Last week, I had to travel to Peterborough for a meeting. I’d never visited the city before and, when I mentioned my pending trip to my mum, she told me I must visit Peterborough Cathedral because my great grandmother’s, great great uncle, John Speechley, had been the organist there in the 1800s.
Up for some history, I made my way to the Cathedral the moment my meeting was over. I was amazed to think that generations ago, members of my family had walked the same paths, under the same arches, through the same grand doors. As the place was founded as a monastic community in 654 AD, and expanded over the years, I won’t be alone. Many people will have relatives who have some connection to the site.
When I stepped through the doors, I looked up, awed by the ornate, wooden ceiling, intricate masonry and coloured windows, each telling a story. Centuries ago, people all around the world had visions well beyond their lifetimes. Rarely do we see this today, with exception of The Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona which is still in construction.
We now get to enjoy what others may have seen only in their imaginations.
When I mentioned my relative to the friendly team at Peterborough Cathedral, I was guided to an enamelled board featuring organists back to 1540 as well as a plaque dedicated to John’s 33 years’ service. How lovely that he’d been treasured.
I felt connected to John, a man I’ve never known, through music. As a toddler, I was always fascinated by keyboards and went on to train as a classical pianist although I play more for my own enjoyment these days. I loved sitting by my great grandmother’s fireplace, listening to her recounting happy years spent as a concert pianist although I was terrified of playing in front of her because she was such a perfectionist.
It’s wonderful that gifts can pass through generations, connecting us with our history.
As I wandered around the Cathedral, stopping by the tomb of Katharine of Aragon, the first of Henry VIII’s six wives and a tribute to Mary, Queen of Scots, who is also buried there, I was reminded how stories of past and present swirl around us all the time. Sometimes we notice them, other times they pass by.
We all have stories in our past, present and future. Some of these stories are in us already, others are waiting to be discovered and turned into something special.
Listen out for stories. Let their music drift toward you.