Page 12, 4th May 1979

4th May 1979
Page 12
Page 12, 4th May 1979 — Bournemouth's gardens outshine the Pope's 'backyard' Charterhouse

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Locations: London, Rome


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Bournemouth's gardens outshine the Pope's 'backyard' Charterhouse


Disgraced, banished, outcast, excommunicated — no journalist's Garden of Eden for me. I should sign myself "Disgusted of Bournemouth".

But I fed only gratitude that Richard Dowden took over Charterhouse last week when, like a travesty of the life of a foreign correspondent — expense account in one hand, a brief case full of whisky in the other — had to tear off to Switzerland on an apparently useless mission.

One day, when I have nothing else to write about — and friends tell me that this lack of subject and matter frequently shows — I will give you the slightly mad recipe for steak tartare, which of course is basically raw beef, and was the sole fine fruit of my visit there, and almost worth it. However, back to business.

THE Daily Telegraph reports — always give honour where it is due; there is far too much Press bashing in Britain for a healthy democracy — that the Pope has moved out of the Papal Apartments.

It is only for a fortnight while repairs are made to the roof of his private rooms, If this means that they are leaking, it also means that the priestly secretaries who live in the attics above him in that vast, almost Tibetan cliff face of small and secretive windows, all leaning back from Rome, have been getting very wet indeed.

Pope John Paul 11 has moved into a round tower at the far frontier of the Vatican State. This was once part of the fortifications put up by Pope St Leo IV who reigned 847-55.

He rebuilt the walls of Rome against the raids of Saracens and others who thought of Rome as a sort of eternal hand out centre of treasure for the well armed poor. He enclosed the Vatican Hill — which is not one of Rome's Sacred Seven, The present Pope is moving into one of its two towers, This has been cleverly converted into what colonial England called a Rest or Guest [louse. It is used for overnight guests to the Vatican — who are few. The late Primate of Hungary, Cardinal Mindszenty, who went into exile

In the American Embassy in Budapest for 15 long, grey years, was put up there in 1971. have not been inside it, but it looks an ideal retirement retreat for a naval officer of energetic and austere tastes, pleasantly unusual, and a sure topic for endless conversation in some remote part of either the Border Country or the Sussex seaside. Unfortunately it does happen to stand at the highest point of the Vatican gardens.

It would be ideal for me — except for the Vatican Gardens. Not long ago 1 and other journalists were shown round them. At the risk of heresy or, at least of schism, I can only report that they are hideous, are hopelessly municipal, are bettered by almost any seaside resort in Southern England.

They are laced with gravel paths which crunch under your feet like cheap nut chocolate bars. The lawns are starved and coarse and littered with pious but ill considered statues presented over several papacies by over enthusiastic Catholic flocks from far away.

The bushes, trees and palms look sick in summer and are wrapped in sacking in the winter. Bournemouth does infinitely better.

Of course there is the unimaginable, the almost dangerous splendour of St Peter's and the great baroque calipers of the piazza before it, laid out to clasp or measure the world. But

the gardens are fearful things and they show dangerous signs of trying to be English in an Italian climate.

Not for them the brilliant petunia or the glowing antirrhinum. Sweet Williams will not grow even for Popes (and why should they?) or any of the other boring things we buy in disintegrating boxes of twenty at this time of the year and thrust into our diseased borders. But the Vatican Gardens would be rejected by the councillors of Torquay.

No Pope since Pius XII seems to have used them much. I once did a television programme with a shot of John XXIII walking through them. Only lately did I find it has been taken at Castel Gandolfo!

There are various buildings in this great backyard. Some supply apartments for people like the architect of the Vatican's Ostpulitik, Mgr Casaroli. There is an hysterically funny railway station and a radio station trying to look like a tiny palace. There is a church for non existent Copts.

There is a basket hall ground for choirboys and an indoor sports centre for the younger curialists. There are grottos. one with a replica of the altar at Lourdes which in Lourdes has wisely been removed. There are dreary fountains at the heart of a city of most splendid fountains. There are the views of the backs of highly practical buildings. And there is a helicopter pad.

A good landscape architect could put it to rights. Pope Paul built himself a roof garden, and I'm not surprised, though it may have been the cause of the present leakage.

But it is open, and high and isolated and the tower is the place that I would live in with a jeep to get me down the hill to the Sacred Palace — and back. That is if I were Pope and all the experts tell me that this is now improbable.

Before you write rudely, try to recall that I'm writing about the gardens at the back, in a country of majestic gardens. But the Tower of St John would be the perfect holy pied a terre for my occasional descents upon Rome.

The right way to use a nave

A VICAR of High Church tendencies in Willesden, in North London, is so appalled by women upon altars that he removes his Sacrament when pious women come to do the necessaries, arrange the flowers, change the candles and the linen, polish the omnipresent Protestant brass, shake the green baize, brush the carpet, dust the dangerously Popish statues.

All this — andI have never seen his church — is part of the deep conviction of a married man that women should never be ordained priests, and this man, who revels in vestments, is prepared to resign his living if the Anglican Church in this country ever ordains women. Cor! What a muddle they must be in within, with so many of his overseas brethren doing just that.

No matter. Rut the idea of the utter exclusivity, sexually or socially, of a church building not only disturbs me but is also against tradition. In England the church building used to be the one great public covered enclosure — town hall and parish hall and disco and market all combined. The combination was not invariably edifying but it married the Church to its people.

Old St. Paul's in London was in its time perhaps the largest building in Christendom. I have never been able to find out quite how it looked, though there exist prints of London before the fire with the cathedral commanding the skyline more than Wren's dome does now.

It became a counting house. and Christ would have got out his angry thongs ot it. It was used as a Stock Exchange. There were boothes in it for the sale of food and trinkets. Merchants piled goods in it.

Gallants used its nave as a place for polite or questing walking up and down. Citizens used its side doors as a short cut across the City. And in villages, there were things called "Church Ales" which must have been like the sort of things in public that now go on in private at the more enjoyable village fetes. (I mean beer tents. I love the smell of crushed grass.) The nave, which is still legally the responsibility of the laity, wits the public place. (It would be hard now to decide which is the nave in a church with the altar at the centre.) But now our houses are not made of plaited strips of wood covered with mud strenghthened with straw and cow-dung and all clustered for protection and pleasure and salvation around the church. So we tend to set oat church buildings, perhaps, too far apart for the life of the vile community.

In our village we had a sort of political meeting during the runup to the General Election. It was the old use of the nave again. All three of our candidates came out of our capital city to attend Evensong.

After that the three sat on a row of chairs set upon the pavement of the chancel while they were inquisitored by the Rector in surplice and stole in the name of his congregation.

It was probably the best political meeting of our election, and local political meetings have died in this country as fruit dies upon unwatered or unwanted trees. But there was — because of the setting — no vulgar confrontation, no silly point scoring, nothing personal and no triumphalism from the candidate obviously ordained to win in our sort of constituency.

I have never felt less contempt for politicians. The young Conservative was polished to brilliance and talked the sound sense of men of affairs who can see, like doctors, that the patient is sick. The Liberal was a gentle but practical man of God with ideals which could be put into practice.

The Labour man talked almost like St Francis in such a situation. And if you think that this report loaded, it is how it was. It had nO effect on the election, the church was a quarter full, and it was hard work for everyone.

But it was a right way to use a nave and although I did not hitt the Church in vestments poking into everyday polities, the thing was right, the place was right and it was an example of what might be done as a substitute for the stilted boredoms of the Party Political Broadcasts.

And, anyway, it is a joy to see churches used by the people and for the people towards the people's good. Which, under God, is this purpose.

How very sad then, that the Willesden Vicar should reject people at work in his church.

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