Tag Archives: St John the Baptist

Religion, Hillmorton Chapel and St John The Baptist Church

When I was a boy I used to like stories from the Bible and  although a lot of the learning bits about going to school I found thoroughly uninteresting and a bit of a chore I did enjoy religious education and especially used to look forward to morning assembly when once a week the Minister from the Methodist Chapel nearby used to attend and tell a story or two in a children’s sermon.

Some of my school reports from this time revealed quite stunning results in religious education and at the same time as I was without fail picking up a disappointing sequence of Ds and Es for the important subjects like Arithmetic and English I was consistently being awarded As and Bs in religion.  In 1963 I scored an unbeatable 100% in the end of year exams.

Knock Shop Souvenirs

Strictly speaking we were a Church of England family but the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist in Hillmorton was in a sorry state of neglect and significant disrepair on account of the fact that the Vicar had little interest in his parish or his congregation because he preferred his drink.  People use to say that you always knew when he was coming because the beer bottles used to rattle in the whicker basket that he had attached to the handlebars of his bike.   More charitable folk said that it was communion wine.  He didn’t hold many services in the Church, well, certainly not as many as he was supposed to, and there was definitely no Sunday school.

For this reason I was sent to the Methodist Chapel where the Reverend Keene and the Sunday school teacher Christine Herrington made us feel most welcome.  I liked the Reverend Keene, he was down to earth and amusing and later he also came to secondary school to teach religious studies and take a weekly assembly there as well.

I remember that he smiled permanently and had a most pleasant disposition that was appropriate to a minister of the church.  He had one leg shorter than the other and wore a corrective shoe.  One morning in 1969 without any warning the Headmaster announced at morning assembly that following an operation he had died suddenly and I was really sad about that.

I don’t suppose so many children go to Sunday school any more but I used to really enjoy it.  The origin of the Sunday school is attributed to the philanthropist and author Hannah More who opened the first one in 1789 in Cheddar in Somerset and for the next two hundred years parents right across the country must have been grateful to her for getting the kids out of the way on a Sunday morning and giving them some peace and quiet and a chance of a lie in.

In contrast to the Hillmorton County Junior School I seemed to be learning something at Chapel and what’s more I was being really successful.  Every year we used to take an exam, well, more of a little test really, and if you passed there was a colourful certificate with a picture of Jesus and signed by absolutely everyone who was anyone in the Methodist Church hierarchy.  I was awarded a first class pass three years running and even though the school headmaster had written me of as an educational no-hoper I wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned because I was becoming convinced that I was going to be a vicar.

I must have inherited this from my mother…

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I had heard it said that people went into the clergy after getting a calling from God and I used to lie awake at night straining out listening for it.  It never came.  I also understood that it might alternatively come as a sign and I used to walk around looking for anything unusual but this never happened either.

One night, some time in 1966, I think God dialed a wrong number and got dad instead because overnight he suddenly got religion in a very big way and we all started going to St John the Baptist which by now had got a new vicar.  His name was Peter Bennett and he was starting to deal with the problems left behind by the previous man who had retired somewhere into an alcoholic stupor.

At twelve years old I was too old for Sunday school and went to church now instead, I was confirmed in 1967 and joined first Pathfinders and then the Christian Youth Fellowship Association or CYFA for short which was (and still is) a national Christian youth club.  The good thing about CYFA was that I got to go away to youth conferences and camps and there were lots of girls there too.  The girl in the middle was called Elizabeth and was my first girlfriend!

I auditioned for the choir but was rejected on account of being tone deaf but to compensate for this disappointment the Vicar appointed me a server which meant that I got to wear a scarlet cassock, which I thought made me look like a Cardinal and had the important job of carrying the processional cross down the aisle at the beginning of evensong and putting the candles out at the end.

None of this could last of course and with no sign of the calling (there is no such thing as a sign unless you want there to be) and with dad’s religious fervour waning, my attention began to drift off in other directions such as pop music, girls and woodpecker cider and gradually I just stopped going to Church and to CYFA, left the bell ringing group and all of my scripture exam certificates were put away in an envelope in the family memory box and simply got forgotten.

In 2012 I visited the city of Padova in Northern Italy and dropped in to the Basilica of Saint Anthony (A Basilica is technically a double Cathedral because it has two naves) and inside there was a pile of postcards in different languages with an invitation to write to the Saint with a request.  I assume this could be like writing to Jim’ll Fix It Father Christmas or to ask for a cure for a gammy leg or something but I thought that I might use the opportunity to enquire why that elusive call never came?

Once again I didn’t get a response from the Big Man!

Craggy Island Parochial House

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Related Articles:

Mary Jones’ Bible

Childhood and Religion

Picture Stories From The Bible

The Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000

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Entrance Tickets – St John’s Cathedral, Valletta

malta-cathedral

“Valletta equals in its noble architecture, if it does not excel, any capital in Europe. The city is one of the most beautiful, for its architecture and the splendour of its streets that I know: something between Venice and Cadiz.”  Benjamin Disraeli

Before I go any further, let me agree with Benjamin because Valletta is my favourite European Capital city.

On the second day we decided to take our chances on the buses again and visit the capital of the island, Valletta.  We waited in a long line at the bus stop but luckily most people were going to nearby Bujibba on a different route so when the bus we wanted pulled in to pick up there were still some spare seats.  This didn’t last long and after a few more stops it was packed tight like sardines in a can.  A very warm can!

It wasn’t very far but Malta has one of the highest ratios of car ownership to population so the roads were seriously congested and the nearer we got to the city the slower the journey became until the bus finally crawled into the bus terminus close to the old medieval walls.  The terminus is like a giant roundabout and was clogged with buses all belching fumes and impatiently trying to get in and out.

Valletta Malta postcard

Cathedral of St John, Valletta…

After walking around the city and the Grand Harbour it was time to visit a church and although Kim wasn’t too keen, on account of the fact that the exterior was dull and uninteresting, we bought tickets to visit the Cathedral of St John and even Kim was pleased that we did because inside was a complete contrast with an opulent Baroque interior and a floor of headstones each commemorating one of the Knights of St John.

St John the Baptist…

There was some wonderful things in the Cathedral, art, sculptures, tapestries and finally a room with two magnificent paintings by the artist Caravaggio including the famous beheading of St John the Baptist.

Very good I thought even if it is a bit gruesome…

Caravaggio The Beheading of St John The Baptist

In a Museum there was an explanation that the Cathedral once possessed  the Saint’s right hand, which is of course a very important relic, one of the most important in the Christain World, because this was the hand with which he baptised Jesus Christ in the River Jordan.

Unfortunately and rather carelessly at some point over the last five hundred years it went missing.  No one can be really sure of course but today it is claimed to be in the Serbian Orthodox  monastery in Cetinje* in Montenegro, the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and also in a remote monastery somewhere in Romania.

The Baptism of Christ

Several different locations also claim to possess the severed head of John the Baptist. Among them are Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, San Silvestro in Capite in Rome and the Residenz Museum in Munich. Other John the Baptist heads were once said to be held by the Knights Templar at Amiens  in France, at Antioch in Turkey and, most unlikely of all, the parish church at Tenterden in Kent in England where it remained until it was disposed of during the English Reformation as being superfluously Catholic.

I digress here to tell you that we have just had a decluttering exercise at home and have cleared out the attic space and in our frenzy of disposal I can’t help retrospectively wondering if we threw out anything valuable.

The town of Halifax in West Yorkshire (UK) also claims that the head was once buried there in the Church dedicated to St John and the authorities there cling on to this claim by incorporating an image of the head within the town crest.

halifax2

Anyway, there are thousands of Churches and Mosques dedicated to St John the Baptist.  I used to go to this one every Sunday in the village of Hillmorton, near Rugby where I grew up…

No flash photography rules…

Despite all of the splendour the most memorable thing about our visit came at the very end when we came across an altercation between a German visitor and some Cathedral staff.

He was upset about the no photography rule and wasn’t prepared to listen to reason.  I feigned a sudden interest in the last of the exhibits so that I could enjoy the exchange.

Try and do in a German accent because that is how it works best – “I vant to know who vrote ziz policy”, “I vant to speek to ze man who vrote ze policy”, “Just who has made deeze stoopid rooles”.  I was tempted to join in and suggest that it might be the Big Man himself upstairs.  Eventually the staff tired of repeating their reasonable explanation and he followed them to the offices demanding to have access now to the complantze policy.

I like Valletta, it is a vibrant city, an eclectic mix of Naples, Palermo, Porto and Marseilles and only spoilt by the fact that it has become a cruise ship destination which means more jewellers, boutiques and pricey restaurants.

I really do not like those awful cruise ships!

Malta Valletta St Johns Cathedral

* I have driven through Cetinje  in Montenegro and have to say that it seems a distinctly unlikely place to find the hand of John The Baptist.

Malta, A Stroll Around Valletta and the Head of John The Baptist

Valletta Malta

The fact that Fort St Elmo was closed for restoration wasn’t really a problem because the whole of Valletta is in fact one huge fort with Medieval fortifications defending it on all sides so we set off to walk along the side of the Grand Harbour with views across to the marinas and docks on the opposite side.

Grand Harbour, Valletta…

Walking along the edge of the water it was easy to appreciate just how strategically important this place was to a strong naval power like the British and why the Germans in World War Two would have liked to possess it.  Today the harbour is full of fishing boats, yachts and tourist vessels but it is easy to imagine it full of battleships and naval dockyards.

It was a pleasant walk along the water side but eventually we decided to make our way back into the city centre.  On a side street we came across a bar which seemed to be cut into the rocks but it had some tables outside and a large beer was only €1.50 and there was some Spanish style tapas so we sat there for a while and enjoyed the sunshine.

Valletta Malta

We also enjoyed watching a trio of Community Wardens who were using this convenient junction to catch motorists who were driving without seat belts or who talking on their mobile phones.  They caught so many offenders that were being handed a €60 fine that very quickly there was a substantial traffic jam.

Apparently these two offences are common in Malta but despite this statistics show that the country has the lowest death rate from traffic accidents. With a fatality rate of twenty-five deaths per million of the population, Malta tops the table as the safest country, followed by the Netherlands with forty-five deaths and Sweden with forty-nine fatalities.  I imagine this must be due to the fact that there are so many cars on the road in Malta that no one can realistically expect to drive faster than about ten miles an hour.

Eventually the Wardens packed up and moved on to another location and we drained our glasses and walked into the city through the Victoria Gate.  That would be Queen Victoria I imagine.

Valletta Malta postcard

We were getting dangerously close to shops now and Kim stopped now and then to look at shoes and sparkly things but the danger passed and soon we were back on Republic Street.

Cathedral of St John, Valletta…

It was time to visit a church and although Kim wasn’t too keen, on account of the fact that the exterior was dull and uninteresting we bought tickets to visit the Cathedral of St John and even Kim was pleased that we did because inside was a complete contrast with an opulent Baroque interior and a floor of headstones each commemorating one of the Knights of St John.

St John the Baptist…

There was some wonderful things in the Cathedral, art, sculptures, tapestries and finally a room with two magnificent paintings by the artist Caravaggio including the famous beheading of St John the Baptist.

Very good but a bit gruesome…

Caravaggio The Beheading of St John The Baptist

In a Museum there was an explanation that the Cathedral once possessed  the Saint’s right hand, which is of course a very important relic because this was the hand with which he baptised Jesus Christ in the River Jordan.

Unfortunately at some point over the last two thousand years it went missing.  No one can be really sure of course but today it is claimed to be in the Serbian Orthodox  monastery in Cetinje* in Montenegro, the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and also in a remote monastery somewhere in Romania.

The Baptism of Christ

Several different locations also claim to possess the severed head of John the Baptist. Among them are Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, San Silvestro in Capite in Rome and the Residenz Museum in Munich (a bit odd, if you ask me).   Other JTB heads were once said to be held by the Knights Templar at Amiens  in France, at Antioch in Turkey and, most unlikely of all, the parish church at Tenterden in Kent, in England where it remained until it was disposed of during the English Reformation as being superfluously Catholic.

Anyway, there are thousands of Churches and Mosques dedicated to St John the Baptist.  I used to go to this one every Sunday in the village of Hillmorton where I grew up…

No flash photography rules…

Despite all of the splendour the most memorable thing about our visit came at the very end when we came across an altercation between a German visitor and some Cathedral staff.  He was upset about the no photography rule and wasn’t prepared to listen to reason.  I feigned a sudden interest in the last of the exhibits so that I could enjoy the exchange.  Try and do in a German accent because it works best – “I vant to know who vrote ziz policy”, “I vant to speak to ze man who wrote ze policy”, “Just who has made deeze rules”.  I was tempted to join in and suggest that it might be the Big Man upstairs.  Eventually the staff tired of repeating their reasonable explanation and he followed them to the offices demanding to have access now to the complantze policy.

When it was over we left the Cathedral and walked now to the other side of the city to Marsamxett harbour to the north where we watched the ferries travelling forward and back to the holiday town of Sliema on the other side and walked a while along the water front and admired the multi coloured box window balconies of the high rise apartment buildings.

I like Valletta, it is a vibrant city, an eclectic mix of Naples, Palermo, Porto, Salamanca and Marseilles and only spoilt by the fact that it has become a cruise ship destination which means more jewellers, boutiques and pricey restaurants.  I really do not like those awful cruise ships!

It was late afternoon now so it seemed about the right time to make our way back to the scrum at the bus terminal.  There was one due in ten minutes and only a few people waiting at the stop but by the time the bus arrived this had swollen to several thousand.  We were getting used to this by now and we pushed our way on and thankfully found a seat for the sixty minute journey back to Mellieha.

In the late afternoon we followed the same routine. I went to the mini-market, we sat on the balcony, Kim thrashed me at cards as usual and then we went to the same restaurant.  On the way back however we did something different and once back at the hotel followed the sound of the booming music and made our way to the Limelight Lounge.  It was wonderful, like stepping into a time machine and going back twenty years to my last visit.  This is where I used to play bingo, this was where there was children’s entertainment and this was the place where they played groovy disco music – and they were still doing it!

It had been a good day.

Malta Valletta St Johns Cathedral

* I have driven through Cetinje  in Montenegro and have to say that it seems a distinctly unlikely place to find the hand of John The Baptist.