Founders’ Day at Stogs 4

After visiting the old building, everyone strolled up Tooley St. to Southwark Cathedral, where the Founders’ Day commemoration service has traditionally been held. It is a gorgeous building whose beauty can barely be appreciated from the ground because of the elevated railway lines and tall buildings that surround it.

You can read about the history of the cathedral (the site has been used for worship for over 1000 years) here

As I rarely have an opportunity to attend a service in a Gothic cathedral, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The music was first rate.  I was surprised to learn that the school song (“Olaf to right the wrong”) is no longer sung. “Jerusalem” has taken its place. I find the popularity of this hymn quite ironic. Stirring it may be, but I don’t think most people understand the subversive nature of the original poem. One of my favorite authors, Bishop of Durham N T Wright, said a couple of years ago,

“I was fascinated to see that we are to end this service by singing ‘Jerusalem’. Blake’s poem – or rather, this short piece of Blake’s much longer poem – has come in for some stick, partly because of its association in people’s minds with a now rather faded nationalism, and partly because, as one famous preacher recently pointed out, the entire first verse consists of four grandly rhetorical questions to each of which the answer is, ‘Er, no, actually’. Did those feet, the feet of Jesus himself, in ancient times walk upon England’s mountains green? Er, no. Was the Holy Lamb of God on England’s pleasant pastures seen? Pretty certainly not. Did the countenance divine shine forth upon our clouded hills? Sorry, that’s another No. And was Jerusalem builded here, among these dark satanic mills? Well, now you’re asking; and what, in particular, has the building of Jerusalem got to do with the physical presence of Jesus? Even if Jesus had come as a boy to these islands, as in the ancient legend of Joseph of Arimathea (which is of course part of the reason why, as we sit here, thousands of people are getting wet and muddy at Glastonbury), why would he have wanted to reconstruct Jerusalem? When we read the gospels, most of the times Jesus refers to Jerusalem it is to warn that a city which behaves like that is courting disaster.

Nor do I imagine that Blake would have found much favour with Archdeacon Thorp, Bishop van Mildert, or the rest of those who boldly created this university in 1832 and celebrated its royal charter five years later. Nor they with him. The ‘dark satanic mills’ were not, after all, as some imagine, the cotton-mills and steel-mills of the new, noisy and smoky industrial revolution. They were the great churches, like Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral, which Blake saw as being hopelessly in thrall to the follies of the world, follies he saw all too clearly in the great thinkers of what was already calling itself the ‘Enlightenment’. He faced down the scorn of Voltaire and Rousseau against the deep mysteries of faith; you throw the sand against the wind, he wrote, and the wind blows it back again. And he would, I suspect, have been deeply suspicious of an alliance between the established church and the new impetus to learning, focussed not least on a Norman Cathedral and imposing castle. Giving Blake the last word in a celebration like this could be seen as a dangerously subversive act; or perhaps we should see it more like what happens when an old unreconstructed Marxist trade unionist is given a peerage and ends his days muttering his imprecations against The System from a somnolent posture on the back benches of the House of Lords.”

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2 Responses to Founders’ Day at Stogs 4

  1. Ian J says:


    An excellent commentary on the old school – almost like being back there myself.

    Ian J

  2. thebarrowboy says:

    Hi, Ian. Thanks. It was quite an exorcism!

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