The Titanic Pall will be taken down today for the first time for some months for the funeral service of Bill Blair, who, though having been unable to be present for more than two years in St Anne’s, has nonetheless been ever-present in our prayers day by day.
The pall was created five years ago to be both functional and a thing of beauty; liturgical and symbolic; and, above all, it needed to be an appropriate memorial to those who had died when the Titanic sunk. This seems to be an odd mixture of things, and presented Helen O’Hare and Wilma Kirkpatrick who designed (pictured above) and made it with guidelines that allowed room for artistic expression, but only within well-defined limits. Considering this, they produced something that is universally admired, and I continue to be thankful to them for their thoughtful and skilful work.
The size had to be right to begin with, as it needs to be big enough, and heavy enough, to be the covering that a pall should be. Then, for the cathedral, it had to look right in the space in which it was to be used. It was only after these things were determined that we worked on the design that Helen and Wilma created. We never intended it to be ‘an attraction’, though that is what it has become, fitting, as it does, exactly a space, as if made for it, on the south wall of the nave.
However, today, it is to be used once again. It reminds us of mortality; of the frailness of human life; of the inadequacy of our efforts to make safe when all we can ever do is reduce risk. Yet, on the other hand, it recalls too, the nobility of endeavour, aspiration and hope.
At Bill’s funeral we shall read from 1Corinthians 15; the magnificent description that St Paul gives of the Christian view of the life beyond this one. It is the reading that from choice I would use more often. Maybe it is just that, as a gardener, the image of the seed being planted for new life to appear, is so powerful. The rain, that is falling steadily as I write this, reminds us too, how dependant we are on the forces of nature amidst which we live. The rain is welcome; the garden was dry; water too, is functional, beautiful, liturgical, symbolic – without it, as we often acknowledge, life would cease.