“They can’t do that?”
“They’re pulling down the church.”
Liam opened the curtains and looked out at the Fenny Church of our Lady.
“Don’t worry. It’s still there.”
“Come on. You can’t believe everything you read on social media. It’s just a rumour. Last week you told me that Tesco was taking over the primary school.”
By lunch time, Bridgette had proof the rumours were true. Workmen erecting fencing around the church told her the demolition was starting next week.
She phoned Cara, whose aunt was one of the church cleaners. Cara pointed her to a social media group called Stop the Destruction of Our Lady. The group had started two years ago and all the messages were filled with despair and failure.
“Liam. It’s true.”
“Yeah. The blokes at work knew all about it.”
“But they can’t knock it down. It’s my church.”
“You’ve not stepped foot in there for years.”
“But it’s where we got married. It’s where I got baptised for God’s sake.”
Liam started to laugh but caught sight of Bridgette’s serious face.
She stood in their bedroom window staring out at the church that not only dominated, but completely overwhelmed the view. It was much larger than most parish churches, and much newer. It had only been built in the 1960s. She supposed if it had been older then they would have kept it.
If it had been built better they would have kept it, but the roof leaked and subsidence had given Christ a scar across his face as he prayed in the mural behind the altar. But what really condemned it were the people, or rather the lack of them.
The church had been built with all the optimism of a thriving catholic congregation. It could seat over two thousand. It was the pride and joy of the community. It was opened by the Archbishop of Armagh Primate of All Ireland.
Their house faced the backend of the church. For a whole week there were no visible signs of destruction. The sun rose behind her and struck the stained glass windows in rectangular slits that framed the altar. She remembered as a child seeing the angels in them glow with magical light on clear sunny winter mornings.
When they bought the house she thought they’d be able to see the angels from their window. It did happen once – at Christmas midnight mass. The church was lit from inside with thousands of candles and the light was strong enough to leak out just enough for her to make out the angels.
The outbuildings disappeared first, taking with them her first kiss. She was Mary. Seán was Joseph. They both took their roles seriously. They kissed before going on stage. It was Bridgette’s idea. They couldn’t be husband and wife unless they kissed. She knew that from her aunt’s wedding. After the priest said they were husband and wife he told them they had to kiss.
Scaffolding cloaked the rear of the church and climbed the steeple. Men swarmed like termites and when the dust settled the steeple was gone. The cross was gone. The roof tiles were neatly stacked ready to be moved on to a new life elsewhere.
“What about the graves? They can’t just dig them up?”
“In the church.”
“There’s no graves.”
He was right. The graveyard was miles away. Bridgette’s ma was buried there, but the funeral was here. The grief was here.
Most of the flooring disappeared one night. It was Sicilian marble worth fifty pound per square metre. She’d danced on that floor. Paraded on that aisle. Been led down it by her father and given away on that stone. It was gone. Destined for dodgy bathrooms and designer kitchens.
The big machines arrived and smashed through the west end. Their jaws took chunks out of the walls, biting through fleshy concrete and exposing skeletal steel rods. Stronger jaws clamped on, twisted and pulled.
Massive hammer blows invaded her home and her head. Diggers scraped and sorted. A hungry grinder was constantly fed a diet of stone and shat out grit and dust that coated her windows and heart.
Day-by-day they came closer. Nibbling the side walls. Taking out the transepts and bearing down on the altar.
Suddenly there was silence. The machines retreated taking their piles of debris with them.
Only the east wall stood. Propped by scaffold. Stained glass remarkably intact. Holding vigil on emptiness.
One week. Two weeks. Christmas lights blossom. Nativity images poured into her phone.
It was the first clear day in weeks. The sprinkle of snow and the clear blue skies were perfect. The Christmas feast was cooked to perfection. Liam’s gift was exquisite. Everything worked like they had planned.
But she regretted not going to her sisters. They’d decided to have their first Christmas since getting married together. Their first in their new home.
Their first since losing the baby.
Liam was asleep in front of a carol service on the telly. She thought about turning it off but was afraid that would wake him. She stood at her window watching the sun sink behind the church façade.
It was the first time the setting sun has been free to hit the window. It struck the stained glass and suddenly angels burst into life. The voice on the telly was reading from the bible, “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.”
Bridgette walked into her garden and knelt in the snow. The last of the sun’s rays fell through the window and bathed her in yellow light.
Her knees soon got cold and the hard ground dug painfully into her ankles.
It took her two trips to carry the tools and the ladder to the bottom of the garden. She climbed over the fence and up the scaffold.
The angel was much bigger than she expected. She decided to only take its head. She thought Liam would kill her when he saw the damage the lead did to his chisel. The weight surprised her and she almost dropped her prize.
Liam was still sleeping. She managed to get it up the stairs and safely swaddled in a blanket under her bed.
He found out what she had done the next day. It was all over the news.
“You seen this. Someone stole a bit of the stained glass window.”
Bridgette was silent.
“Christ, you hear that. That explains why the diggers stopped.”
“Those windows. They’re worth a fortune. Designed by some famous English painter. Hey maybe we should hop over the fence and get a bit for ourselves.”
She took him up the stairs. She pulled the blankets out and revealed the angel.
It was his turn to be silent.
She told him about God speaking to her. He didn’t believe her but he was a good husband. They didn’t tell the police, or the priest, or the midwife.
A year later they hung the angel in a frame above the crib. They stood arm-in-arm looking down at their beautiful baby.
Liam was right. She now realised that it couldn’t have been God speaking. After all God didn’t make mistakes and the voice on the telly had said she would bear a son and call him Jesus.
But God had blessed her. And she had brought forth a daughter and had named her Angelica.