November 25, 2010

PJ Harvey and St. Catherine Chapel In Abbotsbury

St. Catherine's Chapel in Abbotsbury
One of my favorite female musical artists, PJ Harvey, once visited St Catherine's Chapel in Abbotsbury, England (she grew up and lived nearby) which has a wonderful acoustic quality and decided to record a song there. The chapel is situated on a hill, as are most chapels to St. Catherine (Katherine) in the West, probably in reference to her shrine on Mount Sinai. It dates to the 13th or 14th century, but it is probably built on the ruins of an earlier Christian church, which was probably built over pagan ruins.

Her album Is This Desire? (EMI 1998) has a track "The Wind", inspired by her thoughts about the lonely, forgotten Saint - the chapel no longer functions and St. Catherine was abandoned and removed by the Catholic Church from its official list of Saints in the 1960's because they believed there was no historical credibility to her tale. The song ends in a prayer for a husband for St Catherine to appease her loneliness, a touching reversal of the usual invocation of unmarried girls who go there to pray for a husband. Read about the chapel here and see the video below, which transposes the ancient city of Alexandria with modern New York City, PJ's current home.

The lyrics are:

Catherine liked high places, 
High up on the hills 
A place for making noises 
Like whales 
Noises like the whales 
Here she built a chapel 
Her image on the wall 
A place where she could rest 
A place where she could wash and listen to the wind blow 
She dreamt of childrens' voices 
And torture on the wheel 
Patron saint of nothing 
A woman of the hills 
She once was a lady 
Of pleasure and high-born 
A lady of the city 
But now she sits and moans 
And listens to the wind blow 
I see her in her chapel 
High up on the hill 
She must be so lonely 
Oh Mother, can't we give 
A husband to our Catherine 
A handsome one, a dear 
A rich one for the lady 
Someone to listen with