Stow Minster: Viking Ship

At Lincolnshire’s Stow Minster is an interesting graffito. Most church graffiti involves initials, dates or spirograph-style flower designs. This is a Viking longboat, complete with oars. It is dated to the tenth or eleventh centuries and was scratched onto a Saxon pillar. To me, it is a fascinating glimpse into the past, an authentic, contemporary picture of that most famed of vessels. To folk at the time, however, it was something to fear. It is speculated that it was drawn by a Norse or Danish trader, wishing to depict his mode of transport, or an actual marauder, wishing to remind his surviving victims of his visit, or his planned return along the Trent. Like a calling card left by a killer, the crude sketch may have been intended to inculcate terror. It might be akin to a Russian soldier sketching a tank or troop carrier on the walls of a Ukrainian townhall, or a German of the 1940s depicting blitzkrieg on a wall of a French café. Inside the largest church in the area was left a reminder, a token of the raider’s ability to break in, destroy and conquer.

From time to time, or too frequently in my case, I am reminded of sin’s invasive potential and reality. Though I have been washed, sanctified, Spirit-filled and enjoy an increasingly renewed mind, sin keeps leaving its calling card. A flash of temper, a lapse of faith, a cynical comment- all remind me that sin lurks at the door, the devil seeks a foothold, the old man leaps down from the cross. Let us behold such tokens and recoil. The unbelievers and the lukewarm see sin and shrug; the real Christian, like the Saxon denizens of Stow, sees the token and recalls the utter horror.

Job 15:20-35 (New King James Version):

20 The wicked man writhes with pain all his days,

And the number of years is hidden from the oppressor.

21 Dreadful sounds are in his ears;

In prosperity the destroyer comes upon him.

22 He does not believe that he will return from darkness,

For a sword is waiting for him.

23 He wanders about for bread, saying, ‘Where is it?’

He knows that a day of darkness is ready at his hand.

24 Trouble and anguish make him afraid;

They overpower him, like a king ready for [b]battle.

25 For he stretches out his hand against God,

And acts defiantly against the Almighty,

26 Running stubbornly against Him

With his strong, embossed shield.

27 “Though he has covered his face with his fatness,

And made his waist heavy with fat,

28 He dwells in desolate cities,

In houses which no one inhabits,

Which are destined to become ruins.

29 He will not be rich,

Nor will his wealth continue,

Nor will his possessions overspread the earth.

30 He will not depart from darkness;

The flame will dry out his branches,

And by the breath of His mouth he will go away.

31 Let him not trust in futile things, deceiving himself,

For futility will be his reward.

32 It will be accomplished before his time,

And his branch will not be green.

33 He will shake off his unripe grape like a vine,

And cast off his blossom like an olive tree.

34 For the company of hypocrites will be barren,

And fire will consume the tents of bribery.

35 They conceive trouble and bring forth futility;

Their womb prepares deceit.”