The Tale of A Stole

9 June 2018

It’s three weeks to Peter’s ordination, and I have been seriously panicking about his stole.

The usual thing is that this piece of ecclesiastical kit is given to the ordinand as a present, to mark the beginning of their public, ordained ministry. It derives from the towel that a servant would carry over their shoulder in classical times, and for a deacon it’s worn over one shoulder and joined at the waist. When someone is ordained priest, it goes around the neck and hangs down on either side towards the knees.

When I was ordained deacon in 1989 I was given a stole made by Philip Manser. He lived in the Rectory at Westhoughton, where I served my curacy, and made the most beautiful embroidered clerical robes. He made me a chasuble when I was ordained priest in 1994, depicting Mary Magdalene with long red hair, and a whole set of stoles for each of the seasons – green, purple, red, white – which I still have.

Philip had moved to South Africa, and we’d lost touch over the years. I googled him, to see if he was still making them – but couldn’t find any address for him, or sign that he was. I had it in mind that it would be good to give Peter a stole that Philip had made.

When the search came to nothing, I then thought I’d make the stole myself. I had a vague idea of what the design might be, based on a stylised image of grapes that Tilda and I found in a book of William Morris art work. I set to, sewing away.

But to be honest it never really worked in my mind. I kept changing the overall concept. To be honest, there wasn’t an overall concept.

So when it came to the blessing of the stoles at Mirfield after the last Mass a week or so ago, I bought some embroidery threads and gold linen and Fr Peter blessed them, to be incorporated into the eventual stole. Even that didn’t help.

We arrived at Blackburn Cathedral on Friday afternoon, to meet Canon Rowena for tea at 3.30. She showed us around beforehand.

It’s a lovely, airy, light building, with some arresting art work.

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Blackburn was carved out of Manchester Diocese in the 1920s. From the 1930s onwards, an extension scheme was devised to turn the former parish church into a Cathedral worthy of the name, including a central tower of Gothic proportions. With funding sources compromised by the Second World War, the plan was simplified to a concrete central corona, designed by the architect Laurence King, with art work by John Hayward.

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It was all completed by 1977, when the Cathedral was consecrated to serve Blackburn Diocese as its mother church and the seat of the Bishop’s apostolic ministry.  Canon Rowena’s tour included the artwork that’s all around.

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The Passion – the story of Christ’s agony, trials, suffering and death – is vividly portrayed in a sequence of figurative Stations of the Cross, painted by Penny Warden and installed in 2005, entitled The Journey. Mary, and Veronica, particularly caught my eye.

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John Hayward’s Christ the Worker is above the West Door, suspended on a loom, a reminder of Lancashire’s cotton and weaving past.

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There’s a Madonna with child by Josefina de Vasconcellos

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and the Resurrected Christ in the Jesus Chapel was modelled on Hayward’s niece.

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The seraphim that soar above in the lantern were also designed by John Hayward.

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The overall effect is lovely. Feminine too, as befitting a Cathedral dedicated to St Mary the Virgin.

The best thing of all – personally – is that there in the shop were some stoles for sale. Made by Philip Manser.

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Peter and I returned for Mass on Saturday morning, and Canon Rowena arranged for the shop to be opened.

Bishop Philip explained how the Cathedral came by them: that a woman from Haslingden had contacted him, saying she had these stoles made by Philip Manser from ages back and perhaps ordinands might want them?

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It’s a lovely thought that Peter will be ordained in a stole made by the same person who made mine, all those years ago. And wonderful that Bishop Philip had time to bless it too.

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Blackburn museum hosts a great collection of religious icons and manuscripts, collected by Robert Edward Hart (1878-1946). The Blackburn Psalter is there, made in Oxford around 1260, by monks trained in Paris.

Psalm 1, known as Beatus Vir, which begins ‘Blessed is the man who walks not in the ways of the ungodly’ shows the capital B illustrated of King David playing the harp with the judgement of Solomon below.

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Those psalms, which Peter and I say together as we pray every morning, have shaped people of faith in the Judeo-Christian tradition since time immemorial.

It’s a blessing to be shaped in that tradition today.

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1    Blessed are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the assembly of the scornful.

2    Their delight is in the law of the Lord and they meditate on his law day and night.

3    Like a tree planted by streams of water bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither, whatever they do, it shall prosper.

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We leave Blackburn accompanied by Lois, who will be ordained at Blackburn Cathedral next year. She is training at Mirfield, and we talked of her excitement at the prospect of ministry in Lancashire. She’ll be a great priest.

We left Eanam Wharf and headed east towards Accrington. stopping for lunch on our way. Lois left us, and on we went, through industrial landscape that turned to fields.

One thought on “The Tale of A Stole

  1. Lillias

    What a heart warming stole story – it was waiting for you to find it and be blessed. We may visit the icon Museum in Lefkada – our place in Greece is just perfect – isolated, surrounded by swallows (one nesting above the veranda ), toads, crickets, bats dipping into the pool at dusk and views towards the setting sun – paradise – I’ll send a photo x

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