Symbols of Life and Healing - The First Anniversary of the London Bridge Attack

One of the roles that churches have long had is to be the repository of memory for the community which they serve. It was important to the whole community to appropriately mark the events of the 3 June to help all of us to remember and people yet to come to share our memories.

On the night of the terrorist attack on 3 June 2017, the Metropolitan Police, in an effort to find all the perpetrators of the attack, broke into the Cathedral as they did with many of the properties, business and residential, around the Borough Market.  The big oak doors to the Sacristy took, quite literally, a battering.  The strong oak was pitted by the force applied to break them open.  We quickly decided that we would not repair these doors.  So instead we made them secure but did not attempt to remove the scars.  We then invited Alison Clark to be Artist-in-Residence for the period around this first commemoration of the attack.

Alison is calling her work ‘Broken Beauty’.  She is taking the impression of the ‘wounds’ suffered by the building not just that night, though that is the starting point, but throughout our history. Much of the church dates from the 13th century and shows the signs of wear and tear.  The stones tell a story, just as our bodies tell our own story, just as the body of Jesus tells the story of the cross.  Alison is making beautiful what has been broken.

Broken Beauty by Alison Clark

 

The exterior of the church has many decorative elements but some have deteriorated over time.  Amongst these are the decorative corbels above the choir aisle windows.  These carved stones depict a variety of faces, mostly human but some animal.  We have no idea who they depict.  But the Chapter wanted to replace four of the most badly worn.  We have been working with City and Guilds of London Art School in doing this. 

During the service four new corbels were blessed, one depicting Evelyn Sharp a local Suffragist as we celebrate the centenary of women first gaining the vote; one of Doorkins, our much loved Cathedral cat; and one of the Borough Market, a subject chosen by children from Year 6 of Cathedral School.

Principal amongst the four, however, is that of PC Wayne Marques.  Wayne is an officer with the British Transport Police and was one of the First Responders on the scene on the night of the terrorist attack.  He suffered injury himself from which he is still recovering.  It is not usual in this country to place an image of some one living on a building like this, or in any public space, but for Wayne we have made an exception.  His heroic bravery, his selflessness represents so much of those qualities seen that night amongst those who died and those who survived.  Wayne’s example will be seen by generations of people who will visit this Cathedral.

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Our third memorial is a living one.  As has become the case after so many disasters or deaths flowers were spontaneously laid as a mark of respect.  Most of these were brought to the south end of London Bridge.  Two weeks after the attack the flowers were removed.  Every written message has been archived and all the flowers were composted.  The promise was made then that that compost would be used to plant a tree.  In recognition of that commitment by the London Borough of Southwark an olive tree will be blessed and its planting completed as the final part of this service. 

The olive tree carries huge symbolic power; its oil has long been used to anoint the sick as we pray for healing. Even more significantly for Jews, Christians and Muslims when the dove returned to Moses in the ark it carried a branch of the olive, a sign of peace and of God’s blessing.  This will be our tree of remembrance but also our ‘Tree of Healing’.  Around its pot will be inscribed a verse from scripture.

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‘The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.’ (Revelation 22.2)

Some memorials are for the moment, some are made of stone, some take root and bear fruit.  But the greatest memorials are ones we carry in the heart and the stories we continue to tell each other – and this building will add to that chorus.

The Very Reverend Andrew Nunn

Dean of Southwark