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In Willesden Churchyard

2nd March 2021

An extract from the virtual tour for St David's Day 2021

This is St Mary's Church in Willesden Green,
erected in the thirteenth century,
beside the Roman road the Watling Street 
which ran to Wales. The church replaced one which 
had stood since year nine thirty eight. 'Twas then
that Athelstan the Saxon King bequeathed
this special parish to St Paul's to show 
his gratitude to God for helping him
expel the pagan Danes. It's special here 
because there is a spring beneath the church
where Druids worshipped Brigantia goddess
of the Celts. Her name's preserved in Brent
a London suburb and a river which 
the spring feeds into. Druids were the priests,
the ovates prophets and the writers bards
in ancient Welsh society - at least 
that's how Victorians romanticised it.
We have this from the O.B.O.D. or the Order
of the Bards Ovates and Druids which
is reckoned as the world authority. 
In time the Welsh were christianised and when 
they were, they did religion with some zeal.
Their villages were Biblical, their Sabbath
dry, their nonconformists passionate, 
their juveniles as keen as Mary Jones 
who crossed the hills barefoot to buy a Bible.
She epitomised Welsh piety. 
'The church and state are one!' expostulated
at the dinner table. God was talk. 
The Welsh community in Willesden Green 
adored the Virgin Mary and they made
a shrine to her which summoned pilgrims by
the coach and turned a tidy profit for 
the town. They built a school in Willesden Lane
where all the lessons were in Welsh and then
a club for Working Men with parquet dance floor,
photographs of rugby fifteens, trophy
cabinets and bars in every room
like altars in a church. St Mary was
the best loved saint in mediaeval England
and the Welsh of Willesden had one who
could rival any other, up there with
the Walsinghams and nearer London too.
Pilgrims creak the fourteenth century door,
baptise infants at the Norman font ,
tread on shiny brasses and admire
the grave of novelist Charles Reade eighteen
fourteen eighteen eighty four, a neat
threescore and ten and subject of
a tender iambic pentameter
blank verse by Betjeman, In Willesden Churchyard.