Friday, 7 September 2012

Pepys and Pepysibility

On the Friday nearest the anniversary of the Great Fire of London, we have a special sermon preached at our evening Filling Up of Beakers. Always seems particularly appropriate, given a good supply of filled beakers might have been useful back in those not-so-dark days of 1666.

It always makes me nervous when people bring Samuel Pepys into it. It reminds me of that famous "Pepys-y - what a rogue, eh?" sermon a few years ago. The only occasion I can remember a worship band having bottles thrown at them, and that was because of the suggestion that, although he was fond of a "bit of skirt (nudge-nudge)", Samuel Pepys was a saved man because he went regularly to church. Thus ignoring his habit of accosting females (and engaging in certain unsavoury practices) in those sacred premises. And that some of the "skirt-chasing" he was indulging in, involved taking advantage of the servant girls and the wife of his subordinate. We might use other words for his behaviour - and not ones in a mixture of Latin and French, written in code.

But we decided to avoid this kind of sermon by inviting Drayton over. He saw it as a way of evangelising my "heretical flock", as he calls them. And I could count on him not to approve of Pepys's adulteries. So on this occasion the subject was "Our God is a consuming fire". It contained the claim that the Fire meant the end of the Bubonic Plague in England (thus showing how God's mighty works bring good out of apparent despair). A nice point, but not historicallly true and begging the question, why did God simply not allow the plague to start in the first place.

This was followed by the statement that the Fire, by a miracle, didn't kill many people. Not true. Although maybe not many people that mattered.

And then the masterpiece. Drayton told us that Samuel Pepys buried a parmesan cheese in the garden as he left. He compared the cheese to being "that dearest little sin - the one gem of a sin that we cling on to - the 40lb sin that weights down the soul - DRAGGING IT INTO HELL! (He illustrated this by picking up a large round of cheese he'd brought along, and bowing to the ground with it.

The parmesan cheese, said Drayton, was in danger confronted by the consuming fire - as sin cannot stand before the face of the Holy One. So he buried it - as we hide our sins from God, thinking he will not see them.

But - and here was the moral - what was the sequel, asked Drayton. A few days later, Pepys returned to discover that the heat of the fire had melted the cheese - leaving the unfortunate Pepys with a giant cold Welsh Rarebit.

Now I'm pretty sure that this too is untrue. And I list all track of the point at this stage. But I'm just glad Drayton didn't blame the Catholics. So an overall success.

But while we're on the subject, I have my own theory on the fire.

The reason that the fire burnt down Old St Paul's was that it was wrapped in wood cladding at the time. Christopher Wren was running a bit of a renovation. As a result of the wood, the place burnt down. Instead of a bit of making-do-and-mend, Chrissie W got the full rebuild gig. Not to mention a score of other churches to build.

I'm not one to build wild conspiracy theories, but I note that neither John Evelyn nor Samuel Pepys record having had Christopher Wren round to dinner that fateful night when the fire started. So he must have been somewhere else. I don't need to carve you a Grinling Gibbons pew end, do I?

1 comment :

  1. I always thought he was at a Lodge meeting with Hawkesmoor. Of course that still fits the theory. I blame the Dutch.


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