I’m writing this at Wittenberg station whilst awaiting the train back to Berlin. I came here to visit the church where, on the 31st October 1517, Martin Luther pinned his 95 theses on the church door. (I looked for the drawing pin holes but the doors are now covered with bronze sheets inscribed with Luther’s manifesto written in Latin.) Now I doubt that many have ever read Martin Luther’s impassioned plea, in Latin or in English. Nor had I until just now, waiting for the train. Yet his 95 theses, published five hundred years ago, changed Europe as profoundly then as the Maastricht Treaty has in our life time. But then who has read this either? Maybe it was the tedium, waiting for the train, but the publication that marked the beginning of the Reformation that would sweep across Europe, leading to, amongst other things, Henry VIII’s grabbing power from out of the Pope’s hands, is hardly an enthralling read. Most seems gobbledegook, but Luther was arguing that the Pope should remember that he wasn’t God. (The Church then had this ingenious way for raising monies. You paid an ‘indulgence’ and then the Pope would absolve you from your sin giving you a free pass to heaven. Great for the coffers but theologically dodgy, though personally I would overlook this if anyone would like to make a suitable donation to the church today.) ‘They preach vanity’, Luther wrote, ‘who say, ‘As soon as the money rattles in the chest / The soul flies from Purgatory into Heaven’ (Theses 27).’ History will judge if todays bureaucrats’ dictum proves equally vain, ‘When we pay Brussels their demand / The British bulldog will bark again’. Vain or otherwise, I suspect the next few years will be our purgatory, as it proved for Luther following his publication. (Do ask if you would like a copy.)
Whilst Easyjet-ting back, I started to read ‘The Rings of Saturn’ by the German author W G Sebald. (My version is in English.) The book caught my attention, probably because of the recent reports on the remarkable journey by the Cassini spacecraft. Launched a few years after the Maastricht Treaty, Cassini is presently skimming through the icy rings of Saturn before spiralling into the planet’s atmosphere where, with its nuclear power source, it will be destroyed. (More littering of space though perhaps Cassini, named after the astronomer (1675), is bio-degradable.) I think that I read somewhere that Saturn’s rings are fragments of a former moon that was too close to the planet and was destroyed by its tidal effect. Anyway, the book is nothing to do with the planet Saturn as such but is a reflection on the transience of life, which the author explores through the lives of past and present East-Angles as he walked the Suffolk coastal path. I’m not sure whether, even if I walk the Suffolk coast path, my thoughts would warrant a book.
Did you hear that they are going to dig up the car park in Bury St Edmunds because they think that they have discovered the burial place of St Edmund (the true patron saint of England). Stuff and nonsense. St Edmund was martyred in a former parish of mine, Bradfield St Clare; his body buried in King’s Wood, a medieval copse an arrow’s flight from the church. This digging up car parks malarkey is catching.
I have just worked out that our move to Suffolk at the end of June will be the fifteenth time we have packed up our possessions and shipped them somewhere new. Previous moves have crisscrossed continents so ‘retiring’ just north of the Thames to Suffolk should be a doddle. If only.
Looking at all our chattels I’m not surprised they reckon they need to build Dartford Crossing Two. Perhaps I should delay my retirement until I’m 96 to allow time for the new crossing to be built. I don’t have the confidence though that they will complete its construction in time.
I thought that this would be my final contribution to Copthorne Magazine, from this side of the Thames anyway, but the editors have contrived to bring the publication of the summer edition forward by a few weeks. Vanity, vanity. All is vanity. I’ll just have to visit Germany and put pen to paper again.