Thinking allowed

Stations of the Cross

Sta­tions of the Cross is a tra­di­tion­al devo­tion for Lent, and espe­cially for Holy Week. It ori­gin­ated in Jer­sualem, where pil­grims would lit­er­ally walk along the route from the centre of the city to the tra­di­tion­al place of Christ’s exe­cu­tion, stop­ping en route to recall vari­ous incid­ents recor­ded in the gos­pels, or else­where in the tra­di­tion. The num­ber and names of the sta­tions were later codi­fied at four­teen (to which a fif­teenth sta­tion of the Resur­rec­tion was added in more recent times). Many sets of words and pray­ers have been writ­ten to acccom­pany the walk. I com­piled this par­tic­u­lar set for an ecu­men­ic­al ser­vice in my home par­ish, and sub­sequently pub­lished them on the Think­ing Anglic­ans blog. It envis­ages a scen­ario in which some of those who par­ti­cip­ated in or wit­nessed the ori­gin­al events are gathered to remem­ber what happened on that day.

  1. Pil­ate con­demns Jesus to death
  2. Jesus takes up his cross
  3. Jesus falls the first time
  4. Jesus meets his mother
  5. Simon helps Jesus carry the cross
  6. Veron­ica wipes the face of Jesus
  7. Jesus falls the second time
  8. Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus falls the third time
  10. Jesus is stripped of his garments
  11. Jesus is nailed to the cross
  12. Jesus dies on the cross
  13. Jesus is taken down from the cross
  14. Jesus is placed in the tomb
  15. Jesus is risen

Common Worship Almanac for 2021-22

My Alman­ac for the litur­gic­al year 2021–22, the year begin­ning Advent Sunday 2021 is now avail­able. The Alman­ac is a com­plete and cus­tom­iz­able down­load that can be added to the cal­en­dar on a desktop/laptop, a tab­let or a smart­phone provid­ing a fully-worked out cal­en­dar and lec­tion­ary accord­ing to the rules of the Church of Eng­land. Sev­er­al down­load formats are provided, giv­ing access to most cal­en­dar soft­ware on most devices.

As before, down­load is free, and dona­tions are invited.

What’s new?

The Alman­ac is also avail­able as a web page that can be installed as a web app on smart­phones and tab­lets for easy access to all the data. New fea­tures include

  • the Down­load tab now shows a live pre­view of the data that will be added to your cal­en­dar; as you select options from the menus the live pre­view auto­mat­ic­ally reflects your choices
  • in the View tab you can toggle the dis­play of verse num­bers in the read­ings, mak­ing it sim­pler to copy and paste pas­sages to oth­er doc­u­ments in the desired format
  • in the View tab the bible read­ings now have an addi­tion­al link to the NIV text at Bible Gate­way, as well as dis­play­ing the NRSV text (or the Com­mon Wor­ship psal­ter for psalms)
  • a new short­er format for sub­scrip­tion links (old-style links con­tin­ue to work as well)


This Alman­ac is offered free of charge, and without war­ranty, but as you might ima­gine it takes some effort to com­pile. If you would like to make a con­tri­bu­tion to my costs then dona­tions may be made via PayP­al at Altern­at­ively, Amazon gift vouch­ers can be pur­chased online at Amazon ( for deliv­ery by email to .

The Alman­ac has been freely avail­able for over 20 years. There is not and has nev­er been any charge for down­load­ing and using the Alman­ac — this is just an oppor­tun­ity to make a dona­tion, if you so wish. Many thanks to those of you who have donated in the past or will do so this year, par­tic­u­larly those who reg­u­larly make a dona­tion: your gen­er­os­ity is appre­ci­ated and makes the Alman­ac possible.


An act of iconoclasm

There’s lots of talk at the moment of top­pling statues and remov­ing items com­mem­or­at­ing his­tor­ic­al fig­ures with what is now seen as a dubi­ous past. Here is a little story that has nev­er been told before.

Wadham Col­lege Library

In June 1980, 41 years ago, I was an under­gradu­ate at Wadham Col­lege, right at the end of my three years at Oxford. I lived in a room in a small court­yard on top of the then-new col­lege lib­rary. The lib­rary, opened three years earli­er, had been sig­ni­fic­antly fun­ded by a dona­tion from the Ira­ni­an imper­i­al fam­ily, and was named after the twin sis­ter of the Shah, Prin­cess Ashraf Pah­lavi, and there was a plaque com­mem­or­at­ing this ded­ic­a­tion over the inside of the main entrance. The fund­ing and the ded­ic­a­tion had been fiercely cri­ti­cised by the stu­dent body and oth­ers, and a num­ber of protests took place while I was at the col­lege. In Feb­ru­ary 1979 the Shah had been over­thrown and had gone into exile, as had his sis­ter, but the lib­rary ded­ic­a­tion remained, and so did the plaque.

Although not to everyone’s archi­tec­tur­al taste, I liked the new lib­rary build­ing (by Glas­gow archi­tect Andy Mac­Mil­lan of Gillespie, Kidd and Coia), and knew every pub­lic corner of it. There were also parts that were out of bounds to under­gradu­ates, and even­tu­ally I dis­covered that at the dead of night when there was no one else around then you could ven­ture unchal­lenged through any “no entry” signs or unlocked doors. In par­tic­u­lar, there was a spir­al stair­case lead­ing from the down­stairs read­ing lounge up to the lim­ited-access Per­sian sec­tion. The Per­sian sec­tion had anoth­er access door from the floor on which it was, but my recol­lec­tion is that that door was nor­mally locked.

It was dur­ing one of these night-time explor­a­tions that I dis­covered (as you do) that the Pah­lavi plaque over the main door was very simply fixed to the lib­rary wall, with just a couple of key­hole slots on the back that fit­ted over some screws in the lib­rary wall.

And so an idea formed in my mind, as I was near­ing finals that June. Wouldn’t it be fun, I thought, to remove the plaque? But how to dis­pose of it? The idea sat in my head for a few weeks as I revised and sat my finals. Many sub­jects held their finals early in the sum­mer term, but for my sub­ject, phys­ics, finals were right at the end of term, and after­wards nearly all under­gradu­ates left Oxford. I had already arranged to stay in col­lege for a few more days.

One night after the end of term, when all was quiet, I went down­stairs from my room into the lib­rary. I walked all round to be sure that there was no one else in the lib­rary, and I checked the place where I had thought of put­ting the plaque. All was deser­ted. Back at the entrance I reached up and gently lif­ted the plaque from off the wall over the door. It was about 3 feet or so long, 10 inches high and per­haps an inch or two deep, sol­id oak and mod­er­ately heavy. Across the lib­rary and up the spir­al stair­case, and I was into the closed Per­sian sec­tion. The book­cases here were tall, over 6 feet, and I care­fully placed the plaque on top of one, where it could not be seen from below, and where it was not pos­sible to look down from above. Or, and here my memory is a little hazy after all these years, did I come out of the Per­sian sec­tion and into the upper level of the lib­rary and place it on top of a book­case there? Either way, it would not be found accidentally.

Was it a protest at the Ira­ni­an regime, or a stu­dent prank? A little bit of both I sup­pose. I had thought of put­ting a sign in its place with words such as “the Ayatol­lah Khomeini Lib­rary” – that would cer­tainly have made it a prank in my eyes, but I did­n’t carry through with that.

It was a couple of months later, in mid-Septem­ber, dur­ing the long sum­mer vac, and before I star­ted my first job, that I returned to Oxford for a few days. Wan­der­ing round the col­lege I bumped into the chap­lain (Peter Allan, later a monk at Mir­field) and we arranged to have lunch the next day, at the Trout at Wol­ver­cote, if I recall cor­rectly, or was it the Perch at Bin­sey? “Did you hear,” he asked me, “that someone had removed the Pah­lavi plaque from the lib­rary, and it had dis­ap­peared?” “And what,” I said as inno­cently as I could, “is the col­lege doing about it?” “They’re just relieved that they don’t have to decide what to do with it,” he replied. So much, I thought, for my little act of rebel­lion. But I stayed silent. And I have stayed silent until today.

I’ve nev­er heard wheth­er the plaque was found, though some time later I left a note in the lib­rary say­ing where I had put it. Sev­er­al years later the lib­rary was renamed the Fer­dowsi Lib­rary after the Per­sian poet Abul-Qâsem Fer­dowsi Tusi (c.940‑1020), a much less divis­ive figure.

This dia­gram­mat­ic view of the lib­rary shows how the dif­fer­ent levels inter­act (and the default view shows the entrance door, over which the plaque was sited, and the spir­al stair­case up to the Per­sian section)…/virtualtour/mezzanine.html

These pic­tures show the exter­i­or and inside of the lib­rary, and apart from the pres­ence of com­puters, it was pretty much the same in 1980.…/a‑day-in-the-life-of…

Two fur­ther links


Little Gidding Pilgrimage 2020

Each year the Friends of Little Gid­ding, of which I am the Chair, organ­izes a Pil­grim­age to Little Gid­ding. For the last few years this has taken the form of a walk from Leighton Broms­wold to Little Gid­ding, with stops (or ‘sta­tions’) for short reflec­tions along the way. The day begins with a cel­eb­ra­tion of the Euchar­ist at Leighton Broms­wold, and ends with Even­song at Little Gid­ding fol­lowed by Tea.

The events of 2020 made this format impossible, and instead we held an online event with a num­ber of pre-recor­ded seg­ments and some ‘live’ read­ings and pray­ers, as well as a little inter­ac­tion between those tak­ing part. Fol­low me as I walk from Leighton Broms­wold to Little Gid­ding, intro­du­cing the vari­ous stop­ping points, and talk­ing about the Fer­rars’ exper­i­ence of the dev­ast­at­ing plague that hit Lon­don in 1625, and that forced them to leave the City and move to Little Gid­ding, while Fiona Bramp­ton, Chap­lain at Little Gid­ding, reflects on the impact of COVID-19 on us today.

Foot­age of me and video edit­ing by Alex­an­der Ker­shaw. Foot­age of Fiona filmed on my iPhone, and edited into the video by me, along with ‘live’ read­ings and pray­ers recor­ded via Zoom.


2020-21 Almanac for Common Worship and BCP

Now avail­able for the year begin­ning Advent Sunday 2020: Alman­ac, the cal­en­dar, lec­tion­ary and col­lects accord­ing to the cal­en­dar of the Church of Eng­land, for Com­mon Wor­ship and for the Book of Com­mon Pray­er. Down­load to your cal­en­dar or use the web app.

Down­load is free, dona­tions are invited.

What’s new?

The Alman­ac web page has been com­pre­hens­ively updated since last year to make it easi­er and more use­ful. Updates include

  • the down­load page and the daily view have been integ­rated into a single tabbed page
  • the oremus Bible Browser (which includes the full NRSV, the AV, and the psal­ters from the pray­er book and Com­mon Wor­ship) is added on anoth­er tab
  • a resources tab provides dir­ect links to all the offi­cial Com­mon Wor­ship texts, hymn sug­ges­tions (with links through to Hym­nQuest) and some oth­er litur­gic­al resources
  • the Alman­ac daily view includes sun­rise and sun­set times, which can be cus­tom­ized to your location
  • on phones and tab­lets you can add an Alman­ac icon or tile to your screen so that it is access­ible like an app (details in the Help tab), and you can swipe for­wards and back­wards through the days, and through bible pas­sages in the Bible tab

As usu­al, the Alman­ac is avail­able in a num­ber of formats for adding to Microsoft Out­look, Apple Cal­en­dar, iPhone or iPad, Google Cal­en­dar and oth­er cal­en­dar applic­a­tions. It can be synced from a desktop cal­en­dar to a tab­let or smart­phone (includ­ing Apple iPads and iPhones, Android phones and tab­lets, and Win­dows Sur­face tab­lets). There is also a csv format, which can be opened in a spread­sheet for fur­ther manipulation.

Nat­ur­ally I hope that the Alman­ac is free of errors, but I dis­claim respons­ib­il­ity for the effects of any errors. My liab­il­ity is lim­ited to provid­ing a cor­rec­ted file for import, at my own con­veni­ence. Please help by noti­fy­ing me of pos­sible errors.


This Alman­ac is offered free of charge, and without war­ranty, but as you might ima­gine it takes some effort to com­pile. If you would like to make a con­tri­bu­tion to my costs then dona­tions may be made via PayP­al at Altern­at­ively, Amazon gift vouch­ers can be pur­chased online at Amazon ( for deliv­ery by email to .

The Alman­ac web page car­ries the date 8 Septem­ber 2000, so, as the Beatles sang, “it was twenty years ago” that I first provided a digit­al litur­gic­al cal­en­dar, which in a couple of years evolved into a fully worked-out lec­tion­ary. There is not and has nev­er been any charge for down­load­ing and using the Alman­ac — this is just an oppor­tun­ity to make a dona­tion, if you so wish. Many thanks to those of you who have donated in the past or will do so this year, par­tic­u­larly those who reg­u­larly make a dona­tion: your gen­er­os­ity is appre­ci­ated and makes the Alman­ac possible.


1 Comment

Are individual cups legal for communion?

Since March, the Church of Eng­land guid­ance issued by the bish­ops has stip­u­lated that com­mu­nion should be received “in one kind” only, and that the chalice, the com­mon cup, should be with­held from all except the priest tak­ing the ser­vice. This has been backed by leg­al advice that a single cup must be used, and if it is impossible to share a com­mon cup, then the cup should be withheld.

Now a group of bar­ris­ters has chal­lenged this leg­al advice that it is unlaw­ful to use sep­ar­ate indi­vidu­al cups, issu­ing a con­trary leg­al opin­ion that the over­rid­ing pri­or­ity is that com­mu­nion should be admin­istered in both kinds, and that this should allow indi­vidu­al cups to be used.

The Church Times reports on this story here.


Heraldic Glass at Little Gidding

Little Gid­ding is a place with which I have a long asso­ci­ation. It gave its name to TS Eliot’s last great poem and before that in the early 17th cen­tury Nich­olas Fer­rar and his exten­ded fam­ily lived there in a house­hold of pray­er and work. Eli­ot fam­ously described the tiny church at Little Gid­ding as a place where pray­er has been val­id, and hun­dreds of vis­it­ors and pil­grims come each year to exper­i­ence the beauty and holi­ness of this quiet and peace­ful place. Kar­en and I first vis­ited Little Gid­ding when we moved to the area in 1986 and I’ve been Chair of the Friends of Little Gid­ding for the last dec­ade. Anoth­er of my long-term interests is her­aldry, which first drew my atten­tion as a child at the end of the 1960s, and I have belonged to the Her­aldry Soci­ety since 1974.

These two long-term interests come togeth­er in the win­dows of Little Gid­ding Church, which dis­play the her­aldry of Nich­olas Fer­rar, King Charles I, John Wil­li­ams Bish­op of Lin­coln, and Wil­li­am Hop­kin­son, the 19th cen­tury land­lord who restored the church. In an art­icle on the web­site of the Friends of Little Gid­ding I describe the four win­dows and also invest­ig­ate the coat of arms gran­ted to Nich­olas Ferrar’s fath­er, Nich­olas seni­or, and how this dif­fers from the arms depic­ted in the window.


What happens next?

At around 2pm on Tues­day 30 Janu­ary 1649, fol­low­ing a show tri­al and con­vic­tion, King Charles I was executed. It is said that a great moan “as I nev­er heard before and desire I may nev­er hear again” arose from the crowd assembled in White­hall, and the event sent shock­waves around the coun­try and across Europe. It was the most dis­rupt­ive event seen in the coun­try, cer­tainly since Henry Tudor had defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bos­worth to bring a final end to the Wars of the Roses. King Charles had not per­haps been a great king, and his record as ruler is not unblem­ished: his mis­for­tunes at least partly he had brought upon him­self by his stub­borness, and by his view of his role as king by divine right.

And today, 31 Janu­ary 2020, we see anoth­er dis­rupt­ive event. At 11pm this coun­try will form­ally leave the European Uni­on, bring­ing to an end the leg­al rela­tion­ship that began nearly 50 years ago on 1 Janu­ary 1973. It is an event that over the last few years has divided the coun­try, divided fam­il­ies and friends in a way rarely seen. It would have been hard to pre­dict, even five years ago, what would come to pass, and what a bit­ter turn our polit­ic­al sys­tem and polit­ic­al dia­logue would take. But whatever mis­giv­ings many of us will feel, the legis­la­tion is in place, and the deed will hap­pen later today. For many this is a sad and bit­ter day: the European pro­ject in which we have par­ti­cip­ated for half a cen­tury was forged in the after­math of the Second World War. It ori­gin­ated in treat­ies that tied the former war­ring coun­tries, led by France and Ger­many, into trade deals that made them more and more depend­ent on each oth­er, and there­fore so much less likely to go to war again. In the pre­vi­ous 100 years, France and Ger­many had been at war three times, Par­is had twice been occu­pied by Ger­many, and Alsace-Lor­raine had changed coun­try four times. Alsace-Lor­raine and its city of Stras­bourg were a key coal and steel pro­du­cing region, and the EU began as a “coal and steel com­munity”. For 60 years or more the EU and its pre­de­cessors have played an import­ant part in ensur­ing that there was not anoth­er war in west­ern Europe – whilst the trans-Atlantic NATO alli­ance helped pre­vent war with the Soviet Uni­on and its east­ern European satel­lite states. The EU has also played its part in ensur­ing that our ideals of demo­cracy and equal­ity before the law, of free­dom from state oppres­sion and so on have prospered with­in its mem­ber coun­tries. Greece, Por­tugal and Spain, all formerly under the rule of right-wing or mil­it­ary dic­tat­or­ships, were the first to bene­fit from this, their fledgling demo­cra­cies join­ing the Com­munity in the 1980s.  And after the fall of the Soviet Uni­on the coun­tries of east­ern Europe queued up to join the Uni­on, keen for both the eco­nom­ic bene­fits and the sup­port for demo­cracy and rule of law. These bene­fits have not come for free. The EU and its pre­de­cessors have fun­ded the devel­op­ment of poorer parts of Europe, help­ing to remove the social prob­lems that led to polit­ic­al prob­lems. That has meant that the rich­er, more stable coun­tries, such as our own, as well as France and Ger­many and the rich­er north-west­ern fringe have seen a net out­flow of money, of tax rev­en­ue. That is per­haps the price of peace, and is con­sid­er­ably cheap­er both fin­an­cially and in terms of human lives than war would have been. But over­all there has been a longer peri­od of peace between these coun­tries than at any time in the past, and a great­er and pro­longed peri­od of eco­nom­ic prosper­ity, des­pite vari­ous hic­cups along the way.

So what happens next?

We know what happened after the exe­cu­tion of Charles I.

In the imme­di­ate after­math, Par­lia­ment, led by Crom­well, refused to allow the pro­clam­a­tion of the Prince of Wales as King Charles II, and instead declared the abol­i­tion of the mon­archy. A repub­lic­an form of gov­ern­ment, the “Com­mon­wealth”, was put in place, the House of Lords abol­ished, and bish­ops removed. The rump of the Long Par­lia­ment (which had engin­eered the king’s tri­al and exe­cu­tion) con­tin­ued to sit. That Par­lia­ment had been elec­ted in 1640, before the Civil War, though at the end of 1648 the Army, led by Col­on­el Pride, had expelled those mem­bers that did not sup­port the Army. In 1653, Crom­well ejec­ted this Rump Par­lia­ment and the coun­try essen­tially became a kind of mil­it­ary dic­tat­or­ship, with Oliv­er Crom­well, the lead­er of the Army, as the strongman.

In 1659, after Oliv­er Crom­well had died, there was finally a reac­tion. The Long Par­lia­ment was restored, and it called for a return to mon­archy. After a peri­od of nego­ti­ation, in May 1660 the eld­est son of Charles I returned to Eng­land from exile in the Neth­er­lands, and was pro­claimed and crowned as King Charles II. The restored mon­archy was not quite the same as that which had been abol­ished in 1649, and Charles II under­stood the lim­its with­in which he ruled. It had taken 11 years from the exe­cu­tion of his fath­er until the Res­tor­a­tion, and many of those years must have been dark and dif­fi­cult for the exiled prince, and dark and dif­fi­cult for his sup­port­ers back in Bri­tain. But even­tu­ally they pre­vailed, and the repub­lic­an Com­mon­wealth was con­signed to his­tory, a mere foot­note in the list of Kings and Queens.

Will some­thing sim­il­ar hap­pen? Will there be a peri­od in which this coun­try gradu­ally comes to see that it has made an enorm­ous mis­take, lead­ing even­tu­ally to a reas­sess­ment of our pos­i­tion, and finally a sig­ni­fic­ant major­ity to want to rejoin the European Uni­on? That is my hope and expect­a­tion. Maybe it will take a dec­ade or more, just as it took a dec­ade or so for the mon­archy to be restored in 1660. It does take time to make such a major change in polit­ic­al dir­ec­tion, and right now we are mov­ing on the oppos­ite course.

But the dark day of 30 Janu­ary 1649 held the prom­ise of res­tor­a­tion. And this dark day too, 31 Janu­ary 2020, holds that prom­ise also.



The Structure of Bristol Surprise Major

Some 18 months ago, I described learn­ing Bris­tol Sur­prise Major. I haven’t rung very much of it since then, but I want to look at its struc­ture – what the dif­fer­ent bells are doing and how it fits togeth­er. Because it’s really very simple, and can be described in a few short sentences:

  1. The treble always treble bobs, out to the back, and then back down to the front, over and over again.
  2. The oth­er bells work togeth­er, either as a group on the front four, or as a group on the back four, and from time to time a bell moves from the front group to the back group, or vice versa.
    So far so good, now for the clev­er part:
  3. All the bells in the group that con­tains the treble simply treble-bob inside that group, in phase with the treble, up and down or down and up, until the treble crosses to the oth­er group.
  4. The four bells in the oth­er group (the one without the treble) just plain hunt; and every time the treble (which is in the oth­er group) moves from one dodging pos­i­tion to anoth­er, the four plain-hunt­ing bells switch from hunt­ing “right” (where “lead­ing” and “lying” are made at hand and back) to hunt­ing “wrong” (where “lead­ing” and “lying” are made at back and hand) or vice versa. See below for an explan­a­tion of mov­ing from one dodging pos­i­tion to anoth­er and of “lead­ing” and “lying”.
  5. There are three occa­sions when a bell, oth­er than the treble, passes from one group to the other. 
    1. When the treble itself moves from one group to the oth­er, a bell from the oth­er group must move in the oppos­ite direction;
    2. When the treble leads or lies, the two bells that are in 4–5 swap places.

And that’s it. Now you under­stand how Bris­tol Sur­prise Major works.

Before mov­ing on, an explan­a­tion or cla­ri­fic­a­tion of the words mov­ing from one dodging pos­i­tion to anoth­er. The treble dodges 1–2 up, and then moves to dodge 3–4 up, and then to dodge 5–6 up. The four strokes when it is in 3–4 are one dodging pos­i­tion, and the four strokes when it is in 5–6 are the next dodging pos­i­tion. The point at which the treble moves from one dodging pos­i­tion to the next is called a cross-sec­tion.

At the lead-end and the half-lead, the meth­od is sym­met­ric as the treble leads or lies at the back, and so the plain-hunt­ing bells do not change dir­ec­tion. The treble is con­sidered to be in the same dodging pos­i­tion (1–2) all the time that it is dodging 1–2 down, lead­ing, and dodging 1–2 up at the front, and sim­il­arly in the 7–8 dodging pos­i­tion all the time that it is dodging 7–8 up, lying, and dodging 7–8 down at the back. Express­ing that slightly dif­fer­ently, at the front and back, the treble spends eight strokes in the same dodging pos­i­tion: eight strokes in 1–2 (when it is dodging 1–2 down, lead­ing, and dodging 1–2 up); and eight strokes in 7–8 (when it is dodging 7–8 up, lying, and dodging 7–8 down). So when the treble is at the front or the back, the bells that are respect­ively at the back or the front all plain hunt for eight blows before chan­ging dir­ec­tion. We’ll see this more clearly when we trace out the work of each bell.

It’s also worth not­ing that “lead­ing” and “lying” are in quo­ta­tion marks, because this term here includes lead­ing and lying with­in each group of four. So if while plain hunt­ing you are mak­ing two blows in fourth place this is included in “lying” because you are lying at the back of your group of four; and sim­il­arly if while plain hunt­ing you are mak­ing two blows in fifth place this is included in “lead­ing” because you are lead­ing your group of four.

With that intro­duc­tion, we can look at how the bells inter­act with each oth­er and with the treble.



T S Eliot Festival 2018

This year’s T S Eli­ot Fest­iv­al at Little Gid­ding was held on Sunday 8 July 2018. Here is a selec­tion of pic­tures by Carry Akroyd.