When I was in London last week, assailed by waves of caffeine withdrawal, I decided to call for a coffee in the crypt. Don’t worry, this is not the type of dramatic expression of being on my death bed which we blokes normally come out with as soon as we get a headache.
No, rather, it was a visit to St.Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, which has a cafe downstairs in the, well, crypt.
And no, before you ask, it wasn’t dead. In fact it was quite busy. A perfect place to find respite from the crowds of the square, where you can get something to eat with ancient tombstones beneath your feet and modern tourists above your head.
When I went into the church itself, there were many people spread out among the pews, sat with their heads face down on top of their arms. At first I thought they were all praying. Then the penny dropped-they were all sleeping. At the root of the church’s ministry is care for the vulnerable and disadvantaged, and these were all homeless people catching up on the sleep I guess they miss out on when out in the cold and inhospitable outside world.
It was impressive. This is how I imagine a church should be.
I had only ever heard of the building before in relation to the many renowned classical concerts that it hosts. I have spotted it on the odd cd that I own.
Outside the church doors is a sculpture by Mike Chapman called ‘Christ Child’, commissioned for the Millenium. Around its base the inscription reads:
In the beginning was the word and the word became flesh and lived among us.
On top of the stone is a newborn baby, its umbilical cord disappearing into the rock from which it is emerging.
The contrast of smooth flesh and rough hewn rock.
Whatever your opinion of Christmas, and of the nativity stories in particular, the sculpture is stunning. It reminded me of this photograph I have seen of the carving of a fetus into rock along a road in Columbia, which I think was done to create awareness about abortion.
Stood on that outer porch, I could hear the whisper of Michelangelo:
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.
The freed Christ Child, the realised vision of the creator, (with a little ‘c’ or capital ‘C’, depending on your perspective), is pretty impressive.
So too is the ministry of this church, begun in the early twentieth century, among the most marginalised members of the community. If ever you find yourself in London go and check out the church yourself.
Maybe grab yourself a coffee down among the dead men.