Books, Beer and Bridges...
As I’ve said a couple of times already, I was privileged to visit Munich a few weeks ago… That whole has a strong Roman Catholic character and a proud monastic tradition, and while I was there I learned more about the monks role in copying books and Bibles (as I noted previously), but also in the beer brewing industry of Bavaria, which may have outgrown its monastic roots, but still uses images of monks as a marketing tools.
But, while wandering round the Deutsches Museum, I also learned of the tradition of a "bridge-building brotherhood” who apparently dedicated their lives to building bridges as acts of piety, as much as for public utility, with the main practical aim being to aim pilgrims on their way. The story goes that St. Benozet (or Benedict) was influentual in the formation of such a brotherhood in the 12th century to build the old "pont d'Avignon" over the Rhone, which people sing about dancing on... Subsequest research on return from Munich, however suggests that this (and many of the other stories of bridge-building monks) are exaggerated, or perhaps misinterpretations of the idea of "brotherhood" which may have referred to a trade guild rather than a religious order.
While we were away most of the news from the UK was filled with stories of the floods in Cumbria, resulting in the collapse of at least 4 local bridges and the damage of many others, producing divided communities and social isolation. Indeed as I publish this piece today, there is news of a new footbridge constructed, not by a crack unit of bridge-building monks, but by the Royal Engineering Corps, reuniting the two sides of Workington. Yet normally we take bridges, and their builders for granted.
So I don't know whether monastic orders were really as influential in the business of building bridges as they were in the preservation of books and the brewing of beer, but there are spiritual lessons to be learned from them all the same. On the sheer physical level, building structures that address particular public need (rather than simply building places of worship) can be an act of piety and prophecy (see the work of Skainos in East Belfast for example).
But also, we may not be civil engineers or architects or members of a monastic brotherhood of bridge-builders but ALL Christians are called on to build bridges within and between communities… Not with bridges of stone and steel, but bridges of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation between hurting, hating, insecure and isolated people.
(Yet another adapted "Just a Moment" from last week... It actually "escaped" in an unamended form earlier on... apologies.)