GRETA Thunberg, the prophet of climate change, has ridden into Bristol. Her mission is to save the world. Thousands of children bunked off school to acclaim her presence. In all probability, most of them were there not to avoid double geography or simply to have a laff. They turned out to pay homage to their leader and saint.
I suspect that few amongst them, even those from Bristol, will have been aware of another messiah who once turned up in the city with much the same aim in mind as Greta – to save humanity from itself.
James Naylor was a charismatic Quaker leader from Wakefield. In 1656 he was convinced by some over-zealous Quaker women that he was a reincarnation of Christ. Suitably impressed, he mounted a horse and, with his disciples, re-enacted Christ’s entry into Jerusalem by riding into Bristol. Devotees leading the horse by the bridle added an appropriate air of solemnity to the Palm Sunday Mk II procession.
Like Greta, Naylor entered the city with an impressive track record. He had already performed at least one miracle. A woman in his presence had fallen into a swoon. She was revived by Naylor who cried over her: ‘Tabitha, I say unto thee, arise!’ His followers had little doubt that he had brought her back from the dead, Lazarus-style. Naylor was regarded by his disciples and by himself in the same way as Greta is regarded – as the real McCoy!
The surviving notes on his trial for blasphemy make this clear:
Q: Art not thou the man that rid on horseback into Bristol, a woman leading thy horse, and others saying before thee, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Hosannah to the Son of David?’
A: I did ride into a town, but what its name was I know not; and by the Spirit a woman was commanded to hold my horse’s bridle, and some there were that cast down clothes and sang praises to the Lord, such songs as the Lord put into their hearts; and it is like it might be the song, ‘Holy, holy, holy,’ &c. . . .’
Q:Art thou the only Son of God?
A: I am the son of God; but I have many brethren.
Q:Have any called thee by the name of Jesus? . . . whether or no art thou the prophet of the Most High?
Greta’s visitation to Bristol has ended up very differently from Naylor’s. For warning us that she ‘will not be silenced when the world is on fire’ and for reminding us that our ‘leaders behave like children’, this living Joan of Arc is cheered and adored.
In contrast, poor old James Naylor suffered a show trial before parliament and was found guilty of blasphemy. Possibly through Cromwell’s intervention, he escaped with branding, a stint in the pillory and a red-hot iron forced through his tongue. He was also subjected to imprisonment for two years with hard labour.
I rather admire Greta. She may seem a bit crazy but she is, also, spunky, intelligent and brave. In addition, her ‘put-down’ scowl beats that of any other campaigner or politician. Back in the days of James Naylor, of course, she would have been burnt at the stake. It is ironical that in a metaphorical sense, that is the fate now handed out to anyone who dares question the orthodoxies and dogmas she has put in place.
Professor William Happer, formerly a member of the White House National Security Council, put his finger on it when he told the Daily Telegraph: ‘I don’t see a whole lot of difference between the consensus on climate change and the consensus on witches.’