I was happy to pay a startling amount to use the car park as it was centrally located and I needed to spend part of the afternoon somewhere before finding and dropping my case in the bed and breakfast. Having already read that the Church of the Holy Trinity in Kendal was of ancient origin I decided that, on this rainy Lakeland day, this was a place to nose around. A place of prayer whose first foundations were laid circa AD 850 deserves modern pilgrims, even those who drive Vauxhall Corsas.
The woman at the greeting desk welcomed me and pressed a tri-fold leaflet into my hand and I wandered around the nave, trying not to trip over anything as I read about the treasures that the church contained. Most of the building dates to the 12th century but there are numerous examples of later innovations, and a wealth of historical information and anecdotes! (I particularly liked the 17th century story of the parish employing a full-time glazier to constantly replace the side chapel glass, at which the local grammar school boys would throw stones!)
But the more I looked the more I felt an overwhelming sense of disappointment at what I saw. Not on account of the history of the church, nor its artifacts and memorials, but because of the way in which the whole of the interior of the building was presented and maintained. A few examples: In the 13th century Strickland Chapel, dedicated to St Catherine, where there is a tomb and effigy of a young boy, cleaning materials were being stored - brooms leaning against that very tomb. In the Bellingham Chapel (16th century) which is the Memorial Chapel of the Border Regiment, the Colours (for whatever reason) were stacked in a corner behind folding chairs. And along the north aisle, where the pilgrim is invited to look up at the roof and see the beautiful carvings of angels, the floor and pews were littered with children’s books, papers and toys. I asked, and apparently that area is used for a play group on Sunday. This was Thursday and had no one tidied up?
My initial disappointment grew into a sense of being ever so slightly cross. This jewel in the crown of churches was being treated by its present stewards as a workplace, a storage area, a religious hallway. There seemed little, if any, sense of prayer, or of pilgrimage, and no respect for generations for whom this holy site had higher, more profound meaning. And whose tombs still bore witness to lives once very much a part of this community. Is this a sad indictment on the modern Church of England? Or a mere trend by those, clergy especially, who devalue the significance of these things?
Leaving and driving on, I scribbled down these thoughts on the banks of Windermere, chewing on delicious ham sandwiches, and cheered up. The rain had stopped and the sun was beginning to filter through the clouds. I won’t be returning to Holy Trinity Kendal in a hurry anyway. Not until they’ve tidied the bloody place up!