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Cathedrals – sacred spaces in troubled times

Janet Marshall finds she is inspired by special spaces such as Norwich Cathedral, and shares her thoughts in poetry.

Cathedral, Solace of Grace
Immense, tall, majestic, rising above me, perfection in stone.
Cascades of arches, pillars wide, consoling, firm embrace.
Cold and carved, meticulously measured.
Palace for God, standing proud, with no apology.
Invisible footprints of faith that walked on murky, stone slabs.
Footsteps of those who knew the story and believed.
A story of life, of incarnate God, of people, of happenings
Wealth, poverty, love, and loss conjoined here as incense burned, long ago.
Daily, relentlessly, a pulsing rhythm of prayer within these walls.
Colours and pictures, light that glows and transforms emptiness.
Story of love revealed, unravelling now to those who take the time,
To pause, stand, kneel, breathe within this place.
Community of people past and present, lost, bemused like me.
If walls could speak, what pleas and tales would abound?
Absorbed by this still, sure oasis in a frantic city.
Vestal of holiness, hidden spaces, waiting silently.
When a glimpse of peace or ‘God’ I seek.
May your wide armed shell, emblazoned with light, awaken the presence.
In the midst of tangled spiral… life,
Where questions, fears and doubts take hold.
You hold me safe, cool balm in troubled times and good. 

We all miss our ‘special spaces’ at this time, places we feel at home in, safe in, places that surround us with beauty and solace. Places can make us happy, calm, and reflective. Places can help us to sort our thoughts and feelings and evoke emotions. Places are spaces where we can be entertained, challenged, and fed with knowledge – we are all missing theatres, cinemas, galleries etc right now.
I have a particular love for Cathedrals and churches, and they all have their own unique stories to tell and their own beauty. Having worked in an educational role at a Shrine (Walsingham), a National treasure (St Paul’s Cathedral, London) and now at Norwich Cathedral, I have the privilege of enabling pupils and families to get the most from these amazing spaces, to connect with them.  I wrote this poem originally to stimulate secondary students as they tried to respond to the surroundings when standing and sitting in Norwich Cathedral.
Of course, it is also the people of God who lead us to the light inside or outside of sacred spaces, we are the body of Christ, wherever we are – trapped in our own homes – even these are sacred spaces. I think this time of ‘lock down’ uncertainty earths us into what our homes represent to us. We pray for those too whose homes are not places of solace, inspiration, and love.
I hope you enjoy the poem and will be able to experience what it means to those of us who love the cathedral by visiting again yourself when our doors are open again – you’ll always be very welcome!

Janet MarshallJanet Marshall is the Head of Schools and Family Learning at Norwich Cathedral.



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