A year of lockdowns has certainly passed slowly. But there are topics for thought. One disappointment has been the Church of England’s failure to take its opportunity. It could have tried to position itself at the centre of national life. Even unbelievers should agree that if its Church were stronger, so would England be. What about the occasional day of prayer? A surprising number of people would have taken part. Instead we had closed churches and teeth-grating literature, like brochures from a third-rate business school. Faith by platitude and Zoom call does not work.
This is a better way. My friend Alexander Sherbrooke, the RC parish priest of St Patrick’s, Soho, believes that it would be blasphemous to close a church. This would mean that ‘the faithful were denied the Sacrament: the Blood, Body, Soul and Divinity of Christ present at Holy Mass’. Many Anglicans find transubstantiation a doctrine too far, but oh for a bishop who could express his faith in such resonant, confident language.
Father Alexander does not only nourish souls. He goes to great lengths to feed the poor — and feed them well. Ladies from Kensington gently compete to prepare haute cuisine. One suspects that many of the recipients would prefer a bag of chips, but they leave well-dined. There is a remarkable aspect to all this. Those who eat at St Patrick’s have been living on the streets. Many have compromised immune systems, and it is unlikely that they practise social distancing. Since last March, St Patrick’s has served more than 35,000 meals. Some former clients have been housed by Westminster council and have lost touch with his church, so Alexander cannot speak for them. But he is not aware of a single case of Covid.
Many years ago, he worked with Mother Teresa and was convinced of her sanctity. Well before Rome canonised her in 2016, he joined her in his prayers. He does not think it impossible that she has taken the poor of his parish under her protection. Even those who would dismiss this as a charming superstition might accept that there is something to explain. Why should Alexander’s homeless flock seem to enjoy immunity?
Invited to partake in the repast, I offered to bring a couple of bottles for high table, but was told there was no high table — and that the last thing many partakers needed was the beguiling sight of drink. I countered that it might encourage aspiration, but the answer was firmly ‘no’.
Had it been in the affirmative, I might have chosen something from Jacky Blot. Although he has featured here before, it is well worth repetition. For decades, the wines of the Loire had been losing prestige. It may be that familiarity had bred contempt, but Chenin Blanc, the region’s staple, was often dismissed as producing decent plonk at best; at less than best, steer clear. This has been triumphantly refuted by Jacky, who has been expanding his domaines for 30 years and is widely reckoned to be producing the finest Chenin in the world.
I recently tasted his Domaine de la Taille aux Loups, 2015. A delightful wine, it is fully ready now, but should be good for another three years at least. Justerini & Brooks are now marketing his 2017, which they reckon is just coming into its own. The greater year, it should be superb.
Jacky’s headquarters is near Amboise, between the Loire and the Cher. This is proper France, in a different moral universe to the Parisian Macronnerie: the corrupting effect of Brussels on a political class many of whom still bear the taint of Vichy. We are near la Vendée, whose inhabitants fought and suffered for the monarchy during the Revolution and have stood firm in the old ways ever since. Now they have a winemaker worthy of their great traditions.