A Vigil at St. Bride's

LONDON -- Journalism has all but abandoned Fleet Street, as news organizations that once occupied its old stone buildings have either folded or fled to higher-tech digs in Kensington, Wapping and Canary Wharf. But tucked away in a courtyard, in the ancient Anglican church of St. Bride, a small flame flickers, keeping vigil for the women and men who risk their lives and sometimes lose them, in pursuit of the truth and the news.

In the beginning, notes the Gospel of John, was the Word. Since 1500, when the first printing press was installed in the corner of this Fleet Street churchyard and a publisher known as Wynken de Worde began cranking out religious tracts, the first travel books and transgressive popular fare like "The Tales of Robin Hood," St. Bride's has been a patron and protector of those who tell stories and those who set type. And though the generations of chroniclers and pressmen who have labored here have  been replaced by by financiers and lawyers, their footprints remain. Named for Bridget of Kildare, the Irish holy woman of legend known for her love of good cheer and the illustrated manuscripts her convent produced, St. Bride's also houses the City of London library  whose collected works on typography, calligraphy and design are among the largest in the English-speaking world.

But it was the very contemporary Journalists Chapel that drew me Sunday morning to a small altar tucked inside St. Bride's. Lit by an array of vigil candles, it was crowded with the the framed portraits of scores of journalists who had lost their lives in recent years, covering disasters natural and man-made. Off to the side, a plaque recalled the nearly seven-year ordeal Terry Anderson endured, after being taken hostage in Lebanon in 1985. 

To read the names and see the faces of former colleagues, people whose work I had read, whom I had known or written about over the years, elicited simultaneous feelings of shock, recognition and sorrow: Michael Kelly, editor of the New Republic and NBC Correspondent David Bloom, both killed in in the early days of the Iraq War; fearless investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, gunned down in Moscow by those about whom she knew so much;  Anthony Macharia a young sound man from Reuters, among four news workers attacked by mobs in Somalia in 1994. That event, which claimed three lives, was what inspired the chapel, St. Bride's rector, the Ven. David Meara told me. Who could have known since then that the portraits of so many others, who put themselves in harm's way, would join them?

On November 10 at 6:30 p.m. a service will be held at St. Bride's to honor journalists and support staff who have died as a result of the conflicts of the first decade of the 21st century. Many of us can be  there only in spirit, but will count on the power of the word and the good people of St. Bride's to stand vigil for all those who risk their lives and their well-being to bear witness to the most difficult human truths.