Friday, April 09, 2004

Churchill & Wren in Missouri blog.

A week ago today, I wrapped up my business with an early afternoon lunch in a part of St. Louis I'd never seen before, the area around Concordia Seminary. My associate Jeff W. and I lucked into that, driving around, and ate at a coffee and sandwich shop called Kaldi's, right at the corner of two streets downhill from the seminary. The place was popular, and we couldn't find a table inside, but fortunately it was just warm enough to sit outside, looking out to the hill and some of the seminary buildings beyond. The grass was green, the hill wooded, and the seminary had that contemplative air that a seminary ought to have. A couple of tables away some men I took for seminarians were discussing the writings of St. Augustine.

After dropped Jeff off downtown to pick up his car, I headed west along I-70, which was crowded just ahead of the weekend. It's probably crowded a lot of the time, since it passes directly through St. Charles County, which I know from my real estate reading and interviewing as the current development hotbed in the St. Louis area. For the purposes of my magazine, that's good. Gives me something to write about. For the purposes of a leisurely drive on a Friday afternoon, that's bad. Gives me a headache.

But I wanted to make time to central Missouri, in particular to Fulton. Even more particularly, the Winston Churchill Memorial and Museum on the campus of Westminster College. I made it about 20 minutes before closing, and so had a short look-see. The museum itself is in the basement, with the sort of displays you'd expect: photos, artifacts, reproduced news accounts, and assorted other Churchillania, including some of his watercolors. From reading some of the accounts of his speech in Fulton in 1946, it's clear that his visit to Fulton was the most important thing, ever, as far as the town was concerned.

But I don't want to mock Fulton, since it's a justly famous speech by a justly famous leader. Re-reading the speech after my visit to Fulton, one paragraph in particular struck me. Churchill titled the speech "The Sinews of Peace," and in historic lore it's known as the "Iron Curtain" speech, for that durable turn of phrase. But it could also have been called the "I Told You So" speech. I hope the former prime minister got a little satisfaction, the bittersweet kind, from the penultimate paragraph:

"Last time I saw it all coming and cried aloud to my own fellow-countrymen and to the world, but no one paid any attention. Up till the year 1933 or even 1935, Germany might have been saved from the awful fate which has overtaken her, and we might all have been spared the miseries Hitler let loose upon mankind. There never was a war in all history easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the globe... We surely must not let that happen again. This can only be achieved by reaching now, in 1946, a good understanding on all points with Russia under the general authority of the United Nations Organisation and by the maintenance of that good understanding through many peaceful years, by the world instrument, supported by the whole strength of the English-speaking world and all its connections. There is the solution which I respectfully offer to you in this Address to which I have given the title 'The Sinews of Peace.' "

The museum was interesting enough, but the thing worth enduring I-70 to see was the church on top of the basement museum. It was like wandering into one of Christopher Wren's smaller London churches, full of light and white and space. Actually, this is one of Wren’s London churches, more or less.

From the Westminster College website: "Twice destroyed by fire, the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, is part of the Winston Churchill Memorial. The church, which dates from the 12th century, was redesigned by Sir Christopher Wren in 1677, after the Great Fire of London. Nearly three centuries later a German incendiary bomb left it in ruin. Slated for demolition, Wren's graceful masterpiece was saved by a bold idea. The structure would be rebuilt on the campus of Westminster College as a permanent reminder of Churchill's visit to the college and his prophetic speech. Stone by stone, architects and craftsmen dismantled the Church and painstakingly reconstructed it again at its present site. Today visitors from around the world may enter Wren's beautiful, light-filled sanctuary."

I was by myself in this fine church. A flawless moment, except for the heavy metal music leaking in from outside. From a frat house cater-cornered across the street, in fact. Ah, well. It was Friday, after all.


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