Ship of Fools: St Clement with St Barnabas and Matthew, Finsbury, London

imageShip of Fools: St Clement with St Barnabas and Matthew, Finsbury, London

Serpents and splendid isolation – but scant incense

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  • Old Testament reading (Numbers 21:4-9) and gospel (John 3:1-17) referred to the serpent of bronze that Moses lifted up in the desert to banish the venom of the real serpents the Israelites encountered there. Heh! I thought, I was taught that the caduceus (a serpent winding around a pole) was an invention of classical antiquity (before it got appropriated as a logo by big pharma companies). Maybe the Greeks got it from the tribes of Israel? Maybe its one of those symbols that miraculously occurs in different cultures independently? Maybe ...?
    It’s a motif found throughout the ancient Near East, including Greece, though properly speaking, the serpent on the staff lifted up by Moses is more closely related to the the Rod of Asclepius than to the caduceus. Jesus makes reference to the serpent and staffing the third chapter of John, referring to his crucifixion; I assume that’s why it was read on Holy Cross Sunday.

    Random trivia: The serpent on the staff/cross was a prominent image in seals of the Presbyterian Church in the USA until the 1950s.

  • Good to hear that St Clement's is still going strong! About 30 years ago, I was working in an office not far away, and I can recall attending an evening Sung Mass - I think it was St Matthew's Day, the patronal festival of one of the parishes now joined with St C's, but whose church was demolished a long while ago.

    My memory is a bit hazy, but that might have been partly caused by the clouds of incense which the MWer so missed yesterday! IIRC, too, there was a reasonably large congregation, and some good singing (I think it was the first occasion on which I'd sung Sweet Sacrament Divine...).

    25-30 in these days of Coronatide is not a bad number - we get about 20 on a Sunday, but that's without the 3 or 4 young families with Quite Small People who usually attend (or used to...I hope they come back in due course...).
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