Project Canterbury

Bishop Bury: Late Bishop of North and Central Europe
A Memoir

By Sophie McDougall Hine

Milwaukee: Morehouse, 1933.

Chapter III. Stimulating Experiences

BISHOP Bury could have told many a story about the minor discomforts which he endured on his journeyings with that 'indomitable optimism' which was such a marked characteristic of his reaction to the routine of life. After one visitation, he was curious enough to reckon up the 'strange beds' in which he had slept on sea and land, and in railway trains, and found the number was thirty-five, which meant at least three changes a week. After a particularly strenuous tour, when he admits that 'the pace had been forced a little,' he wrote:

'It was quite a relief to arrive at Brussels, to be warmly welcomed by the Ambassador, Sir George Graham, and to know that I was to have six days in that delightful Embassy where the staff are like old friends and where our Ambassador, kindest and most thoughtful of men, made me feel at once "quite at home" when I went to my room and found a cheerful fire burning and every comfort. I fear I may be thought very mundane,' the Bishop adds,' when I own that I looked at the bed with a sigh of content and said to myself, "And I shall sleep there, if all's well, for six nights in succession."'

The Bishop was always advised to spend the winter in some bright and dry place. This was not always practicable. He considered January and February the worst part of the winter in London, and, when possible, arranged his itinerary so that he would find himself during these weeks in a climate less rigorous than our own. In the early spring of 1922 he returned after an absence of eight months which he had spent in a visitation of the eastern part of the Bishop of Gibraltar's diocese and also of various places in his own jurisdiction.

He said he had many 'stimulating experiences' in this tour of Turkey, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Upper and Lower Egypt. And amongst these were his first impressions of the Pyramids.

'A few miles across the Nile from Cairo and less than half an hour's journey by automobile, on the edge of the great Libyan desert, rises up the rocky plateau on which the three Pyramids of Guizeh stand in all their impressive magnificence. One has so often heard of the first impression they make, as being disappointing, but I can't understand how this can possibly be so, except to those who are tired out with sight-seeing, or who don't give sufficient time to them, or are entirely wanting in the historical sense, or destitute of any real power of imagination.

'I must own, however, that I felt a little anxious as we motored over the broad-bridged Nile and then turning a corner saw the Pyramids in the distance, but from that moment I knew they had a new spirit to give me which in a sense made me their own. The date was December 16th, and the full moon would rise that night, and I had arranged to stay at Mena House Hotel at the foot of the plateau, finding it most comfortable, even luxurious and beautifully clean.

'As soon as I could, I went up in the middle of the sunny afternoon, and even the clamouring donkey boys and camel drivers and would-be guides could not put me off as they swarmed about me, surely the most importunate creatures in the world, and I looked up at the Great Pyramid of Cheops, which has stood there as one of the mightiest relics of the past for some five thousand years.

'I can't imagine how any one can fail to be deeply impressed by this marvellous structure, unlike anything else in the world, and which seems to soar so far, far above one, giving the same impression as Cologne Cathedral, as one stands immediately below its towers either by day or night. They are about the same height. I know of no higher structure in the world except the Eiffel Tower.

'The Great Pyramid which Cheops took twenty years to build, as his tomb, gets nearly all the attention of tourists and visitors, but the Second Pyramid, almost as large, and the third, much smaller, but with its granite outer covering almost intact, are just as interesting, and afford, each one, different views of the others. Their positions are thus with the dotted lines of approach:

3rd. O.

2nd. O. . .

1st. O. . .

'In the evening I went up about nine o'clock and had the incredibly good fortune to escape all guides and get away alone between the First and Second Pyramids and spend fully half an hour, sitting on a great fragment of granite, and looking up at the Great Pyramid, in ebony blackness above, and then at the Second Pyramid with all the silvery sheen of the moonlight full upon it.

'I can never forget that half-hour of solitary, perfect peace and utter silence, as the two spirits of the desert, and a great historic and far distant past, filled my whole being. I had never dreamt that such an experience could ever be mine and of course it can never come again, in the same way.

'Next morning I made what is called "the Circuit of the Three Pyramids," and again I was so fortunate as to escape the terrible pests (no other words can describe them) who clamour to accompany you or provide you with a donkey, and with my guide book and alone I again drank deep of the spirit which to me filled the whole place. There are the Sphinx and the Granite Temple and other interesting places, but the Pyramids stand alone, and are alone in their wonderful and mystic influence.

'On my return journey I again spent a night or two at Mena House (it was full moon again), and saw them once more by day and by night, but though I had been successful in every other part of Egypt in keeping off guides, this time I had to yield, and for two days had to submit to having one, not because he could tell me anything, though he was an intelligent and nice fellow, but because it was only in this way one could protect oneself from all the interfering and importunate rascals, "sons of Sheiks" some of them claimed to be, who beset one at every turn and come swooping down like birds of prey upon all they see to be without guides. These men and boys are the modern "plagues of Egypt," but even they cannot spoil its wonders and glories and least of all--the Pyramids.'

Of Constantinople the Bishop said:

'Never shall I forget my first view of the Turkish capital. The sky was blue, the sea a deeper blue, and a brilliant sun lit up all the minarets and domes and other buildings of Stamboul, Pera, Moda, and Scutari.'

The Bishop found that it had been arranged for him to visit the Heir Apparent, Abdul Medjid, son of the ill-fated Adbul Aziz of other days. He received me, says the Bishop, with great ceremony at the Dolma Bagtche Palace, and showed me all the magnificent saloons and reception halls.

'Eastern receptions are always marked by attendants coming in immediately after one's arrival and offering a white jam, of a particularly gluey character, with water, and before one has quite recovered from its effects it is followed by Turkish coffee, so well known for its delicacy. The Heir Apparent took very great interest in English affairs, though he does not speak our language, and had much to say about the Anglo-Turkish traditions and his deep regret that they had ever been interrupted.'

When the Bishop left Constantinople, the Crown Prince's Aide-de-Camp was present to see him off.

On his journey to the Island of Corfu in the Pelops, a dirty Greek coaster, the Bishop had a terrible experience. There was a high sea running and the boat had a heavy deck load including horses, and hardly any cargo down below. The boat was a small one, and being top-heavy it rolled and pitched and tried to turn over, and hurled us about, says the Bishop, including the horses, all the time we were aboard except for the short time when we were passing through the isthmus canal and Gulf of Corinth.

'How it rained and blew and thundered and lightened on that never-to-be-forgotten voyage with people sick on all sides. "Good sailor" as I am it took me all my time to keep a hold on myself, though I managed it to the end. We arrived late at Corfu on the second day, and were put out into open boats with the rain pouring upon us in great floods. Inauspicious as this first experience of Corfu was, it was all forgotten the next day when the sun rose once more in a cloudless sky, and one was able to see how wonderful that most beautiful of the Ionian islands is in its usual fine weather. It was interesting to see both villages, gardens, olive- and vine-yards, and the picturesque inhabitants of this former British possession still showing the results of our efficient administration.'

On New Year's morning, 1923, the Bishop was at Luxor, where he stayed at the Winter Palace, and of this particular morning he wrote:

'It was the usual beautiful, glorious day as I cantered briskly along the winding valley of the Tombs of the Kings, and with the blue sky above, the golden rampart-like rocks towering up into it on either side, and the fresh bracing air of the early day, it was impossible not to feel in the very highest spirits, though I was feeling far more inspirited when I came away.

'I had gone over that day to see if anything interesting was being carried out of the tomb; but Mr. Carter, who happened to be standing near, told me that there was "nothing doing" on either that or the day following as some unexpected difficulties had arisen. He was not
particularly busy at the moment, and in a very friendly mood, and was kind enough to tell me something of the way in which he made his great discovery and what he felt about it. He had been for some time conducting excavations just underneath the tomb of Rameses VI, and most people would have thought it very unlikely that there should be two tombs so close together with one underneath the other, but a digger I fancy develops a digger's sense, so to speak, and I like to think he "sensed" that something of great interest and importance was near him.

'At any rate he persevered, went on, and then struck the extreme corner of a step (how easily he might have missed it and found nothing!) and soon uncovered it. He found of course that there was a staircase going down and down, and when it brought him to a sealed entrance he felt sure of his good fortune, telegraphed at once to Lord Carnarvon in England, and every one knows what followed.

'I listened with the keenest interest to all he told me, shook hands very warmly, thanked him very heartily, and turned away to look for my steed and boy; but my feelings may be imagined when I heard him calling after me, and then was asked, "Would you like to come up and see the royal robes and the other things we have removed from the tomb and taken further up the valley?" "Would I like!" I hardly know how I answered, I was so overcome with joy, but soon we were on our way up the valley, and after a few hundred yards turned the corner and came upon the tomb of Seti II, where everything that had been taken out of the tomb so far was waiting for cleaning and chemical treatment and to be packed. All this had been quite impossible in the heat and darkness of the new tomb and in its confined and crowded space; but the tomb of Seti II, quite away from the places frequented by visitors, and with an unusually large entrance and on level ground, so that the full daylight could come streaming into it, letting every one see exactly what he was doing, was an ideal place for the work required. Large tables were set up on either side, and there I found Mr. Lucas, the chemical expert, and Mr. Burton of New York, hard at work and the treasures on every side.

'The famous "Red Box" was the first to engage my attention, with the royal robes, sandals, and other things within, and painted inside and out in the most exquisitely beautiful way. Mr. Carter, who is, I believe, a real artist himself, said it was equal to the best specimens of Chinese art. It seemed to me like very fine miniature painting and showed the Pharaoh driving out in his chariot attended, and hunting lions and other game, and the grace and vigour given to the animals were quite extraordinary, for Egyptian art was very conventional and restricted, and did not permit freedom or anything of an impressionist character to the draughtsman or painter. He had always to follow carefully prescribed lines in depicting the persons of men, women, and children, or their clothing, or ornaments, or in drawing birds, beasts, or flowers. And yet the decision, alertness, and sense of importance shown by the attendants as they paced along behind the chariot quite fascinated me and made me feel more than anything else I have ever seen that I could quite picture to myself the Pharaoh as he passed daily through the streets of ancient Thebes amongst his admiring people.

'The robes of course could not be touched lest the linen foundation should crumble away into dust, but one could see the great beauty of the work which was done in small beads and little bosses of gold and intertwined rings all arranged in diamond pattern. The sandals were of leather and gold, and there were other small ornaments with them. The lid of the box lifted off without hinges and Mr. Lucas sprayed a little water over it to show me how the colours, though not faded, could be made still brighter, and they have now been covered with a thin cover of paraffin wax which will probably be permanent.

'The next box, which greatly interested me, was a long one made of black and white wood and contained the King's walking sticks, rods or wands of office, and sceptres. Some appeared to be of costly material while others were quite simple, but I was much surprised and deeply impressed by finding that a few of them of ebony tipped with ivory were exactly like one I had seen a short time before in Cairo and which had been presented to Bishop Gwynne by the Coptic Archbishop. The Copts are the descendants of the ancient Egyptians and are Christians, and it is extraordinarily interesting to find that the outdoor official staff of the Pharaohs of more than three thousand years ago is the same as the outdoor official staff of the Coptic bishop of to-day, and that such a tradition has been carefully handed down and preserved. No doubt there are other Coptic customs, badges of office, and articles of ceremonial which are Egyptian in their origin, and perhaps we shall find out more about them as the contents of the new tomb are more carefully examined.

'The first chamber is now entirely emptied and all that it contained transferred to the tomb of Seti II, and only the two large statues are left facing each other and guarding (as Mr. Carter told me he was sure that it would prove that they were guarding) the entrance to the actual mortuary chamber of King Tut-Ankh-Amon. This is, I believe, the best way to pronounce his name, accenting the last word, as that was the characteristic part and which he changed from Aten, the name of the one god, source of life and light, and which his father-in-law had borne, back to the old Amon when he returned to the old religion.

'As soon as the different robes and ornaments had been chemically treated and cleaned (alabaster boxes, etc., had not required it) they were carefully packed in boxes, and probably before long will be on their way to Cairo, if not there already. The most interesting and remarkable things found when I was there were the beds, with animals forming their sides, the throne beautifully ornamented with gold and semi-precious stones, a beautifully painted box of ivory, chairs, shrines, statuettes, boomerangs for hunting and fowling, the chariots (taken to pieces for packing), carved pillows, food, and bouquets of flowers, but more wonderful still were the beautiful erections, probably five in number, which enclose one within another the sarcophagus itself, and the four beautiful figures which are poised so gracefully above the chest (which probably contains the four canopic vases) in which would be placed the King's heart and the other organs taken out of his breast when it was opened for the embalming. I can imagine just now no greater privilege than to be there next year when the tomb is once more opened and more light still thrown on Egypt's religious and artistic past.

'I, like so many others, feel very thankful that Lord Carnarvon, whose word must carry some weight, at least has said that he hopes that the King's body will not be removed, though I feel convinced that everything else of value and importance should be carefully taken away. The body itself must also for its own sake be carefully uncovered; for as it will probably be adorned with the full regalia of an Egyptian king, with much gold and precious stones, it would always be a very great temptation to that callous cupidity which has caused every royal tomb we have ever yet heard of to be entered and robbed, and the body it contains to be roughly and rudely stripped and dishonoured. This entry is quite different from the sacrilegious entry of the past, though many people seem to see no difference; but after all, the dead can possess nothing and the living have a perfect right to take possession of anything that will help their own civilization, and which comes to them from past civilizations of which they are the heirs. The golden ornaments about the Pharaoh's breast and neck ought to be removed, and then wrapped once more in simple grave-clothes, and in the same coffin (without glass over his face, I hope) he should be left alone to that quiet sleep which no robber, now that there is nothing valuable about him, will be tempted to disturb.

'Mr. Carter told me that he thought the thieves would be caught almost immediately after their robbery and punished by a violent death of a particularly deterrent character, and that the information about the tomb did not go beyond the Necropolis authorities, who repaired the breach the robbers had made. These seals have never since been broken but have remained intact for over three thousand years. The robbers were evidently also in a great hurry, for I saw ornaments they had dropped and which they had never returned to pick up. The sarcophagus is apparently enclosed within five huge erections, one within another, and these so fill up the mortuary chamber that no robbers would be able to remove them and push their parts through the hole by which they had entered into that very crowded space without requiring far more time than they could possibly have if they were to escape detection. It seems clear, therefore, why the tomb was left undisturbed at the time and then all knowledge of it quickly lost.

'Many writers have been of opinion that the things that a Pharaoh used in life were placed in his tomb so that when his spirit returned to the body they would be there for his use. I can't myself believe for a moment that such was the belief of a highly civilized, artistic, and intelligent people. They could not think, for instance, surely that cooked food would be of any use to a returning spirit after the lapse of centuries, and yet they placed it there. I believe myself, and Mr. Carter agreed with me, that they thought of the spirit as going at once to the other world; and believing that nothing is purely material and that all things about us in our daily life nourish our spiritual as well as our material nature, they wished the Pharaoh to have about him in death all the things used in life, so that those spiritual things might go with his spirit into the other life of which they, chariots, robes, and ornaments, even food, were the mere embodiment and outward expression.'

Bishop Bury took Sunday services in the pretty little church in the Luxor Hotel grounds, amid seated gods, cat-headed goddesses, and sphinxes.

'I took a Sunday service at Mena House,' he wrote in January, 1924, 'at the foot of the Pyramids, as I propose to do also at Assouan, at the first Cataract. Wherever I find myself on a Sunday, if there are any English people there, however few, even if it were in the middle of the great Sahara, I should want to celebrate the Holy Communion and have Morning Prayer with them.'

And here is his most charming description of Christmas at Luxor:

'The large hall at the Luxor Winter Palace presented the most charming sight imaginable at five o'clock on Christmas Eve. At the farthest end from the entrance was a lofty tree, almost touching the ceiling, with festoons of silver connecting its branches, and all kinds of glittering ornaments hanging from them, and with innumerable wax candles twinkling, with their softened light, in every part of it from top to bottom. In front were a number of children, beautifully dressed, happy and full of expectancy, and round the room were all the visitors who could get there, prepared to renew their youth in the children's enjoyment.

'Some one called out suddenly, "Hush! Listen!" and then in the distance sleigh bells were heard gradually coming nearer, and, all at once, Father Christmas was walking in our midst and looking towards the tree, no one having noticed where he came from. He wore a red robe with swansdown border, and a fuzzy peaked cap, and carried a huge bag from which he produced all kinds of lovely presents, and gave them one by one to the delighted and rather astonished children. I got very near and besought him to say something, but he whispered back, "My voice would give me away," but I think he was too shy, and in silence he left as in silence he had come, though we all gave a good round of applause before he got quite clear.

'Carols followed, for which we had practised, and I had to take the lead in this. My musical friends would have been much surprised if they had seen me conducting and keeping the whole thing going, but some one had to do it, and there was no one else. We had "Like Silver Lamps," "Good King Wenceslas," "The First Nowell," and others, finishing with "Holy Night, Silent Night"; and I shall long remember that crowded room, the young men sitting on the floor in their tennis and boating flannels, and the beautifully illuminated tree in the background, while we sang the old songs of the Feast of the Nativity with their joy and sadness so subtly blended together. It was all a fitting prelude to, and helped to secure us, a perfect Christmas Day, with large attendance, in a crowded, beautifully decorated church.'

Bishop Bury's 'stimulating experience' at Ruhleben in 1916 is described in his own little book on the subject. I well remember the scenes of congratulation and enthusiasm when he reached London again after this hazardous journey, so courageously planned and carried out, and which had meant more than can be imagined, not only to our prisoners in the German camp, but also to their relatives in this country. It was quite impossible for all who tried to hear the Bishop to get into S. Peter's, Vere Street, on that memorable Sunday after his return to London. I stood, pressed against one of the gallery windows, and on a minimum amount of floor space, during the whole of the time that he was in the pulpit--and I watched that tense and eager crowd gaze in silent wonder and admiration at his tranquil and radiant face; that genial smile, which never really disappeared, was perhaps just tinged with triumph at his success, but he spoke in his usual quiet, reassuring, and convincing way. He had accomplished what had been regarded as an impossibility at that time. He had secured permission to enter the enemy country, and he had shared the life of the thousand or more British prisoners in the lofts and horse-boxes of the Ruhleben internment camp. When his visit came to an end he left his pastoral staff with them to show that they were not forgotten by their friends at home.

In the early years after the war, Bishop Bury was given special permission by the Soviet Government to visit Russia, and the journey was not unattended with danger. The British Courier, who left Warsaw every Tuesday night, had had the misfortune, a little while before, to be in a train which was held up by bandits, soon after leaving the Polish frontier, and all the first-class passengers were robbed, and the poor man was completely plundered, even of his collar!

'I was fortunate,' says the Bishop, 'probably because soldiers with fixed bayonets were in every carriage, and I was agreeably surprised to find every one on the journey, porters, conductors, ticket collectors, passport men, douaniers, and fellow passengers as friendly and good-natured as they could be. My porter at the Polish frontier put me and my bags in the Russian train, went and took my ticket, helped himself to his own tip, all from a vast heap of Russian roubles which I had got at the Exchange Office in return for a few pounds sterling, and commended me to the youthful conductor who looked (no railway uniforms were worn) as if he were going to a football match instead of taking a sleeping-car to Russia.'

Bishop Bury always associated Nicaragua with the most thrilling and dangerous experiences he ever had:

'I had three really very narrow escapes from losing my life. One was in crossing the famous Colorado Bar, when we were overloaded and drawing something like a foot more than the water permitted. It was stormy, and I can only think that the wind hurling us to and fro bumped us over the bar without doing more than just grazing it. Rising up about us were the masts of craft much less fortunate than ourselves, and crocodiles and sharks were on both sides considering, not unnaturally, that another opportunity had come their way.

'Another somewhat lurid experience was crossing over, a passage of some hours, to Corn Island under the fiercest of suns, and when our little gasolene boat was like a furnace. The irresponsible negroes had, as usual, let their kerosene flow out over all the boards, and again and again we were in danger of lighting up into a flame, and in a few moments if we had, as far as we were concerned, all would have been over.

'Yet a third instance was on the day of my departure, when I had engaged a little launch for the return to Costa Rica, and had offered to take the Moravian missionary and his daughter from the Mosquito Coast, and the representative of the Standard Oil Company, Mr. Macdonald. Our company would just have been sufficient for the boat, but my surprise may well be imagined on arrival to find some thirty people crowded into it. The iniquitous and unprincipled company had put off their usual boat down the coast and had given these people passages in mine, although I had chartered the boat myself and paid the company a substantial sum. I found that by the law of the country they were quite at liberty to do this, as they could say their usual boat was unable to go and the passengers were justified in claiming a passage by any other. No one could possibly describe what that overloaded boat was like. We were literally packed like sardines, for we could not move. I could not even get anything out of the basket which contained our food. In the night I was one of a great heap of humanity, and the captain, moved with a little bit of compassion, and seeking for me, only found out who I was by pulling at different legs, and concluding when he got to mine, as no oaths and curses followed, that it was myself. "Bishop," he said, "it hurts me to see you like this. Come down to my cabin." But as his cabin would have been a furnace I preferred to stay where I was. In the morning, Mr. Macdonald said, "I do not see how we are going to last out. There is one small boat hanging alongside, and I am going to take care that it is women and children first," producing his revolver as he spoke. He was as good as his word, I noticed, for when we finally, after eighteen hours, arrived at the destination to which they were going he was assiduous in helping out the poor women and children. What a relief it was when we had the boat to ourselves to feel we could breathe again and get at our carefully packed basket, and eat our cold chicken and Bartlett pears, and drink our ginger ale in perfect peace. But I shall always feel that at Nicaragua I did "touch bottom," and now if I am inclined to grouse a little when things are not quite as I would like them, I have only just to murmur to myself, "Nicaragua," and everything seems to change.'

On this uncomfortable voyage, Mr. Macdonald, gave the Bishop a valuable reason for avoiding stimulants in hot countries, which he always passed on because, he said, so many people in the tropics say that if you want to escape tropical diseases you can only do so by a moderate use of alcohol. Mr. Macdonald, who had been a total abstainer all his life, had lived in the tropics for many years and had never once had malaria. During that time he had many assistants, and the only one of them who was not a whisky drinker was the only one who was not constantly down with malaria. The Bishop never had malaria himself, and certainly, like Mr. Macdonald, he was not a whisky drinker.

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