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A Sermon on the Mount

by Leonard Markham

Once described by a cardinal as the most beautiful sanctuary in all England, the long abandoned and ruined Mount St Mary’s – the Famine Church – stands alone and isolated on a bluff above the River Aire in the Yorkshire city of Leeds, its once vibrant congregation now scattered to the winds. For years, it nourished and inspired a working class enclave known as The Bank, the author, a former resident and altar boy, telling the story of his childhood and celebrating the power of parents and the wider community in shaping a better future.

His home, in a cobbled street adjacent to the church grounds, was a rented, largely unheated back-to-back house bereft of a bathroom or an inside toilet. His father was an uneducated labourer who left school at fourteen, his mother working in a clothing factory to augment the meagre family income. He recalls a wonderful boyhood.

Like long dormant seeds germinated by spring rains, thoughts of his youth have grown with every sunrise, one vestige recollection sprouting another, his pen hardly scribbling fast enough to keep up with the floodtide of memories. These are harnessed to record the events of his boyhood, capturing an evanescent yet precious moment in time: now no more than a single flicker-flash of a candle flame gone with the wind.