THE PRAYERS WITHIN THE STONE
(Selby Abbey celebrates its 950th anniversary this year. A tribute)
I know the Abbey well enough; I worked there for a while;
I’ve walked its length a thousand times – the nave, the quire, the aisles.
I know its features through and through; I’ve shown them to our guests;
Each visitor has favourites – the things they like the best.
They come from near, they come from far, from China and the States
Some come to click their selfies, and some to venerate.
Some photo the distorted arches when the tower sank,
Some trace the grooves of masons’ marks; some sit and offer thanks.
Some crane their necks towards the roof to view each ceiling boss,
Some light a candle for someone; some bow towards the cross.
They’ve seen the Jesse Window and, of course, the Leper Squint
But few have seen God’s morning sun’s rays’ technicolour tints –
Diffused through stained glass windows as they dance the South Aisle’s floors -
It’s a shame to turn the lights on and to start the daily chores.
They come, of course, for services to hear the gospels’ texts
They worship or they celebrate or they pay their last respects.
They’ve prayed here in their thousands and many more shall come
Though I’ll not see it celebrate its first millennium.
They’re welcome, though, the lot of them (though less at five to four!)
That’s when I feel the weight of history in the great West Door.
I start to shut the Abbey down, physically, at least,
Though spiritually its beating heart doesn’t ever cease.
It’s then I sit and wonder, enjoying solitude,
God’s fading light for company and bathe in quietude.
Sometimes I pinch a biscuit, sometimes a mug of tea,
Sometimes I’m sitting on my own, sometimes it’s Him and me.
That’s when I swear I’ve heard them, when I was all alone
Chanting through the centuries – the prayers within the stone.
They sleep throughout the daytime and can’t be heard at all
But centuries of worship are soaked within these walls.
Shuffling, mumbling peasantry responding to a priest
Echo softly from the nave towards the sacred east.
Then prayers of intercession, or sometimes happenstance,
The harmonies of by-gone monks in sweet Gregorian chants.
At times I barely hear them, their murmur soft and low
Which drifts atop the silence for a while – and then they go.
There can be few as privileged as I am proud to be
Hearing this and seeing sights the public never sees.
So sipping on a coffee in the twilight on my own
I listen to the centuries of prayers within the stone.