Welcome to St John the Baptist Church in Smalley, Derbyshire.


As you read this I should be leading 30 pilgrims through Iran/Persia. Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest continuous civilizations, with urban settlements dating back to 7000 BC. The Medes unified Iran as a nation in 625 BC. The empire founded by Cyrus the Great was the first world empire and still the largest yet seen – the only civilization in all of history to connect over 40% of the global population, accounting for 49 million of the world’s 112 million people in around 480 BC. Even today Iran is enormous as well as ancient; it is seven times larger than the UK, with a population of more than 80 million. Iran is also Biblical.

Cyrus appears in the Old Testament; he allowed exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the Temple (Isaiah 45, Daniel, Ezra 1-3). His successor Darius has a part to play later in the book of Ezra; then the whole book of Esther takes place in Persia. Centuries later the story of Pentecost in Acts 2 mentions Parthians, Medes and Elamites being present, all of them from today’s Iran. Even in the Islamic Republic, founded in 1979 when the Shah went into exile, there are well over 100,000 active Christians, who we support by visiting; they are the only people in Iran allowed alcohol – just for their Communion services.

Persia / Iran has given the world an impressive legacy: the earliest model of international administration, the banker’s cheque, the postal service, the first international charter of human rights, the astronomical observatory, the calculator, our numerals, the decimal point, the algorithm, the foundations of algebra and trigonometry, the almanac, the astrolabe, the theodolite, the electric battery, the windmill, the waterwheel, chain mail, the bullfight, the dome, the flying buttress, most of the world’s finest carpets and miniatures, the earliest ceramic glazes, the ‘Arab’ horse, the Shiraz grape, the carrot, the domesticated rose and tulip, the Baha’i religion, the Kohinoor diamond of our crown jewels, the paisley motif, the royal crown, the gardens of Alhambra and Cordoba, the Taj Mahal, Sicily’s octagonal castles, the earliest stained glass, great bodies of literature and poetry including Omar Khayyam and 1001 Nights, chess, tennis, polo, Persian cats and blinds. Also the Magi, the date of Christmas, Christmas lights, the sacramental use of wine and the foundations of Christian eschatology – heaven and hell.

The Very Revd Geoffrey Marshall