the innocents? In this week when we’ve remembered St Adamnan again in the church, again we are reminded that attacks which kill or harm the innocent are never justified. Collateral damage is terrorism by another name.
  • Finally, that you can’t bomb people into being nice Westerners. It seemed to me that many in the House of Commons were responding to the barbarity of recent hostage beheadings with the notion that we can somehow fly 6 RAF aircraft over Iraq, drop some bombs and stop people being beastly. It won’t do. You can’t bomb people into being nice Westerners. If there are any solutions they will be far more complex than what is currently proposed.

For all these reasons, though I would have gone into the chamber undecided, by the end of the day I would have made my mind up.

I would have voted against military action.

Freshers: How to Choose a Church

Every year at this time I find myself thinking about freshers coming to Glasgow to one of the higher education institutions. One way or another I was involved in freshers’ week quite a lot over the years. I did three degrees so went through it myself three times, then in subsequent university years I was one of those helping to put on events and then I worked in university chaplaincy work twice, once before I was ordained and then again whilst I was in Bridge of Allan.

Some students are looking for a church to join when they arrive at University. Some will have checked ahead of time what they want and will have already made contact. Others may find themselves thinking about attending a church for the first time. University years are partly for working out what you think about stuff and working out what you think about the claims that religious bodies make is something that is well worthwhile doing.

Here’s a quick checklist of things that I think Freshers might think about when thinking about how to pick a church.

  1. Is there life there? You can usually see that from the website (if it isn’t updated, don’t bother) and you can certainly tell very quickly by turning up.
  2. Do you want to be in a church with lots of people your own age or one in which there is a better balance of ages?
  3. Do you bring gifts to offer and will they be welcome. (Do you want to sing, work with children, work for the homeless etc) and can the church put you in touch quickly with those you need to speak to.
  4. Will all your friends feel welcome at this church if you invite them? Does it celebrate the ministry of both men and women? Are gay folk fully integrated into the life of the church? No-one wants to have brought their gay friends to church and then end up feeling embarrassed because of what was said or done when they turned up.  Ask careful questions here – I know a few churches which would say that they were for everyone but which gay people can attend but can’t ever do anything like lead a bible study or alpha group.
  5. Does those in leadership in the congregation appear to enjoy being there?
  6. Does the congregation appear to enjoy being there?
  7. Are there opportunities for you to learn if that’s what you go looking for?
  8. Are there opportunities for you to develop your own spirituality and go deeper with your own faith journey?
  9. If you call them up and ask for a student contact, can they give you the name of someone who will look out for you if you turn up?
  10. Do you get a sense that the preaching is worth listening to?
  11. Are they keen to have you turn up (good), disinterested in your turning up (not so good) or desperate for you to turn up (probably not very good at all).

The Joy of Evensong

There are reports in the media today that a service of Choral Evensong in Bath Abbey was abandoned last Sunday because those inside the Abbey couldn’t compete with amplified music coming from outside the building. It is a bit of a sorry tale and I’m surprised that the police did not deal with it as a Breach of the Peace.

When I came to St Mary’s I had never been in a church which had Choral Evensong as a regular service before. It had seemed to me to be something which was a bit of an anachronism- something that was dying out along with the users of the Scottish Prayer Book. I’d tried to avoid encouraging it in the churches that I’d previously worked in and was a bit suspicious of coming to a place where there was evening worship every week. It seemed like one unnecessary extra thing to do at the end of a busy day.

However, I couldn’t have been more wrong and within a very short period of time, I had worked out that Choral Evensong was going to be one of the things that would sustain me in my ministry at St Mary’s and also that it was a devotion that was not only still relevant to some people but actively bringing people into church for the first time.

Evensong is so different to the Eucharists we have in the morning at St Mary’s. In the morning, at the main service, there is quite a lot of activity and movement. It feels wonderfully busy and exciting. Choral Evensong feels wonderfully calm and peaceful.

That’s not to say that there isn’t excitement at Evensong – the music is sublime. Here at St Mary’s we are lucky to have some of the most exciting singing you’ll hear in Scotland. The choir, who are all volunteers, make a passionate  sound that ranges from quiet and intimate to full-on ranting for some of the psalms. I love the diversity of music we get and I love the shape to the service which doesn’t change much each week.

Choral Evensong is a perfect chill-out zone. You sit, you listen, you meditate, you absorb. You don’t need to be seen to do anything very much. It is  like bathing in a deep warm bath of musical spirituality.

I’ve noticed that some people engage with St Mary’s for the first time at Evensong. I think it is because it is so easy to come to. Somehow you get time to think at Evensong – re-imagining the world that you’ve left outside the building and preparing yourself for the week ahead as the music and the peace of the building refresh you.

I hope they sort out their troubles at Bath Abbey. Choral Evensong is a lovely thing and it would be terrible to lose it when you have it regularly.

It is Sunday at 6.30 pm here at St Mary’s if you are looking for your soul to be soothed.

Not in my name. Not in my city.

Last night I was in the centre of Glasgow to see a film (the brilliant Pride movie) and then to have a drink with a couple of folk from church. This meant passing through George Square a couple of times.

It was obvious that there was something up – a small group of people had put Union Jacks all around the war memorial and had apparently previously been giving neo-nazi salutes whilst singing God Save the Queen. There are reports of homophobic abuse and abuse aimed at those wearing Yes badges too. It was an ugly reminder that all is not well in this city.

Most of the time, I don’t see much of the sectarianism that has blighted this city for so many years but this was obviously trouble coming from the loyalist side. (What it means to be loyal to Her Majesty whilst saluting like a Nazi completely escapes me). Last night’s trouble, which was contained well by the police whilst I was there, was opportunistic trouble-making piggy-backing on the referendum issues of the last few days.

I was sorry to see it and utterly condemn it. There’s no place for violence in a democracy and though Scotland has felt a deeply uncomfortable place to me for the last week, we have been mercifully free from real unrest.

Such behaviour falls outside what anyone of goodwill would want for our society, whatever any of us voted earlier in the week.

What was happening last night was unwelcome, unnecessary and completely wrong.

I hope to see no more.

Not in my name.

Not in my city.

The morning after the day before

Yesterday was an extraordinary day in Scotland. I don’t think that any of us really knew how tense it was all going to get until the day itself.

There is much to celebrate in the turn-out, which was phenomenal. In recent weeks, people have engaged in a political process in ways I’ve never seen before and which to be honest I couldn’t have foreseen.

Last night I tweeted that I was hoping for a No vote but that if it was a Yes then I hoped that the Yes would be overwhelming. In the end the vote was a slightly stronger No than most people seemed to think possible at the end. However, the truth is, no-one that I spoke to yesterday during the polling was prepared even to guess. We simply didn’t know what the outcome would be.

I have to say that though I was clear that I was hoping for a no vote, there has been much that has impressed me in the Yes campaign. Much of that campaign was positive and throughout the campaign it did indeed seem as though the momentum lay there.

I’ve been consistently unimpressed by the Better Together campaign. It was negative and miserable throughout. It never represented what I felt at all. I was far more impressed with the campaign run by those with whom I disagreed on the independence question itself.

The Yes campaign won the social media battle hands down but not the wider argument. And I think the reality is that Independence has been decided for a generation. This was the time for that change if it was ever going to happen – an ineffective Labour party in Scotland, a hated coalition of  Liberal Democrats and Tories in government, charismatic and hopeful leadership on the Yes side and the most powerful street campaigning I’ve ever seen were all things that seemed to make the case for change more powerful.

Those of us in Scotland have decided that we don’t want to leave the United Kingdom. However let the message ring out that no-one who voted yesterday wants to live in Foodbank Britain.

I found listening to those who disagreed with me on the Independence Question that I very often agreed with them on their motivation for seeking significant change.

I remain convinced that the only solution to the West Lothian Question that will be stable is major constitutional change in a federal direction. I’m not satisfied by the idea that Westminster can continue as usual but with Scottish MPs just not voting on matters that affect England only. I want to see an English Parliament. I want to see major reform of the House of Lords. I want to see more devolution towards local government. I want to see fairer (and slightly higher) taxation, particularly a higher council tax to pay for better local services decided on by local people.

We have disagreed about how to achieve change but there are values that have come to the fore, largely through the incredible campaign that the Yes side have fought that we can unite around. I have many friends who will be disappointed, hugely disappointed today. However there is an enormous amount in which they can be very proud. An outstanding turnout, a campaign that brought social justice right to the fore, change being talked about by everyone in politics and political engagement across the board from people who have never cared or voted before. These things have changed Scotland for the better and when the dust settles we will see that things can never be the same again.

One of the members of my own congregation who is one of the strongest supporters of the Yes campaign I know said to me yesterday, “Even if it is No, Yes has won”. He meant, I think that the positivity of the Yes campaign can’t be killed off and that constitutional change is coming anyway. I know that he and many others will be disappointed by the actual result. However, I agreed with him yesterday and I agree with him today.


Why saying No Thanks is the progressive option

Why saying No Thanks is the progressive option.

This is a golden time for democracy in Scotland. The media, the airwaves are full of political debate but more than that, the whole nation is debating what we should do next. Who wouldn’t want that new democratic passion to be spread wider than Scotland’s borders?

That’s a real question. It appears that many progressive people will be satisfied by a vote that would result in our turning our backs on much that is wrong in the UK and being thus unable to help put it right. How much more progressive to grasp the momentum and press for change in the whole of the UK.

It is good that we debate whether we are a caring society. It is good that there are people in Scotland interested in addressing the plight of the poor. However, progressive people don’t just exist on one side of this argument and those in need don’t just exist on one side of the border. There is a pressing case for staying together as a country and using the energies of this referendum debate to fuel new political movements to address all that is wrong in society. I care as much about the poor in Carlisle as I care about the poor in Carluke. I care as much about the NHS in Preston as I do about the NHS in Perth. I care as much about job creation in Sunderland as much as I care about job creation in Stirling. I want all to prosper and want my MP to fight not only for my interests but for the common good of all in the UK, forming alliances with other progressive politicians to bring about a fairer, better and more economically stable society.

But just because I’m going to vote No, that doesn’t mean I don’t want change. I long for change – real change for the whole of the UK and the only way to still be able to influence the change I hope for is to say No Thanks to separation.

I want a more federal UK. Lots of people do. The only way to be sure it will never ever happen is to say Yes to separation from the rest of the UK.

It isn’t simply more devolution that is needed for Scotland – we need something much more radical. If devolution has been good for Scotland then it will be good for England too. A federal system within a strong, united economy would bring not only the best for me but also the best for those most in need. Separation will not bring about devo-max – it is a rejection of that. Separation would bring about austerity-plus, damaging economic recovery not only in Scotland but throughout the other parts of the UK. And when austerity is the dominant theme of the economic cycle it seems to me that those who are poor and vulnerable tend to come out of things worse that those at the top of the pile, no matter who is in government.

I want a renewed democracy that is UK-wide. I want a new commitment to the vulnerable that is UK-wide. I want progressive people to be running a progressive economy that is UK-wide. And the greatest risk to what I hope for comes from those who believe it can never happen. As someone who was involved close to the beginning of the recent campaign to allow gay couples to get married, I know that the greatest trouble comes not from opponents but from those who say, “I’m on your side but it will never happen”. Real change in society is desirable and possible. The energy of the referendum campaign shows, like the energy surrounding the gay marriage campaigns, just how passionate people can become over things that they care about.

As a priest, I care about people and I care about society. For me, I can’t see those who are vulnerable anywhere in Scotland doing well in a society that has such an unstable economic beginning as that proposed by the Yes campaign who still can’t answer even the most basic questions about currency and long term debt.

Those who are arguing for a Yes vote sometimes speak as though it is the only option for political progressives. I want change in the UK and the changes I want can only be achieved by saying Thanks, but No Thanks – my ambition for reform is far greater than what is currently proposed.

Who wouldn’t want real progressive change in society to be for everyone in the UK? Who would want to turn their back on being able to bring positive influence to bear for the many and not just the Caledonian few.

For all these reasons – it is No Thanks from me.

Opera Review – Les Troyens

This review was first published by Opera Britannia

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

It was a tale of two divas. And it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. The Mariinsky Opera‘s Les Troyens was a bold attempt to bring an epic work to the Edinburgh Festival which never quite achieved what it should have done. Though there were flashes of brilliance, an all too clever set and uncertain and variable singing made the whole long evening very much a mixed bag.

The first big idea to confront the audience was an enormous mirrored backcloth at the back of the stage, leaning in over the action. Technically it offered the design team a number of interesting tricks as things could be back-projected onto it and it reflected a moving stage floor made up of two massive slabs which went to and fro carrying singers backwards and forwards.

It was an astonishingly clever thing to do on the stage. There were constantly changing tableaux made all the more interesting because the mirror brought an almost cinematographic perspective to what was going on. Whilst aware of what the company was doing in front of the audience, it was also possible to see what they were doing from above and beyond. It was also conceptually interesting. Les Troyens is often said to be two operas; the first two acts representing the action in Troy and the final three telling a remarkably similar tale in Carthage. The two cities end up being destroyed after foreigners arrive in their territory. Each has a dominant female royal figure who kills herself in the end. The stories of the two cities are mirror images of one another and the presence of this enormous mirror showed that someone was trying to make sense of a story which does not always sit easily within the audience’s grasp. Unfortunately though, no-one had thought through the consequences of such a large mirror and various technical problems were later to unravel much that was good on the stage itself.

So, let us first consider the goings on in Troy.

The first puzzle of the evening was why the chorus were sounding so tired. Had they perhaps been told to hold it back because of the long sing ahead? Whatever the reason, this was not a particularly sparkling beginning to the evening. Whilst being Trojans, the chorus were dressed as extras from Les Misérables. The presence of a few rifles confirmed that we were certainly not in ancient Troy and the waving of a flag centre stage made one rather suspect that we were in Paris and about to climb the barricades.

The first two acts of Les Troyens depend utterly on the figure of Cassandre. If we don’t enter into her passion then we are going to care little about what’s going on in front of us. The role was sung by Mlada Khudoley, a late substitution for another singer. She had been due to sing the part on the following night so it wasn’t as if she had had to learn things at the last minute. She was a bit lacklustre though. There was a beauty to her voice but not really enough power. Much better was Alexy Markov as Chorèbe, her true love. His French sounded a little more secure and the bold power of his voice was much more able to deal with the tricky acoustic of the Festival Theatre. Ms Khudoley tried her best to persuade Chorèbe to leave Troy due to her premonitions of disaster to come, but he wasn’t having it. My sympathies lay with him too – I wasn’t convinced by her either.

Valery Gergiev was doing great work in the pit. Apart from a very brief wobble towards the end of Act I when it wasn’t obvious that the whirling and burling chorus and on-stage band were entirely in time with the orchestra below, all was well. Particularly noteworthy were the lower strings and brass which were simply lush throughout.

It is my view that the best music in Les Troyens is reserved in each act for duets. However, whilst Cassandre and Chorèbe were fighting it out, there was something of a distraction away from the action. Over to the left of the stage, it appeared that someone was checking a mobile phone. First one, then another, then another. Little bursts of light took the eye far away from Troy. It turned out that it was the chorus getting ready to come on stage bearing fake candles in their hands. They were obviously electrically powered and they were glaringly obvious and in the way, whilst they were waiting to come on from the wings. It was clear that a far from perfect blackout was hindering a poor stage design and this was to dog proceedings for the rest of the evening. The fake candles were to prefigure fake lillies later on too. We’ll come back to the technical problems yet again presently.

But first we must consider the goings on in Carthage.

After a long supper break, the audience reassembled to find the cast now transposed across the Mediterranean to Carthage. Instead of the neo-Parisian grunge of the first two acts, now all was Mediterranean blue and white. The costumes now no longer reminiscent of the French Revolution but long flowing white suits somewhat akin to what a well-dressed Mormon might wear to a Latter Day Saints’ Temple Ceremony in the 1970s. It was all visually very rich, wherever we were.

Now, no matter what they were wearing, things were certainly warming up in the singing department. The audience were treated to a surprising post-prandial boost at just the right moment. The chorus were obviously enjoying themselves a little more and the stage had a strong presence dominating it in the form of Ekaterina Smenchuk as Dido. She had everything which Mlada Khudoley had been lacking back in Troy. A glorious sense of determination marked her singing throughout. I overheard someone describe her in the next interval as being a ‘mezzo-soprano profundo’ which captured perfectly the strength of her singing. At last there was something emotional to grasp hold of too. Suddenly one caught a glimpse of how overpowering the whole piece might have been if it had been consistent. Ms Smenchuk blazed whereas Ms Mlada had merely been attempting to fan glowing coals into flame. In this diva-off there was no real competition. Carthage won.

Whenever he felt the audience were beginning to lose interest in the action, director Yannis Kokkos brought out a troop of nubile half-naked male ballet dancers to tumble and wrestle about on stage. The fact that they achieved one of only two smatterings of applause in the whole five hours, shows how appreciative at least some members of the audience were of their lovely homoerotic antics.

There were a couple of notable male singing roles and one further standout female contribution. Yury Vorobiev as Narbal, Dido’s minister of state was doing as well as any amongst the supporting cast, bringing a delicious gravelly tone to bear on his part and Dmitry Voropaev had a lovely pastoral song to sing, though he didn’t play the large concert harp that had apparently been brought onto stage simply for him to stand next to. All was going well for him until an odd intake of breath made him seem to lose all confidence in the upper register. Dido’s love interest Aeneas was played by Sergey Semishkur. His voice was as good as his looks – polished, refined and rather stately singing.

Rather late in the day, I realised that Lyudmila Dudinova was playing a trouser role as Aeneas’s son Ascagnius. It is a fair bet that if you can get three hours into a five hour opera without discerning the gender of all participants then the storytelling is not entirely working.

Ekaterina Krapivina was a knockout as Anna, Dido’s sister. Whereas others on the stage had powerful voices, hers had a clarity that shone out beyond the rather Slavic sound that might generously be regarded as a Mariinsky trademark sound.

Oh but all was not well around the singers.

The mirror reappeared in the final act, having been absent whilst we were first in Carthage. The trouble with a mirror across the back of a large wide stage is that it will not simply reflect what’s going on in front of you. It will also reflect what’s going on to both sides of you too. Thus, even from a good seat in the centre stalls, it provided a clear view of stagehands flapping about in the wings.

The odd glimpse of a fake candle being switched on is one thing but the mirror revealed far more than was good for any production. I did wonder during some of the more static choruses (and a lot of the action did seem to consist of the chorus simply standing around singing) whether the action in the wings was some kind of postmodern ironic commentary on what was going on centre-stage. Whilst someone on stage was singing in a kind of nautical crow’s nest contraption that floated 15 feet in the air for no discernible reason, a burly stagehand waited close by to grasp it and fling black drapes around it in a vain hope that it would make the contraption disappear when it floated within grabbing distance. He was wearing the helpful word CREW emblazoned across his back – reversed in the mirror, of course. At one point whilst Dido was singing about the joys of love under the gentle rays of bright Phoebus, there was the sight of the buttock cleavage of a stagehand, clearly mooning out at us from between his ill-fitting T shirt and scruffy jeans in the wings. During the moments leading up to Dido’s emotional suicide there was a billowing of drapes and the word EXIT appeared on a green sign at the back of the stage. I was unsure whether this should be seen as a deep and rather meaningful meditation on the passion of the dying Carthaginian Queen or the desperation of someone stage-right who wanted us all to leave the theatre as he’d had more than enough and wanted to get home.

The nonsense in the wings was considerably better lit than the action on the stage, where the principals often found their faces obscured in deep shade. Heaven knows what Vinicio Cheli the lighting designer was up to.

Notwithstanding all this, during the final act, I have to admit that I was starting to care about Dido and Aeneas. It took a long time to get there but the passions did billow up from below in the end. Their love duet in the final act was all that it should have been – ravishing and enveloping.

However, the technical and design problems spoiled a rather grand vision. There simply doesn’t seem any excuse for these in such a mammoth and much anticipated Edinburgh Festival Production.

There are many who will view Berlioz’s great work as intriguing but ultimately deeply flawed. The Mariinsky managed to stage a production that lived right up to such an analysis.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Pictures to think about #2

There I was last week standing in the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, staring up (as you do) at the stunning mosaics high up on the walls. The pictures are astonishing and I may get round to posting some of them online later.

My attention was distracted though by a small boy rushing backwards and forwards in front of the altar. Whilst everyone’s eyes were up towards the ceiling, he was staring intently down at the floor.


Backwards and forwards he went – to and fro. It took me a few moments to realise that there was a pattern to his movements. He alone in the place had realised that there was an old labyrinth laid into the floor right in front of the altar. He was following in the pathway right into the middle, at which point he ran off to find some other entertainment.

It is a fairly small labyrinth – about 12 feet wide and made more for small feet than my own feet. (Labyrinths – Young Church, hmmm…)

All the same, I started to walk it and soon found myself thinking about those whom I had brought with me on my travels in my mind. As a priest it is a kindness to your congregation to forget about most of them when you go away on holiday. Everyone needs time off and you can serve better when you get home if you have a rest for a while. All the same, some people linger in your mind and I found some of them with me as I travelled the circles in front of the altar. And those whom I think about from my own life too – the people I carry in my heart wherever I go, some of whom do the same for me and some of whom would be astonished to know they were being prayed for in a sixth century basilica in modern day Italy.