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Fr. Cecil Champneys Burnham

1914 - 2002

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Our story happened long ago
In Old Provence where life was slow.
From open doors the old men gaze
And gossip through the sunlit days.
Each recalls - with advantage too -
Success and failure that he knew.


"The grapes we grew one would observe,
"Made wine for connoisseurs to serve
They'd nod and shake their heads and swear,

"The young are not the men we were.
Their arms and backs are not so strong;
The hours we worked they'd think too long."

Bird song thrilled the drowsy air
While cats lay sleeping in the Square.
The old church clock's long ceased to strike
For saint and sinner both alike.
So now please come. It's time no doubt
To meet the man our tale's about.


He's never very hard to find -
A gentle priest, white haired and kind;
An ageing man, though active yet,
Who'll absent-mindedly forget.
His people see him as their friend
Whose goodness to them knows no end.

They learned his sixtieth birthday date
And said, "This feast we'll celebrate.
We'll ask him in what special way
We can mark his natal day".
They said, "Dear Father, it is meet
That you should have a birthday treat"

"Choose something special, something which
You'd give yourself if you were rich.
The old priest thought. He hemmed and hawed.
Said he, "I'd like but can't afford
To buy a horse on which to ride
Across our lovely countryside"

"How greatly it would help of course
To do my visits on a horse.
My legs aren't good. They make me frown.
I'd do my rounds whilst sitting down".
The Sexton's voice was heard to ask,
"Is riding far too hard a task?"

The priest replied, "I rode aged ten,
But haven't been astride since then.
I'll have to learn some horsey talk.
To make them move, you just say, 'WALK!'
To stop a horse, you must cry 'WHOA!'
There's nothing else I need to know".


The Sexton said, "A horse we'll buy,
Well trained and calm that will not shy"
They asked an ostler, "Please be kind
And help us such a horse to find.
We need a mare that's not too old,
But equally one that's not too bold".

"It's for our faithful parish priest,
Whose riding skills - to say the least -
Are out of date and very small,
If they indeed exist at all."
The ostler said, "No further stray.
We've one for sale, a docile bay."

"She's kind and gentle is Teresa.
A splendid horse, a novice pleaser.
It is most fitting she'd should go
To serve a priest, for you should know
Her owner was a holy friar
Who joined last week the heavenly choir."


The priest, delighted, took his horse,
But would not have a riding course.
He firmly grasped Teresa's trace.
Each looked the other in the face.
Teresa thought, "He'll ride, alack,
Just like a sack upon my back."

"Still as a servant of the Church.
I'll never leave him in the lurch.
I'll gallop, canter, walk or trot.
To do his will shall be my lot.
One word from him and I will do
Whatever thing he asks me to."


To mount his horse the priest then tried,
But tumbled down the other side.
Teresa gave a doleful hum
And thought, "Dear me! There's worse to come!"
She gently nudged him with her nose.
Assisted thus, the priest arose.

Next time to mount he did not fail
But now he faced Teresa's tail.
"We should have bought", the Sexton said,
"A wooden rocking horse instead!"
A dozen helpers now were found
To turn the Curé right way round.

Now it was time the ride to start,
And trepidation filled each heart.
"Walk on, walk on" the priest did call.
Teresa failed to move at all.
The stable ostler then explained,
"A holy horse, she's Prayer Book trained."


"Go forth in peace" you have to say
Before the horse will walk away.
A phrase that should not be forgot
Is "Praise the Lord." It makes her trot.
But if to canter you would do,
Say loud and clear, "God be with you."

"Thanks be to God" then loudly cry
And she will leap toward the sky
And gallop with breathtaking speed.
These pious words she'll always heed."
The Sexton said, "If I'm not at fault,
You haven't told him how to halt."

The ostler said, Here's the answer then.
To stop the horse, just say AMEN.
This vital phrase the priest, I fear,
In haste to go quite failed to hear.
And when he spoke as he'd been told,
The horse responded good as gold.


Walk, trot and canter. All went right.
Increasing speed bore both from sight.
The priest so liked the clip, clop. clop,
Not once did he attempt to stop.
This meant he never knew of course
He had no phrase to stop the horse.

Exhilaration filled his mind.
To all discretion he was blind.
"Thanks be to God". The words were right
To make her leap with all her might.
She rushed along at such a lick,
He found it hard astride to stick.

Much faster still, much faster yet;
No faster surely could he get.
But now the truth was clear indeed -
He had no word to stop his steed.
Panic seized his scattered senses
As they sped o'er fields and fences.

At last he knew where he was going
Without the slightest sign of slowing.
Thought he, "A cliff edge that I know
Has yawning chasm far below.
Unless our progress quickly ceases,
We'll both be dashed to little pieces".

He breathed a prayer for help and then
In resignation cried, "AMEN".
The faithful horse at once obeyed
And with a mighty effort stayed.
Both horse and man stood trembling now
Upon the precipice's brow.

Both, gazing on that awful scene,
Reflected on what might have been.
The priest, so grateful they were saved,
In reverent manner now behaved.
For as upon his horse he sat,
He shouted, "Thanks be to God for that!"

I hear you sigh and catch your breath
As priest and horse plunge to their death.
Your tension I will now relieve.
What happened next you won't believe.
The horse had promised she'd obey
The priest's commands without delay.

This most truly she had done
Except that fatal final one.
That order she had disobeyed
And safely on the cliff had stayed.
She prayed, "Dear God, my fault forgive,
But I must help my priest to live".

So really there's no more to tell.
Everything had turned out well.
The shaken priest sat like a sack.
Teresa quietly trotted back
And as on finest oats she fed
The priest sincere thanksgiving said.

Fr. Cecil Champneys Burnham

Copyright © 2000 [Rev. C. Champneys Burnham]. All rights reserved.
Revised: May 02, 2009 .