That great big church at the top of Ludgate Hill in that there London was last forced to close its doors in 1942 due to the attentions of the Luftwaffe. Now, tents and banners are considered as threatening as Dorniers and Heinkels.
St Paul’s is no stranger to closure. Prior to the London Blitz, the first cathedral was destroyed when Mellitus, the first Bishop of London, failed to convert enough pagan Anglo Saxons in the early seventh century. The second cathedral was destroyed by fire in 962 and the third burnt down in 1087. St Paul’s number four was badly damaged by fire in 1136, plundered by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the spire was struck by lightening and destroyed in 1561. With a bit of a pattern emerging, “Old St Paul’s” finally burnt down in the 1666 Great Fire of London.
The current masterpiece by Christopher Wren was consecrated in 1708 and mercifully remained unmolested until a bloody big time-delayed bomb embedded itself into the building in 1940. Fortunately, the bomb was defused but other incendiary devices continued to rain down on St Paul’s. It seems odd then, that this latest closure of the cathedral has come about due to concerns over health and safety. In 1940, 500 pounds of high explosives lodged in the transept did not stop worship, but now, acoustic guitars, beards and the occasional pair of flip-flops threatens the very fabric of heaven and earth.
The Occupy campaign, in case you hadn’t noticed, has gone global. In 1,000 cities across the world, people are staging peaceful protests against the plundering of the planet by the very wealthy few at the expense of the very many poor. Some nervous governments have reacted with tear gas, baton charges and mass arrests in spite of the fact that the occupations are passive and well within the law of each sovereign state. Within the ranks of political apparatchiks in the pay of the powerful rich, there is growing foreboding that these protests are not going to go away.
Here in merry England and the once great Britain, our gentlemen’s gentlemen in the coalition are happy to allow unscrupulous rich people to become richer and bash anyone over the head who dares to object to the fact that the poor are becoming poorer. Unfortunately, some of the kettled and bruised young people have reasonably well off mummies and daddies who usually vote for the valets of market forces and might just stop donating to the below stairs Christmas party fund. Clearly, a new tactic is needed.
The days of impoverished old ladies selling bird seed on the steps of St Paul’s have long gone. Actively encouraging the attraction of vermin, these vagrants and scroungers needed to be moved on in order to secure the health and safety of worshippers during Matins and Evensong. Having rid the City of London of this curse, the pigeons mysteriously remain and the incendiary bombs have become less frequent.
At the start of the Occupy the London Stock Exchange protest, the authorities at St Paul’s stated that they respected the right to peaceful protest and worked with the demonstrators to allow them to pitch camp. Realising that bashing legitimate demonstrators over the head had failed, the government, the press and the lunatic back benchers in cloud cuckoo land started the name-calling. Feckless anarchist youth, scroungers, deficit denying scum, unwashed morons and, the ultimate put down, anti-capitalists were offending God. Time to evoke the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
The cathedral closed, citing concerns over sanitation and access to the emergency services even thought the protesters had in place all the tick-box requirements for a legal demonstration, even designating an overspill site for people joining the protest. So what made the good clergy of St Paul’s change their minds about a welcome to the poor and dispossessed?
Some terribly cynical people have suggested that tourists will not visit Wren’s masterpiece because of threats of violence from anarchists and will thus deprive the church of much needed income. At £14.50 for an adult and £5.50 for a child, that is an awful lot of income. Closing the big place means zero income and prayers being offered behind closed doors. A few robed canons does not help God’s business plan as the church needs the tourist buck, euro and yen.
Others, even more gullible, have dared to voice an opinion that the government has put pressure on the Church of England to evict these embarrassing purveyors of bird seed and tell them to get a job. Sadly, there are no jobs to be had, even for the young graduates who actually like capitalism but don’t like the corporate greed that rewards the wicked and punishes the virtuous. All around the cathedral, the Saints and Apostles, look down as they sell their wares.
The right wing press found themselves in a dilemma. After years and years of “health and safety gone mad” headlines, they now give us stories of a bride who had to enter the cathedral through a side door to be married. The bride has to be safe on the most important day of her life. She smiled serenely and seemed to enjoy the attention of the six television news crews and the cheering protesters at the closed front door. Instead of headlines denouncing red tape, we were given headlines describing a big day ruined by anarchists. The temporary closure of St Paul`s received an extraordinary amount of media attention in stark contrast to the permenant closure of care homes for impoverished old ladies who once sold bird seed. In more ways than one, for the bride and “city worker” groom, who probably spent more on the cost of the ceremony than the price of a house for less elevated newly-weds, it was a day to remember.
The Church of England seems to have a problem in conducting risk assessments. Turning to scripture is no help as there is no mention in either testament of reducing the risk of a money lender being injured during the over-turning of tables in a temple or how to manage the hazard of sitting on a cloud playing a harp or what to do when the Protestants and Catholics kick off once inside the pearly gates. The Health and Safety Executive would not be best pleased with the form being filled in with “It is God’s will” against every control measure of risk.
A spoonful of sugar will help the alleged medicine of austerity go down when a tiny minority of bankers and millionaires continue to benefit from the misery of billions of people. If you happen to be walking on Ludgate Hill, buy a bag of bird seed, a loaf, a four pack of lager, a phone top up, some cheese and maybe a bottle of propane for the young people who are peacefully saying that we have had enough. Or just give them tuppence.
After an Arab Spring, perhaps there will be a Bankers Fall, or Autumn as we say on this side of the pond. Let us hope that the peaceful protesters all around the world do not get their hands on AK47s, rocket launchers, canon, tanks or a misguided notion that violence makes it right.
If not, then we can all go fly a kite. Lawks a mercy, Mary Poppins.