The ‘I’ in virger
Neil Pickford finally reveals the secret of his unusual job title.
Before we get going I had better warn you that there is an overdose of quotation marks in this weeks column so, if you are allergic to apostrophes you had better stop reading now.
The reason for this plethora of punctuation is caused by a revelation that came to me this week. I realised I had better stop teasing you, my good readers, at the very moment when a complete stranger lifted me by the throat and growled: “So why do you spelt ‘Virger’ with an ‘i’ then?”
This, in its own rather direct way, was one of the more politely formed questions about my job title that I’ve received over the years. I’ve had apparently pleasant-looking elderly men demanding to know, in a very sarcastic manner, if I am: “half a virgin?” (to which the only correct response is to ask: “which half?”
Many others triumphantly tell me in tones of unbearable smugness that I’ve made an elementary spelling error. That’s why I designed and wear a special badge that has the word VIRGER in massive, easy-to-read letters and, underneath, text reading “(yes, with an ‘i’ not an ‘e’)”,
It’s funny how peoples’ reactions go in waves. For several months it passed without comment; before that some people reacted rather critically when they demanded clarification but in the last few weeks almost exactly the same words: “alright then, why IS it spelt with an ‘I’?” have been uttered by a wide variety of different people.
It’s as if there is virus or a fashion that passes through the community, generating one particular pattern of behaviour that lasts for a brief period before the next phase comes along – a bit like the irritating Mexican Wave phenomenon, perhaps.
Anyway, the response to the ‘Virger’ question is currently in a good place so I’d better not abuse it.
Imagine, if you will, Beverley Minster and, indeed, any large church back in the days before Henry VIIIth. In those pre-Reformation centuries the church did not have a single focal point, a pulpit, from which a speaker would address neat rows of eagerly-listening congregations. In fact, before Henry VIII church services weren’t really intended for the general public at all – religion was a professional business that was done for you (for a suitable sum of money, of course). You didn’t even have to be there for it to be done for you – you could be dead and it could still be done..
You may care to look up the words ‘Limbo’ or ‘Purgatory’ if this information interests you as I probably won’t be returning to this fascinating subject for a few months – although maybe I will. Who knows?
Anyway, in the pre-pulpit period the Minster would have had a whole range of separate altars around the building, many of them side by side and each with their own daily, weekly and even monthly cycle of services to be said for the living and the dead.
In front of these altars (of which there were at least 16 in the Minster) the flowing mass of pilgrims, townspeople, traders and even the great unwashed who were just sheltering from the rain would mill around doing pretty much whatever they wanted, without paying any attention to those odd priest fellows.
In those days my job as a virger was to clear a path for my priests to get them to and from their appointed altars in time for their services and so– oh, we seem to have run out of space for this week.
I promise I’ll continue AND CONCLUDE this fascinating narrative next week.
Well now my fellow bloggists, here we come to the section I like to call my VAT, or Value Added Text.
You may regard this title as being somewhat self-satisfied and doubt that the following few hundred words qualify as value-added anything, but that’s your prerogative – please feel free to accept a full refund if not satisfied.
Anyway, for the two of you who have stuck with me up to this point (hello Mother!) I must make another brief apology.
Yes, I am aware that the subject of how we spell the word ‘virger’ was covered in one of my earliest blogs way back on October 29th 2008 “Spare the rod” but I have a nehaven’t w army of readers now who’ve been screaming out to know. Next week I shall finally put them out of their misery.
However, this arcane knowledge has been yours for the taking, for free, here in virtual reality for 18 months – and doesn’t that give you a sort of warm, exclusive feeling?
It’s like being part of a secret gang – one that knows things long before the rest of the world catches up.
Does it give you a warm, tingly feeling just knowing that? It did me when I first encountered it but then, as I’ve mentioned in the past, I don’t get out much.
And that is one of the things that I ponder during the long nights when I can’t sleep (few and far between, I’m glad to say) or during a quiet period at work (also fairly few and far between).
Gangs, community, a personal sense of ‘belonging’ in the modern world – in other words the basic human need for contact with fellow humans.
We all know that the universal sense of street-based community as portrayed in Coronation Street and Eastenders is merely a convenient plot device, not an accurate depiction of modern British society, but what has replaced it, and has it been changed for the better?
I haven’t yet come up with a definitive answer but I do know that, for better or worse, there are more than 200 individuals who regularly use Beverley Minster in one way or another. They make up a real community to which I am a member and it’s a nice feeling to have that comfort blanket around you (most of the time).
First published May 2010