24th August, 2022
In the Lady Garden at Wells Cathedral stands a statue of Jesus. He holds his crown of thorns behind his back and gazes up at the Cathedral. The garden is peaceful, Jesus a picture of serenity and you cannot help but want to sit or wander a while in contemplation.
As I sat, behind the statue, sharing his view, I couldn’t help but wonder, “what’s he thinking?” I got up, wandered around him, took a long, quizzical look into his face, his expression giving nothing away. I wonder if that’s how it was when he walked the earth? “What are you thinking?” I asked. No reply.
Wells Cathedral is architecturally magnificent, impressive in its grandeur, not only the imposing size but it’s attention to detail. The façade is covered in ornate carvings and statues, the inside full of the wonderful clean, swooping lines of its many arches. In and of itself it really is a masterpiece of art, of engineering, a testament to human endeavour and genius. I wonder as Jesus gazes at it whether he swells with pride in the cleverness of his creation, just like a mother pinning her child’s artwork to the fridge with a smile. “You made this for me? That’s so adorable”
On the day I looked round the Cathedral they were hosting an art exhibition. Artists from around the community displayed their works, celebrations of their faith, questions about society, beauty, pain, curiosity. Amongst this were works from a local community art group, from schoolchildren and a huge sunflower they were creating, as a community, as a sign of hope for peace in Ukraine. This centuries old building is being used, not exclusively for the religious but to serve the entire community, and visitors. I also noted there was no charge to enter the Cathedral, it really was a place for everyone. Families wandered round, discussing the artwork, children engaged in picking out their favourite for a competition; they laughed, asked questions, lit candles. They were welcome. We were welcomed. Does Jesus smile fondly at this? As he gazes on the Cathedral does he see the magnificent building or the people within, using it to love, to serve, to bring joy and welcome?
As I get older, I feel less and less love for religion. Whilst being impressed by the might of the Cathedral I initially thought “it’s not supposed to be about this” I wondered if Jesus was looking at the Cathedral thinking “this isn’t quite what I meant when I said, ‘build my church’” or as God said about all the religious festivals in the book of Amos “who told you to do this?” Reading the bible, there’s nowhere Jesus tells us to spend our money building monuments to God, I looked at all the statues of kings and saints, even the one of Jesus and considered “are these graven images?” I thought about how Jesus threw the tables around in the temple, how he predicted it’s destruction, it seems to me that Jesus doesn’t care much for buildings. I talked to my children about the parable of the rich man who built bigger storehouses for his wealth and then promptly died that night before enjoying it, I told them that Jesus said “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” I wonder what Jesus thinks about the amount of money that must have gone into building this cathedral? Does he think it’s the best use of our money?
As you walk into the cathedral you walk through an archway nicknamed “penniless porch” it’s where beggars used to sit begging for alms. I wonder, do homeless people sleep n it now? If they do, are they moved on? The juxtaposition between the cold bare porch where the poor would sit and beg the church to help them and the huge cathedral with the bishop’s palace behind it was alarming. I wonder what Jesus thinks as he looks at that, I wonder whether he would have chosen to be located in the lady garden, or in penniless porch?