I'm normally a fairly sceptical type of a chap, not given to seeing signs or visions. Miraculous Revelations don't normally play much part in my daily life : I would rate them on a reliability index only just above Daily Mail editorials. It might therefore come as a bit of a surprise to followers of this blog, when I reveal that I have received a message from on high. And what's more, the message was hand-delivered by a saint. Over the last few days Cousin Dave - assisted by his apprentice, the Divine Jennifer - have been repairing and repainting our front wall. Whilst painting a fiddly bit, the Divine J accidentally knocked the wooden nameplate off the front gate. The nameplate proclaims that the house is called Inglewood, a name which I have always considered so ridiculous I have never used it. But when the wooden nameplate fell to the ground it revealed the original name of the house carved into the stone of the gatepost : St. Gothard.
Now even though I'm a bit of a sceptic, I am as keen as the next man to follow up on a passing augury (only last week I was occupied in mapping the pigeon droppings on the bonnet of my car in case they provided a clue to the meaning of life). So off I went to try and discover who on earth St Gothard was and what he did, other than possibly building a tunnel through the Alps. As it turns out the only connection between Gothard (or Godehard as he preferred to be called) and the tunnel was that someone built a church dedicated to him on the top of the pass. Gothard was a German and his main claim to fame was as Bishop of Hildesheim, in Germany. He was nominated Bishop in 1022 by the Emperor Henry, but tried to turn the post down on the basis of his age - he was just 60 at the time. The Emperor would have none of it and insisted that Gothard should undertake the task irrespective of his age. Butler's Lives of the Saints takes the story up : "He threw himself into the work of his diocese with the zest and energy of a young man. He built and restored churches he did much to foster education, especially in the cathedral school ; he established such strict order in his chapter that it resembled a monastery , and, on a swampy piece of land which he reclaimed on the outskirts of Hildesheim, he built a hospice where the sick and poor were tenderly cared for".
I have been thinking a lot over recent weeks about my approaching sixtieth birthday, wondering what life has in store for me as I slowly limp downhill towards old age. I have been a bit rudderless. Searching for a sign. And there it is : carved in Times Roman on the stone of our gatepost. Starting tomorrow I will restore churches, establish schools and build a hospice or two. I will be the St Gothard of the twenty-first century.
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