It’s near the end of 2017, and I’m recalling the travel from Havana to Tofino that has enriched our lives since it began. One of my top five experiences occurred in a church in Launceston, Cornwall, England. At the time it seemed rather small-town ordinary, but as I thought about it afterwards it took on special significance because of the welcome we received.
Wandering around this best-of-Cornwall town, Ruth and I passed St. Mary Magdalene Church. It was early Sunday afternoon and an event was clearly unfolding inside. We entered to find “Words into Bloom” in progress, We were greeted like much-honored locals. The man at the welcoming desk took us to the vestibule to show us a best-of-show flower arrangement and told us that St. Mary Magdalene was having a festival just that day to mark the 100 years since the birth of Charles Causley.
I had never heard of Charles Causley so the friendly church member educated me. Causley taught school in Launceston but composed poetry in his spare time. Some of it was published and Causley became a local celebrity. The ladies of this church had made floral arrangements inspired by some of his poems. The town hoped that Mr. Causley would be named Poet Laureate of England, but that never happened. He remained a local but much respected local phenomenon. There was a lot of his poetry on view, and “All Day Saturday” was my favorite. It began “Let it sleet on Sunday, Monday let it snow…” The last line, not unexpectedly, called for sunshine on Saturday.
Late Medieval St. Mary Magdalene Church was quite an attraction. Built by Henry Trecarrell, it’s considered one of the 100 best churches in England because of its exterior carved detail. Trecarrell was planning to use richly carved blocks to decorate the exterior of the new manor house he was building, but then his infant son reportedly drowned. Deciding he needed a memorial, Trecarrell donated the stones to rebuild the church that stood on this site. Completed and rededicated in 1524, the exterior has changed little since then.
Enhanced by the floral displays, the interior was still fairly ordinary but ancient. For example, its high altar was dedicated in 1338. The outside was the better attraction because of the elaborate carvings. Some of them showed the various plants that were in the ointment Mary Magdalene supposedly used to anoint Christ’s feet. But the star carving was a face-forward, reclining Mary on the back of the church. Rather than just tell me about it, the generous man left his station to take me on a complete exterior tour and tell me about a local legend. Mary is kind of voluptuously reclining next to an ointment pot, and Launcestonites believe that if you throw a pebble over your shoulder that lands on her back you will soon get a new set of clothes.