In the late 14th century, 660 tons of timber were carted from Farnham to Westminster. And there, under the watchful gaze of the chief stonemason, Henry Yevele, and the head carpenter, Hugh Herland, the timber was hoisted into a roof structure which was 92ft (28 metres) above ground level. The uninterrupted span of the roof measured 18 metres; 176 tons of lead covered the exterior. It was a prodigious feat of medieval engineering.
About 615 years later, in the presence of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, I sat beneath that roof for a ceremony with hundreds of Jewish people. The MC was Stephen Fry; at one side of the hall, people took it in turns to recite the names of Jews killed in the Holocaust. A passage from Ann Frank’s diary was read aloud by one of her surviving childhood friends, and towards the end of the event, former soldiers who had liberated places like Bergen-Belsen, processed quietly into the hall carrying storm lanterns in which candles flickered.
It was the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps. So many people were in Westminster Hall that my shoulders were pressed up against the shoulders of the Jewish people seated either side of me. The heat and the emotions seeped through my clothes. It was a profoundly moving experience.
And now, under that same roof, government ministers and diplomats will be trying to find ways to defuse the terrible situation in Israel and Gaza. At the same time, there will be people living in those territories who will also be trying to create havens of peace and reconciliation.
Who knows how peace will be achieved. But I hope that it will be through the fusion of international politics, diplomacy and local humane endeavours that solutions will emerge. It is what we all pray and long for.