A COUPLE of weeks ago I mentioned the series of window displays at Selfridges featuring pictures which bring Christ back into Christmas.
They are proving a powerful magnet for the eyes of Oxford Street's thousands of browsers and shoppers.
Perhaps the most impressive picture is that whose theme is "No Room at the Inn." It is a theme, however, which has caused difficulty to artists and puzzlement to commentators throughout the centuries.
After all, what on earth was the kind of "inn" from which Jesus and Mary were excluded? It is surprising how many adults — and one includes oneself who cling subconsciously to their own earliest imaginings of the scene.
We pictured snow on the ground, lights in the windows, fires burning in the grates.
And if Christ's birthplace did not actually have its "Bethlehem Arms," what's wrong with filling in a few of the gaps in order to make the whole story come alive? "It's all for the sake of the children," we cheerfully lie to ourselves. (Well, don't we?) I have often wondered what that "inn" was like. And I well remember being disgusted at a tender age — when we lived opposite a pub called the Rose and Crown in the narrow bit of Park Lane — to be told that it was "a place where people drank."
It was, of course, nothing like that according to most of those who have tried to recreate the scene.
The other day I was re-reading H V Morton's excellent In Search of the Holy Land. With his usual brilliance he evokes the past as if it were shimmering before one's very eyes.
Historical and archaeological sources show, as he points out, that a town like Bethlehem in the time of Our Lord would have lots of "inns," which were really crude private houses with an upper part, for living in and taking in a paying guest or two, and a lower part, often hewn into rock, usually used for storage.
If someone wanted to lodge but there was no room upstairs, he was usually directed to the less salubrious but generally inhabitable "downstairs" area where there was something akin to a modern celler.
Among the things stored in this cavern-like space would often be animal food. Hence the manger. The rest is bible history.
The first Noel
OUR THANKS and congratulations go to all those who sent in answers and brief essays in response to our Holy Land Competition based on the mammoth drawing by John Ryan.
The standard was very high and the adjudication excessively difficult. The prize, after much debate, cogitation, and rereading, goes to Mr Noel Hughes, who describes himself as a "collector of places." His winning entry reads in part: "What distinguishes the places the Holy Land offers is the sense of the immensity of the events attaching to them. Taste may be lacking; significance is not.
"Secondly, there can be extraordinary combinations of historical interest and natural beauty. The exquisite Byzantine mosaics of Tabgha are alongside the Church of the Primacy; and from that tranquil shore of Galilea one looks up to the Horns of Hattim where the end began so ferociously for the Crusaders.
"And, lastly the fleshpots. For me the Hot Springs of El Herme and a picnic of Israeli wine and fruit, with Arab bread."
Who could want more?
In good Humeour
IT SHOULD perhaps be some consolation that in having a hip operation early next year I will be, as it were, in good company. For Cardinal Flume is to have the same operation a few weeks later.
One is at the mercy of surgeons' timetables in these matters. But the Cardinal before going into hospital, will just have had time to take part, with Archbishop Runcie, in the Oxford University Mission in the third week of February.
My own operation will have taken place a few weeks earlier and will, I fear, preclude my attendance at the Catholic Herald for some time to come.
But I'm pleased to be able to announce that Terence Sheehy will be stepping into the editorial breach and will, as of the beginning of the New Year, become the paper's Managing Editor. (More on this follows).
Despite the success of past Missions at Oxford this one could well be the most significant to date. The presence of both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cardinal is unprecendented and the great Sheldonian Theatre will seldom have been more packed than when they jointly open the Mission there on Sunday, February 13.
Each will give what will amount to a keynote address for the rest of the week on the theme of "Living in Faith." And I notice that the theme for the Mission as a whole will be "The Lord is my Light" which is, of course, the motto of Oxford University.
Liveliness of discussion without prejudice to the paramountoy of the spiritual dimension — will be guaranteed during the week, among other factors, by the active participation of Dr Jack Dominion.
The immense help given by Dr Dominion to thousands on questions related to the psychology and morality of sex, marriage and human relationships has been a dominating achievement in its own field over the last ten to fifteen years.
To describe as a breakthrough would be woefully inadequate. To have such problems aired within the atmosphere of an ecumenical mission will be something that could electrify Oxford.
It is ironical to think of the primness with which such subjects were approached in Conferences at the Catholic Chaplaincy in the years after the war. Things, however, began to change during the chaplaincy of Fr Michael Hollings who will be another participant in next year's University Mission.
THIS WEEK many friends attended a special Mass at Abbots Langley and said farewell to the Rev David Miles-Board.
David has just retired as National Co-Ordinator of the Catholic Information Services for England and Wales.
He thus brings to an end his decade of crucial work in putting solidly on its feet a new feature Cr "atholic life in our country.
It is an interesting coincidence that Terence Sheehy, mentioned above, was one of the people who worked very closely with David Miles-Board over ten years ago.
Terry Sheehy, along with Desmond Albrow, then editing the Catholic Herald, was asked in the late sixties to come on to the committee advising the Bishops on the formation of what became, in 1972, the Mass Media Commission. The meetings were held at Farm Street or Archbishop's House and I well remember Desmond Albrow's reporting that the presence of Terry, along with that of Patrick O'Donovan, invariably ensured conviviality as well as efficiency at the meetings.
Terence Sheehy was born in London and, by another coincidence, was a classmate of Dan Counihan's at Cardinal Heenan's old school, Stamford Hill.
He cut his journalistic teeth on the Irish Catholic, now a sister paper of the Catholic Herald and was seldom, thereafter, far from press and publicity matters during his' varied career in Britain, Ireland and the United States. This included editorship of the Irish Observer and a long stint as General Manager of the Irish Tourist Board in London.
Welcome aboard the Catholic Herald.
Charterhouse meanwhile sends grateful thanks to all our readers for their fidelity and forbearance and every good wish for a very happy Christmas.