The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 779 AD mentions a settlement called Seletun. Archaeological remains show it to have been first settled by the Vikings and there was an extensive Roman presence. Today the little town of Selby still straddles the banks of the Ouse in the West Riding of Yorkshire. These days, since the reordering of the counties, it belongs officially to North Yorkshire, but the less said about governmental interference with our Ridings the better. The Ridings themselves cannot be changed by the transience of politics. There are three Ridings …from Thirdings, it is thought… North, West and East; we dispensed with the south. The Ridings meet in the Vale of York… the Ainsty.
To be fair, Selby Abbey isn’t actually a cathedral, just a normal Parish Church, though I know many a parish church that would fit comfortably within the walls of its vestry, and many a cathedral that would be dwarfed by its size and magnificence. I had been there before, long, long ago, before I had any real knowledge and no understanding of anything other than the beauty I found within its walls.
Still, the memory is a fond one. I had been taken by my grandparents when we had gone to visit great grandmother. She had gone blind one day on her way to work one day… already well past retirement age, of course… and was being cared for in Selby. I remember a few things from that early visit… like the Stars and Stripes and the story of the Maundy Money which Grandma Annie told me outside the south door of the Abbey, showing me where the queen had stood.
So, although I had been inside the church before that was more than forty years ago and I knew little of what to expect. The exterior I knew well by sight, but again, I’d had insufficient knowledge to form any understanding of it back then. Seeing its beauty was enough for the youngster. Coming back armed with greater knowledge to something I had thought familiar was an object lesson in the errors of preconception and a graphic reminder that the more knowledge we bring to anything we do, the wider the gates of understanding will stand open to allow us to pass within.
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