Salisbury - of all places!
It is such a sleepy market town! It’s so strange that Salisbury has recently become the focus of so much media attention and international political intrigue. It has a thriving local market. Lots of small shops. A gentle river winds by. You could sometimes well think yourself in a different century. People - even tourists – go quietly about their business, and then take tea.
But the attempt to kill a former Russian spy and his daughter in broad daylight in a small shopping mall in Salisbury has changed all that. The reasons for the attack? Details are scarce. We do not know. We are so far removed from the back-story that we may never really know. What is clear is that Salisbury has, temporarily at least, become the focus of a huge international power-play. Individuals have become pawns in somebody else’s dark game.
Salisbury is one of my favourite places in England. I have often spent a quiet hour in the cathedral - heard evensong many times. I sometimes met our daughter there for a meal when she was at university. I frequently visited Sarum College in the cathedral close to meet with a mentor, when I was carrying heavy administrative responsibility. There’s a very good theology bookshop there and lots of places for tea and scones!
But there is another side to Salisbury. You find it reflected in literature from various eras. The cathedral close is the setting for Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles. For Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth as well. Thomas Hardy’s Melchester in Jude the Obscure is Salisbury thinly disguised. All of these stories centre on power-plays. Individuals become victims to others’ thrust for power. And the magnificent cathedral itself was built as a symbol of power as much as a place of worship.
It is ironic that the cathedral chapter house guards one of only four copies of Magna Carta. Ironic that behind the high altar is a chapel with dazzling blue modern stained glass windows dedicated to prisoners of conscience. Both the document and the window protest vigorously against treating the individual as disposable for the sake of some greater good.
Salisbury 2018 reminds ordinary people such as ourselves that we should use our own power over others, however small, with great care. Our fellow human beings must never simply be means to our ends. Think about it. It’s more difficult than it sounds.