Standing in the garden

In between The Deanery and the house next door in which Sir Christopher Wren is supposed to have lodged during the building of St Paul’s Cathedral so that he could watch it rising like a phoenix from the ashes, from the vantage point of the other side of the river – but didn’t (Gillian Tindall in her book ‘The House by the Thames’ debunks this local myth), is the narrowest street in London.  It’s called ‘Cardinal Cap Alley’ and for various reasons it isn’t usually open to the public as it now goes nowhere.  But it used to be one of the capillaries that linked up this mediaeval community and provided a quick route between the theatres, the inns and the stews.  The latter were the brothels where the ‘Winchester Geese’ did their business.


A Bankside encounter


Having debunked one myth I’m probably now going to promote many more but that’s the nature of this area.  Did the alley take it’s name from an inn that stood where my neighbours house now stands; is it a cheeky reference to the nickname of a prophylactic the more discerning customers of the Geese might use?

One thing is clear.  This area was ‘The Liberty’ of the Bishops of Winchester.  They had control of the area, had their own prison, ‘The Clink’, licensed the theatres, the bear pits, the inns, the prostitutes and presumably raked in a good level of income to enhance their standing as Prince Bishops of the church. The Geese were so named because of the uniform that they were required to wear as licensed traders under the Bishop’s protection. They scurried around the area, cowls up, heads down, like geese.

But when death came, as it did at an early age for many, in pregnancy, in childbirth, they were not so protected.  Whilst the church could benefit from pimping off their wages whilst they were alive it could not condone their way of life and so mothers and unborn children were buried in unconsecrated ground just outside the parish.  It’s scandalous – not the business of the women, but the attitude and actions of the church.

It’s just another example of the dysfunctional attitude that we have to sex.

Each Feast of St Mary Magdalene we now go in procession from the Cathedral to the Crossbones Graveyard, as it’s called, on Redcross Way where the women are buried.  The fact that we do this is not, to be honest, the work of the church but the work of many years by local playwright and performer, John Constable, who with a faithful and dedicated band of supporters have campaigned on behalf of these women and on behalf of this unconsecrated burial ground, trying to hold developers back from further abusing it.  A few years ago TFL handed it over as a ‘meanwhile’ garden and the local Bankside Open Spaces Trust have helped to create a garden where we can remember these women.

So we go in procession to express our regret for the past and our remembrance of the women. It’s a powerful occasion on the day in which we remember a woman, herself surrounded with myth and gossip and innuendo who met with Jesus in a garden and became the first witness of the resurrection.  In the garden we read Malcom Guite’s ‘Sonnet for Mary Magdalene’ which begins

Men called you light so as to load you down,
And burden you with their own weight of sin,
A woman forced to cover and contain
Those seven devils sent by Everyman.

But engaging in this ‘Act of Regret: Restoration: Remembrance’ as we call it is not just about those women and their children, as important as that is, but it’s also about trying to witness to the work that needs to be done in and by the church in relation to our attitude to sex.  The church is obsessed with it and with any obsession this is really dangerous.  It eats up our energy, occupies our mind, corrupts the soul of the church and distracts us from what we should be obsessed with – proclaiming a gospel of liberation and love and life.  We have to engage with the issues of trafficking and sex workers and the way in which so often the modern victims are treated no differently to their mediaeval sisters – and I suspect – brothers – used and abused and then left without the blessing of God which we continue to withhold from people.


Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the garden


It is just not healthy – our obsessions and our attitudes.  But Jesus comes to Mary Magdalene and restores her to health.  St Luke tells us this

Soon afterwards Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. (Luke 8.1-3)

Whatever the demons were Mary had been brought into new life and was a disciple, loved and part of the community.  She was a disciple who would become the Apostle to the Apostles. Whether or not she was the woman with the long, loose hair, the woman caught in adultery, the scandalous woman at the meal, whoever she was Jesus with that loving and embracing attitude, that lived out conviction that no one was excluded but all were included, that breaker of conventions who would touch and be touched, who would embrace opprobrium to save others from it, says to her in the first light, in the garden

‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). (John 20.16)

He was her teacher for he had taught her to love herself, who had loved others for so long. Perhaps we can learn to do both and to love ourselves and others into life. As we pray in the garden graveyard in Southwark

Lord Jesus,
hear our prayers
and as you received the love of Mary
hold in your presence
the souls of all who have gone before us
and give them peace.


My Holy Week – Easter Day

It was being verged into the Cathedral to preside and preach at the 9.00am Eucharist when it struck me. The forecast had not been so good for today – rain, heavy showers, even thunder it said on my phone. But we had been able to go into the churchyard during the Vigil and the Bishop had lit and blessed the new fire there – and the rain held off. But as I walked into the Cathedral for the next eucharist the sun had risen to a point where it was shining directly through the east window with such brilliance. It was almost blinding in its intensity and surprised me – I hadn’t realised the sky had cleared and the sun was shining. There was something so thrilling about it and whatever the rest of the day held, weather-wise, that was a blessing in itself.


The day has continued in that way. At the Choral Eucharist there was hardly a seat to be had in the Cathedral, everywhere there were people. What was amazing was that people had remembered to change their clocks, to lose an hour and still come to the Cathedral. I looked down the nave and into the transepts and it was like the world in miniature – people of all ages, people from all backgrounds, women and men, old and young, people who I knew, people who I didn’t -and all eager to celebrate Easter. The liturgy and the music were wonderful but even they, as powerful as they were, were carried by the energy that all these people brought into the place.

We always conclude that service by giving bags of Easter eggs out, principally to all the children there but also to all those who’ve contributed in some way to Holy Week. The Friends of the Cathedral had prepared 300 bags – and they all went. So many children, including the boy and girl choristers, so many volunteers – servers, Stewards, the flower arrangers, the Hospitality Team – and some paid members of staff, musicians, vergers, all making the Cathedral what it is.

Afterwards I was loitering at the west end as clergy do, saying goodbye and a happy Easter to people. A woman came up to me. ‘I told everyone I was leaving the Church of England for another denomination. I announced it. But I came here today and I’m staying, I’m not going.’ She went on to talk about the inclusive nature of the place, of the sense of joy, of the energy that she had experienced as she worshipped with us. It felt like those moments that clergy and other preachers are familiar with when one person comes up to you after a service and says ‘Your sermon spoke to me today – it was exactly what I needed to hear’ – and no one else makes a comment. That happens more often than you would perhaps imagine. It’s as though, sometimes, what we do is for one person, for one individual – and that’s fine and that’s how it should be – as though the whole community is ministering to, holding one person who needs to be held, then, at that moment.

It reminded me of the deeply personal approach that Jesus takes with Mary Magdalene. She was so locked into her grief, she was so distraught that only her name, spoken by the Lord, could bring her out of it and awaken her to joy.

‘Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).’ (John 20.16)

It was as though, at that moment, Easter happened for her and she was rescued by the Risen Christ and set on the apostolic path to help bring others to the faith that now filled her renewed and reborn heart.

Mary Magdalene in the garden of despair

Mary Magdalene in the garden of despair

That rising sun was so powerful for me that just for a moment it was my Easter, as this has been my Holy Week. But of course it is our Easter, it has been our Holy Week in which each of us, in our rich diversity, is ministered to as beloved sons and daughters, brothers and sisters by the one who was born and who rose ‘for us and for our salvation’.

It has been a wonderful Holy Week, brim full of blessing. Thank you for sharing it with me.

Alleluia. Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

There is no other song, there is no other prayer worthy of this day.

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015


Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

Led by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark