Sunday, May 24, 2009

`His Reputation for Holiness'

The middle-aged man with the metal detector pulled off his head phones as I approached him on the lawn by the abandoned seminary. I asked him the question I ask fishermen -- “Any luck?” -- and like a fisherman he bragged while trying to sound modest: “Not much. Mercury dimes. A slew of ’em over by those trees. Some other coins. No jewelry.” Had he ever found anything related to the seminary? “A gold-plated crucifix once, on a gold chain.”

Behind us was Saint Edward Seminary, closed 33 years ago by the Archdiocese of Seattle and now part of Saint Edward State Park. The four-story building with walls of multi-colored bricks and a terra cotta roof is a reassuringly substantial contrast to the grim-faced recreation going on all around us – joggers, bicyclists in Spandex, volleyball players. The seminary opened in 1931 and was run by priests of the Society of Saint Sulpice. It shut down in 1976 and the state bought it the following year.

Most of the first-floor windows were covered with plywood or patched with duct tape, but through one I saw a room almost filled, wall to wall, ceiling to floor, with old wooden desks, tables and bookshelves. The sunlight slanting through the window gleamed with dust. Above the main door was a bas relief of Christ flanked by the alpha and omega. Above his head was the inscription “Pro Eis Sanctifico Me Ipsum” (from John 17:19: “And for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”)

The seminary was named for Saint Edward the Confessor (1003-1066), son of the marvelously named Ethelred the Unready and Emma of Normandy. Edward was the next-to-last Anglo-Saxon king of England, and is the patron saint of kings, difficult marriages and separated spouses. The forest surrounding the old seminary grounds was dense with cedars, firs and maples. In the shade we saw hundreds of glistening black slugs. I pushed over a 15-foot dead cedar. Its insides had been reduced by ants and bacteria to an orange-red powder that looked like rust. Along the trail my 8-year-old noticed an inscription on the end of a sawn-down tree, written with a marker across the exposed rings:

“I am thine savior
thine reaper
thine harrower.”

Our 6-year-old said, “I never saw graffiti in the woods before.” We walked to the shore of Lake Washington and watched a yellow seaplane take off and land again and again, and picked up another trail, steep and treacherous with tree roots, and returned to the seminary grounds. The guy with the metal detector waved me over to show me his latest trophy – what he thought was a Sacajawea dollar that turned out to be a John Adams dollar. “Well, dang me,” he said. Back home I looked up Edward the Confessor in The Oxford Dictionary of Saints and found this tidbit in his entry:

“His reputation for holiness, which began during his life, was based on his accessibility to his subjects, his generosity to the poor, and his supposedly unconsummated marriage with Edith, the daughter of Godwin, earl of Wessex.”

My parents’ names were Edward and Edith.

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