Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Competing Litany

The postwar [i.e. post Third World War] landscape, then, was all over the country, featureless and dull. But in the neighborhood of Cambridge there was an exception to this. Owing to one of those freaks in the process of destruction, of which the Second World War had given many examples, the western tower of Ely Cathedral still survived. The rest of the church was flat, its ruins scarcely distinguishable in the mud that heaved around it, but the tower still stood, a gigantic and awe-inspiring landmark. Indeed its effect was so overwhelming that beholders had been known to faint at the sight of it, and even the least sensitive were moved with tumultuous feelings for which they couldn't account.
Those few who remembered the great building in its glory would sometimes try to describe it but they got no encouragement to do this, for nostalgia of any kind was looked on askance. Not that the Dictator frowned upon religion; he even encouraged it as a necessary outlet of the human spirit; but it had to be the contemporary religion of his own brand, and the Litany was the only form of it that he permitted to delinquents. The Litany in which everyone was equal, equal in sinnerdom. The tower of Ely Cathedral, piercing the heavens, spoke another language.
-- from FACIAL JUSTICE (1960) by L.P. Hartley