Days are getting longer, very slowly. I’m told it begins on my birthday, 29 December. The sun is setting every day nearer to five. When it sets at five I begin to feel the first intimations of spring.
I note there are a few tiny yellow crocuses peeping up through the grass in front of the Minster. Snowdrops are about to follow.
Yesterday was the day Saul became into Paul, a moment that changed his life. His companions saw Saul fall to the ground and speak; they saw the light but didn’t hear the voice of God. They just thought he had a fit or was hallucinating.
If in the 18th-century you were making a once-in-a-lifetime journey to Rome or a travelling salesman from the north, you would enter Rome from the Via Flaminia, go under the arch into a wide open space – Piazza del Popolo. In the distance you see two domed churches on either side of Via del Corso (where there used to be horse races), and then two more roads splayed out. But pause, look and then enter the small church on your left. Pass on your left the gem of a domed chapel designed by Raphael and completed by his workshop; continue straight along the left aisles to the end where you will find Saul, fallen off his horse, arms splaying out and a light blinding him. His grooms are perplexed. Our master’s mad! He’s fallen off and now he’s talking into space.
It’s his epiphany, and it blinds him.
Before the tragic war in Syria we went to Damascus. We walked under the archway into the Street called Straight, as Saul did. Nearby on the right, against the city walls if I remember correctly, was the small house said to be that of Ananias where Paul rested and regained his sight. It is now a house chapel, full of whispers.
Inside, keeping warm, I find this is the time for small epiphanies, moments of sudden understanding and of new ideas – small revelations, flame-coloured like the little crocuses. A perfect time to write.