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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

You Gotta Serve Somebody

Just standing in St. Materiana’s church in Tintagel immerses you in an intense and magical peace. St. Materiana herself is most interesting because the Church has so little to say about her: "A Welsh or Cornish widow. No details of her life are extant, but some Welsh churches bear her name." Had she been martyred, no doubt the record might be more fulsome.

Scraps from myth and old Celtic records associate her with Modrun, a refugee in North Wales, a Queen of Gwent and a Cornish saint, which leads some to say she was an extremely busy lady or an amalgam of more than one Modrun. Others suggest she was a Christian invention covering over an older pagan cult (Matrona/mother goddess) which accounts for her name popping up in so many places.

Young British men, some little more than boys pop up in even more varied places. One of the melancholy joys in exploring old country churches are the wall memorials to fallen soldiers and seamen who lost their lives in forming an empire. All over England, in the most obscure hamlets, ancient churches record the deaths of ensigns, and lieutenants – some as young as seventeen – who died where they had no right to be. How in God’s name did a boy from an unknown Welsh village die in the gulf of Tonkin in 1673? What was he doing there?

Reading these memorials stirs something in the soul. They died for something greater than themselves. In our culture the individual is glorified; by sleight of hand deluded in to believing they are beholden to no one. The reality is different and the result is a growing subculture of the infantile and selfish, aspiring to riches or fame without effort.

And yes, I know a glorious con trick was played on our forbears. Many acted without choice. And ‘That something greater than themselves’ invariably enriched those who ruled them in church or state, often both. But does that demean or cheapen aspiration, sacrifice or nobility? Are the works of Michelangelo tarnished because he worked for the Medici and two corrupt Popes? The sacrifice of a warrior less so because he was there without choice? In the words of Bob Dylan everyone “Gotta Serve Somebody” And you're more likely to find yourself serving others than serving yourself.

And may St. Materiana look over you.


Claudia Del Balso said...

Never heard of this saint before. You always learn something new :)
Even though the church is small and unassuming, it still has some charm. I love the stained glass.

Maria Zannini said...

I love visiting old churches--more for what they don't tell you than what they do.

Mike Keyton said...

Claudia, it is a small church but in terms of peace and sheer atmosphere, it's a bit like the Tardis - bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside.

Mike Keyton said...

Maria - a most enigmatic comment. I'm thinking Yoda :) But you're right. The intangible is often more powerful than the minutes of the parish meeting or a brief potted history.