This poor broken angel on the roof of the National Cathedral, damaged by this week's earthquake, makes me awfully sad. The cathedral is one of my favorite places in the world--I watched it grow when I was a child (the stone carving workshop, where old skills were taught, was a fascinating place) and still visit it often, rejoicing in its peaceful beauty.
So in honor of the fallen angel, here are two favorite books of mine, both of which are centered around angels in churches.
Marion's Angels, by K.M. Peyton (1979, later republished as Falling Angels). This is the final book in Peyton's series of books about Patrick Pennington (bad boy classical pianist extraordinaire, and Ruth Hollis, the horse-crazy girl who married him.
More than almost anything else, motherless Marion loves the carved wooden angels of her village's medieval church, but the church and its angels are in danger of falling into the sea. And so Marion prays for a miracle...and gets Pennington and his music.
The relationship that develops between Marion, Pennington, and Ruth is beautifully written and very moving. Not only is this book (which stands on its own) satisfying for its own sake (Marion's love for her angels, and the growing-up she has to do, is very moving), but it brings the Pennnington series to a hopeful close--after all the anxieties of the first books, it is awfully nice to think Pat and Ruth (and baby) can have a happy life together!
Waterslain Angels, by Kevin Crossley-Holland (2009) (This is a truncated version of my full review from Feb, 2010)
When Oliver Cromwell's men rampaged through England, smashing to pieces the works of art that decorated the countries churches, the angels of the small Norfolk village of Waterslain were lost. Now, in the 1950s, the fate of the angels has faded from local memory. Then a carved wing is found during a clear-out of the vestry attic. Two children, Annie (10) and Sandy (11), become convinced the angels weren't destroyed, and set out to find them. But someone else wants the angels. The shady tough guy of the village is hunting them down too, to sell them...
As Annie searches, her dreams are full of the rough voices of Cromwell's men, and visions of the angels, urging her to find them where they lie waiting. For Sandy, whose father, in the American air force, was recently killed in a flying accident, the quest for the angels brings comfort. And the angels bring the two lonely children together in the strong bonds of a friendship forged by the mystery they are unravelling (and a satisfyingly believable mystery it is, too).
Waterslain Angels is an utterly lovely mix of the detail of everyday life and the power and beauty of dreams. It is a fascinating mystery, a historical treasure hunt, a story of friendship, a lovely evocation of place, and a little bit a fantasy (Annie's dreams).
Both of these are UK books, and not so easy to find over here. Marion's Angels is long out of print, but check your local library (my system has two copies); Waterslain Angels is still in print, and can be acquired from the Book Depository at a reasonable price. If you want to order it, please do so from the link in my sidebar, and I'll pass my commission on to the National Cathedral!
(here's the direct link to the National Cathedral's donation site. It's going to cost millions to repair the earthquake damage.)