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October 2019 Vol. 15 No. 3

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Mark Gilbert

In Wells

Puffclouds zoom across the sky as we walk down the cobbled, narrow, quaint little streets of Wells, slurping on ice lollies like kiddies, watching the tourists and the women buying bread and meat and vegetables from market stall counters. Leaves on trees churn as we pass. I see a sign in a churchyard, fluorescent yellow-green lettering on a lurid pink background:

We preach C H R I S T
crucified — risen —
ascended — returning.

Turning a corner, the massive stone hulk of Wells Cathedral looms above us, placed on a small patch of geometrical green turf as if part of God’s personal trainset. Wells is a tiny little town, stuck out in the meandering meadows of Somerset. How could it have ended up with such a giant Cathedral as this? It dwarfs its surroundings in every way.

a warm wind
the slow dissolve
of gargoyles

We approach the building’s grey facade along a gravel path as if visiting the Emerald City for the first time, Colin and I flanking ‘Dorothy’. We enter through a tiny hole in an enormous door of wood and knobbly rust. I toss some coins into a large copper jug near the entrance and wander up the west-facing side of the Cathedral alone, glancing at the altars, statues and commemorative plaques. I walk with soft, almost silent footsteps. The air is cold and stale and damp. I can smell mildew. There is a large American man wearing a baseball cap with a Viking’s head on it. “Hi,” he says as I pass, and his voice bounces off every flat surface.

I go into a side room and see a beautiful life-size carving of Jesus in crucifix pose made out of mahogany or some such deep brown-grained wood, bolted to the wall. He hangs over me with sorrow and resignation and a tilt of the head and his feet are right in front of my face with an iron spike pounded through them as if by a single blow – lovely polished and varnished wooden feet with slender curves and perfectly manicured toes. I pull out my camera and take a picture. Then another, just in case the first one doesn’t come out.

before Jesus
exploring His toenails
nothing happens