Talking last night of caravans and pilgrimage with Father Mark of Mettingham, I couldn’t avoid musing on the profound experience of our glorious midsummer pilgrimage to Pennant Melangell: peace and tranquility, the length of the midsummer sunset, the clear night-sky, the sound of bees in the morning, summer flowers… and above all, walking down the dark lane, opening the ancient church door and approaching St Melangell’s shrine clutching a single taper, and praying next to her relics.
That day and night were such a contrast to the past day and present night – wet and cold, weeks from midwinter – yet a little connection was made as I browsed in Oxfam bookshop before buying groceries.
Among the poetry books was a very obvious title – “The Lady and the Hare”, new and selected poems from Pauline Stainer – and within its pages the poem of that very title.
It had originally been our intention and hope that today would have seen a pilgrimage Liturgy in Llancarfan, but crossed-wires mean that was put on hold, and instead we made a rather less formal pilgrimage to Llanilltud Fawr (Llantwit Major), nearby, in the beautiful Vale of Glamorgan.
Father Luke – our very own historian-archeologist – spoke to our little band of pilgrims about St Illtud, the legacy of Romano-British Christianity, and the shear importance of Llanilltud Fawr as a great and celebrated seat of learning and education in Insular Britain, in its day.
Though Father Luke and some of our South Wales parishioners visited around six years ago, I hadn’t been for something like a dozen years, and I had forgotten the scale of the church that developed over the centuries on the original Celtic site.
Seeing the church from different angles and also beginning to understand the landscape and very close proximity to the coast and the sea-roads of the saints between different parts of insular Britain, Ireland and Brittany, helped to make sense of this site, and how it was so ideal as a place central to the propagation of the Faith and Christian learning in early Christian Britain.
We were interested in the material legacy of the many the layers of history, piety, Christian culture and life that succeeded the Orthodox centuries of Llanilltud Fawr, knowing that those commemorated by tombs and memorials have been part of the life of this remarkable place, whether during the Catholic or Protestant centuries.
Also, we were very happy to see such a loved, cherished and well tended place of Christian identity and heritage, with the Celtic memorial stones preserved in the restored Raglan Chapel at the west end, remnants of medieval wall painting, wonderful devotional-liturgical stonework features from the Middle-Ages – including a arched stone surround representing the Tree of Jesse, sprouting from the recumbent forefather of Christ – later wall paintings and furnishings from Tudor and Stuart times, and mercifully no obvious Victorian ‘improvement’ disfiguring the remarkable and large building.
After having time to explore the church and its surroundings, we chanted a moleben at the foot of the medieval cross in the churchyard, and then had a wonderful social time over lunch in one of the hostelries in the medieval heart of the village.
Many thanks to those who were able to be part of a rather ad hoc pilgrimage, and praise to god for the fellowship, friendship and warmth that always characterises these occasions.
Diolch yn fawr iawn pawb!
Troparion of St Illtyd tone 6: O wise Illtud, thou wast noble by birth and noble in mind * and didst train many saints in the way of holiness. * Pray to Christ our God to raise up saints in our days * to His glory and for our salvation.
Our pilgrimage to Walsingham has flown by, and the days and evenings have certainly been full and busy, with as much as possible crammed in.
We were so happy to introduce four of our pilgrims to Walsingham for the first time, with much for them to discover, and I am glad that all wish to return for our next Walsingham parish pilgrimage.
Monday’s arrival saw Mother Melangell rather surprised by the unexpected number around the tea-table at the skete, though she remained unfazed and received everyone graciously.
After supper, despite the joyful volume of singing rising from the shrine church, we nevertheless prayed compline in the chapel of the Life-Giving Spring.
Tuesday was centred on our celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the little upstairs chapel, followed by social time over refreshments in the Norton Room. We were very happy to have the company of Father Mark-Tuttum Smith, matushka Katy-Elizabeth, George and Mary in the afternoon, and for our pilgrims to join us and Mother Melangell in silent prayer in the chapel of St Seraphim in the old railway station.
Then, whilst I heard confessions, our Cardiff pilgrims had dinner and a few people joined Mother Melangell for a late vespers in her skete. Those of us who retired to the sitting room in St Anne’s were entertained by Aldhelm playing the melodion he brought with him on the pilgrimage-coach.
On Wednesday, several of our sisters joined Mother for matins at 5:30 in her skete, and after breakfast and time for prayer and reading, a few of us walked to the medieval Slipper Chapel at the Roman Catholic shrine, praying silently on our walk along the route of the old railway line, the embankments thick with summer flowers, with bees and butterflies busily collecting nectar from the swathes of Scabious and Wild Marjoram.
After the ongoing struggle to pray against the background noise of the organ and singing in the Anglican shrine, the peace and silence of the Slipper Chapel at Houghton St. Giles was a great blessing, and we valued the time we had for silent prayer, as well as the warm welcome in the tea-room, where we enjoyed spiritual conversation, before heading across the ford to the lovely medieval parish church across the meadows, with it screen decorated with images of the saints, sadly defaced, but surviving the iconoclasm of the reformation and the desecration of Walsingham’s Holy House, religious houses and churches.
The afternoon saw a lovely trip to the seaside at Wells, with wonderful views of the countryside from the top of the double-decker bus that conveniently stopped at the church gates at Houghton St. Giles.
Our pilgrims met at the quay and enjoyed lunch from the fish and chip shop, before most of us travelled back to Walsingham on the charming narrow-gauge steam railway.
On our return, after supper, I was very happy that a number our pilgrims took advantage of the Orthodox Chapel, going upstairs to pray, whilst I heard confessions.
Today started with an early panikhida for the newly-departed servant of God, the Archpriest Raphael, after his unexpected repose on Wednesday.
Having taken over the role of ‘caretaker’ of the chapel of the Life-Giving Spring from Archpriest Philip Steer, Father Raphael was a great support for the little band of local Orthodox who remain faithful to our patriarchate.
The local faithful will greatly miss his ministry, support and pastoral care. May his memory be eternal!
After breakfast, a last visit to the Holy House and goodbyes, it was already time to travel west to our more familiar surroundings, endeavouring to hold onto and preserve the blessings of the Mother of God and ‘England’s Nazareth’.
The next few weeks will see a handful of parishioners head to Walsingham on pilgrimage, and then, before we know it, August will be upon us.
Apart from the trip to Walsingham, there is no parish pilgrimage this month.
Having not visited any accessible holy wells, thus far, our intention to make a pilgrimage and historic church visit, starting at St Anthony’s Well near Cinderford, in the Forest of Dean, on Saturday 5 August, and then make our way to the painted medieval church at Kempley.
St Anthony’s Well was once a celebrated, widely-known and respected healing spring, though the reformation and its iconoclasm has robbed us of its history and origins, and left people’s focus being a a practical and medical one, rather than a spiritual one… but I suppose, that’s largely the nature of holy wells, particularly before health care provision. We will hold a moleben with the akathist to St Anthony at the well, though we don’t expect anyone to submerge themselves in its notoriously cold waters. I’ll see how long I can endure them with my lower legs and feet.
St Anthony’s may well be the good place for a picnic lunch before we head north(ish) to the remarkable church of St Mary at Kempley.
Although it is a post-schism church, it is well worth visiting given that it is adorned with the most complete set of Romanesque frescos in northern Europe and the most complete Norman timber roof known in Britain.
The nearby Herefordshire market town of Ledbury, with its half-timbered medieval buildings, would be a lovely place for afternoon tea and some exploration before returning to Wales for those wishing to do so!
We will agree times once we know who is coming, but would aim to be meeting at the well around 11:00.
Anyone interested and perhaps seeking a lift is asked to email Tracy: email@example.com
Arriving in Pennant Melangell at dusk on Friday, it was a joy to be greeted by the shrine church in its ancient llan, with yew trees possibly older than the Christian presence in the valley – knowing that at any hour during the night, I could walk down the lane from the pilgrim shepherd’s hut, push open the great door and pray in the chancel of the church, beside the imposing arcaded-shrine containing St Melangell’s relics.
After supper in the beudy bach *, I did so, heading down the lane in the long, late midsummer twilight, to pray beside the shrine, casting light on the high gabled-canopy with a single candle. The owls in the wooded valley sides were the only audible sound apart from the chanting of night prayers. Even as I returned along the lane, the sky was still not dark, though the last light over the mountains was to fade within minutes – the owls continuing, with the breeze gently stirring the grass in the neighbouring meadow, and the sound of the river beyond the boundary of trees.
There are few places where we can experience such peace, free from the encroaching noise and disruption of the world: a place where the chink of a teacup on a saucer, or the bang of a closing window seems not only loud, but intrusive; places that make us tread softly and carefully, not wishing to assault the gentle quietness which envelopes us with the mundane noises of the world; places in which to turn the pages of a book slowly, pray softly, and wash the supper things noiselessly.
In this enclosure of peace, it was wonderful to wake to the gentle buzzing of bees, frantically tumbling from yellow poppy to yellow poppy, and oddly amplified in the enclosed tube of fox-glove flowers. Such was the number of bumble bees that the borders hummed with their industrious presence.
Of course, the ascetical fathers likened monastics to honey-bees, collecting the sweet nectar of divine grace through their spiritual labours, and this image can be used for the monastics who laboured at Pennant Melangell in lives of constant spiritual industry for the sake of the Kingdom of God, so much so that the sweetness of God’s Grace still touches the constant stream of pilgrims who come to honour St Melangell and to seek her intercessions and merciful care.
Our great blessing was to do this by celebrating her feast – albeit a day late – by offering the sacrifice of the Holy and Divine Mysteries no more than an arm’s length from the raised stone chest containing her sacred relics.
In this sacred celebration, we entered not only into communion with the Saviour, through His Body and Blood, but in the offering of the Eternal Sacred Banquet, we entered more deeply into fellowship and communion with St Melangell, herself, and all of the saints from ages past.
Seeking her intercessions, we joined our prayers with hers, as a common and shared offering of prayer and praise to the Great High-Priest, honouring her memory in our hymns and commemoration, as one who offered herself as a sacrifice of prayer and praise to the Lord.
It was a great honour and blessing to be able to celebrate the Liturgy, and we were touched and humbled by the great warmth and hospitality afforded to our pilgrims who had travelled from Wilstshire, Dorset and Cambridge, as well as our South Wakes parishioners.
My prayer is that St Melangell’s example, and the reality of her intercessions, will touch each and every one of our pilgrims, affording them strength and courage, so that like her and the wise-virgins of the Gospel for her feast, we may all be ever-vigilant and watchful in lives dedicated to Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church.
Glory to God, for affording us such a great blessing, and thanks to Him for the saints, as our guides and exemplars.
* ‘little cow house’ – converted for use by pilgrims
Here we are in the last days of the Pascha after a very busy few days in the parish.
After Friday’s confessions in the church of St Mary Butetown, we recommenced our discussion group, beginning a series of talks/discussions on prayer. It was wonderful to be back in St Mary’s with some new faces at our first session highlighting that, at its apogee, prayer is our entire life in God, but more than that, it is the connection that opens the Christian – body and soul, mind and heart – so that the life of God can flow into us.
The quoted beginning of Elder Sophrony’s book “On Prayer” expressed this with eloquence and power:
“Prayer is infinite creation, far superior to any form of art or science. Through prayer we enter into communion with Him that was before all worlds. Or, to put it in another way, the life of the Self-existing God flows into us through the channel of prayer.”
As the planned date of the next fortnightly session falls on a day plagued by rail strikes, I hope that we might meet on Wednesday 31st May.
After Friday’s meeting, Saturday brought our wonderful pilgrimage day to Glastonbury, beginning – once everyone had found Bride’s Mound – with a moleben in honour of St Bride on the site of the ancient monastery at Beckery (Becc-Eriu – Little Ireland), followed by a visit to the abbey, where we enjoyed a wonderfully eclectic Russo-Serbian-British picnic on the green lawns at the west end of the abbey ruins. The more energetic then climbed the Tor, whilst the less adventurous enjoyed the peaceful, flower-filled environs of Chalice Well.
We’re all very appreciative of Tracy’s organisational gymnastics in pulling everything together and coordinating yet another very successful and enjoyable pilgrimage. Diolch yn fawr!
We now look forward to our June pilgrimage to Pennant-Melangell, where we will celebrate the Divine Liturgy on Saturday 10th June the day after St Melangell’s feast-day on the Patristic Calendar. Celebrating the Liturgy next to her relics in their canopied stone shrine will be a wonderful blessing and privilege.
Sunday was the feast of St John the Theologian, and it was a blessing to celebrate on a day when the community came together in Cardiff, with the joy of welcoming our brother Lazarus from Paul, and having our visitors from Moscow with us again for Liturgy, after also sharing our time in Glastonbury with them. We pray for God’s blessing and protection as their travels continue.
I hope that our faithful will make the most of today, Tuesday and Wednesday, celebrating the remaining time of the Paschal season, praying the Paschal Canon and chanting the hymns before the leave-taking and the feast of the Lord’s Ascension.
After preparing the church for Ascension, I will celebrate Great Vespers at 16:00 on Wednesday, and we will celebrate the Hours and Divine Liturgy in Nazareth House the following morning, at 11:00.
Those who confessed at the weekend are blessed to commune on the feast, and I will have time to hear short confessions before Thursday’s Liturgy. Additionally, anyone wishing to confess after Wednesday’s vespers should email me so that I can be available.
On Thursday afternoon, I will also be available to hear confessions of those preparing to commune at the weekend. Alternatively, there will be time for confessions on Saturday, when we will set up church ready for Sunday Liturgy at 16:00. Vespers will be celebrated at 17:00, with confessions before and after the service, as needed, as I know that some parishioners will be working till 17:00.
We look forward to being together again on Sunday, when there will also be a baptism in the afternoon, after trapeza. The Hours will commence at 10:45, followed by the Divine Liturgy.
The variables for our services may be found at Orthodox Austin, as usual…
This Saturday – 20th May – will see a band of pilgrims head to Glastonbury, meeting at Bride’s Mount in Beckery, on the edge of the town, at 10:00, celebrating a moleben to St Brigid.
Before the drainage of the Somerset Levels, Beckery – this area on the edge of Glastonbury – was an island in the tidal marshes along the River Brue, and Bride’s Mound was crowned with a monastic house. This monastic dwelling, dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, was associated with Irish monastics travelling to Glastonbury – the primary monastery of ancient Britain – and Glastonbury lore and tradition, lists St Brigid as one of the Irish saints who visited and stayed here.
After the moleben at Bride’s Mound, we will head into town to the abbey, with the ruins of the once great religious foundation in its green acres of gardens. This will be an excellent place to refresh ourselves physically as well as spiritually, and the visitors’ centre has excellent educational resources.
The abbey grounds once contained the women’s alms-houses that were associated with St Patrick’s Chapel, and St Margaret’s Hospital with its men’s alms-houses nearby in Magdalen St, is another place for pilgrims to visit.
Our parish’s seasoned Glastonbury pilgrims enjoy visiting the Rose Garden – a wonderful little shop next to the parish church – from which we usually emerge with books, icons and Orthodox supplies.
As we head towards Chalice Well and the Tor, we can visit the fine neighbouring medieval church, which has been decluttered and restored over the last few years, so that we can now appreciate the beauty of the building, without the Victorian clutter that once made it difficult to see.
Chalice Well is very much a product of romance and legend, with its very creative association between St Joseph of Arimathea and the medieval well from which the iron-rich waters flow. Regardless of the new-age and alternative activities that happen within its environs, it remains a place of peace, relaxation, beauty and tranquillity – with a spring with beneficial waters.
Chalice Hill, from which the well flows is nestled next to Glastonbury Tor, the dramatic conical hill on which an ancient monastery stood – in whose excavation Fr Luke was involved in its excavation in the late 1960’s. In the middle-ages, the church of St Michael was built, with its surviving tower crowning the Tor.
The rural-life museum in the abbey barn is close by, and pilgrims may also wish to make a visit.
We look forward to our day in Avalon!
Looking forward to June, we shall be making a pilgrimage to Pennant Melangell on June 10th (the day after the feast of St Melangell). Given its distance from Cardiff, several parishioners having arranged to camp nearby. On the night of Friday June 9th.
The church in Pennant Melangell is built on the ancient site of the ancient monastery over which St Melangell presided as abbess, and houses her relics in the shrine where we will celebrate our pilgrim Liturgy.
This will be a very special pilgrimage, given the shrine and relics of St Melangell at the heart of the church, and we look forward to it.
Any potential pilgrims should contact Tracy: firstname.lastname@example.org
From July 24-27th, group of ROCOR parishioners will be travelling to Walsingham, ‘England’s Nazareth’, enjoying the hospitality of the South Wales Anglican Pilgrimage, after Fr Dean’s invitation to join the pilgrimage once more.
The accommodation cost is £225, and the cost for those wishing to travel on the coach is £370. Any more interested parties should contact me, Norman or Georgina as soon as possible
On a non-pilgrimage note, please remember that our Ascension Day Liturgy will be celebrated in Nazareth House at 11:00 on Thursday May 25th.
On this feast of the Holy, All-Praised Apostle and Evangelist Mark, we congratulate our devoted Deacon, Father Mark, on his nameday. May God give him strength in his labours, and grant him many, blessed years!
After a rather minimal congregation, last Sunday, we were glad that the second bank-holiday weekend did not affect numbers, so that things were a little more normal, with forty adults in addition to the clergy, plus our parish children.
This was our oltarnik Oswald’s penultimate Cardiff Liturgy before leaving for the continent, on the first leg of the journeyman year of his apprenticeship.
We were very glad that after the considerable tidy-up – that we face every week – we were able to have social-time across the road in Brodie’s with him and our other young people. We will miss his icon stall in church, and I was glad that I finally remembered which icon I wanted last week, when Oswald had a bank-holiday event, at Woodchester Mansion, the home of his workshop and master.
And so, I returned home with the icon “Noli me tangere” (Do not touch me), showing the Risen Lord appearing to the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles, St Mary Magdalene. Though it was too late for the Sunday of the Myrrh-Baring Women, this icon will be ready for St Mary’s feast in July.
I have already encouraged anyone with spare or loose euros to bring them to church, as these would be most useful and welcome for our young parishioner as he starts his journey. So, please find your change and currency left-overs for Oswald.
As announced in church, we will be making a parish pilgrimage to Glastonbury on Saturday 20th May, hopefully beginning our day with a moleben to St Brigid and the saints of Glastonbury on Bride’s Mound, in Beckery, the site of an early monastic site, with Irish associations. We will then visit the abbey, before heading to the Tor and Chalice Well, possibly visiting the rural-life museum in the abbey barn, if time permits and pilgrims are so inclined! Anyone interested should email Tracy: email@example.com
Today brought additions to the summer Walsingham Pilgrimage, from 24 – 27th July, and anyone others interested should contact me, Norman or Georgina asap, as I believe there are still some places left. We would love to see more parishioners join those of us who are taking advantage of Fr Dean’s kind invitation to join him and Butetown parishioners, once again.
I also announced that, unfortunately, we will be unable to celebrate our Ascension Day Liturgy in St Mary Butetown, as hoped, so I will check the possibility of celebrating in Nazareth House and make an announcement in the next few days. However, I am very glad to announce that we are able to return to St Mary’s for Friday Study Group, looking to commence on Friday 19th May at 19:00, meeting every fortnight. On these Fridays, confessions will be heard in St Mary’s before and after the sessions if needed.
This week will see confessions on Thursday, as I would like a quiet Friday before the monthly Liturgy for our Cheltenham Mission.
Those requiring confessions on Thursday should email me before noon on Wednesday.
The Cheltenham Liturgy will be celebrated in Prestbury United Reformed Church, as usual, with confessions from 09:15, and the Hours and Liturgy commencing at 10:00. Everyone is most welcome, and there will be a bring-and-share lunch after the service. We will call at Nazareth House on the way home, and any remaining confessions may be heard at that time. Email me please.
Please continue to make the celebration of the Paschal season a reality in your homes, with the joy of the season’s prayers and hymns in your daily spiritual-life. Some new parishioners are unaware of the glory of the Paschal Canon, which I encourage the faithful to continue to use throughout the season. However, the Paschal Canon in our prayerbooks is as used on the night of Pascha only, whereas after that night we also add Theotokia (troparia to the Mother of God). This full text, with the Theotokia may be found here:
I have just entered the house and boiled the kettle for a cup of tea at the end of a very long but very blessed day of pilgrimage, with our senior sister and seven of the brothers of the parish, having greatly enjoyed our spiritual-journey to Mathern and Tintern.
After chanting the Paschal Hours at Nazareth House, our eastward journey took us to Mathern, the place where St Tewdrig died from his battle wounds after leading the Welsh army against the invading Saxons.
His hope was to be buried on Ynys Echni (Flat Holm), but divine intervention took him only as far as Mathern, where a miraculous spring gushed forth – though today the waters in it are choked with autumn leaves and decaying vegetation.
However, the brothers of the parish have suggested that cleaning the well is something they would very much like to do.
Three of the brothers from Bath and Chippenham met us, having already explored the churchyard.
Our first stop, however, was neither the well nor the church – a graceful and imposing building despite its stark protestant interior – but the lovely little green area around the statue of St Tewdrig, where the instant-appearance of a table from Menna’s Land-rover (in which I greatly enjoyed travelling!) and the assembly of parishioners’ offerings conjured up a much appreciated picnic lunch.
After visiting the church, enclosing the site where St Tewdrig’s coffin and relics were found, and subsequently reburied in the 17th century, we made our way to the Holy Well, where we chanted the Paschal moleben, with the Paschal Canon and hymns to the saint.
We then made our way through the beautiful Wye Valley to Tintern, with its ruins of the great abbey.
It was here, Din-Teyryn, long before the Norman Conquest and the arrival of the Cistercians, that St Tewdrig retired from kingly-rule to live as a hermit, until an angelic messenger commanded him to emerge from his seclusion and lead the warriors of the local kingdom against the invading Saxons, and despite their victory, a blow to the head by a spear thrown by one of the fleeing Saxons mortally wounded the king.
To quote his hagiography,
“…Tewdrig, fully harnessed, mounted his horse and stood at the head of the troops to defend the ford over the Wye. The Saxons were put to flight, but one of them hurled a lance across the water and wounded the old king.
When it was perceived that the wound was mortal, his men were for removing him, but he forbade them to do so, and said that he would die there, and that he had desired his body to rest in the Isle of Echni, the Flat Holm, in the Severn Sea.
On the morrow, however, appeared two stags harnessed to a wagon, and Tewdrig, recognising that they were sent by the will of God, allowed himself to be lifted into the conveyance. The wagon carried him to the bank of the Severn and there stayed, and on the spot a sparkling spring began to flow. Then suddenly the wagon dissolved, and Tewdrig gave up the ghost.
Meurig erected an oratory on the spot, which was blessed by S. Oudoceus. The spot was Mathern, below Chepstow; there the old king was laid, and not conveyed, as he had desired, to Echni.”
The beautiful village that has grown in the more than a thousand years since the death and burial of St Tewdrig, with its centuries old cottages and gardens full of spring flowers and trees in bud and blossom, was a wonderful place in which to honour our martyred hermit-king and saint, and whilst the drama of Tintern was so impressive, and the social time spent there after exploring was a blessing, the spiritual heart and climax of our day was in the little village by the Severn, sacred to St Tewdrig.
I would partcularly like to thank our drivers, Peter, Porphyrios and Menna – and also Aldhelm for playing the accordion and bringing such cheer during our picnic lunch.
Dioch yn fawr!
Troparion to St Tewdrig, King and Hermit, Tone VI:
O Holy and Right-Believing King and Champion of the Faith, having resigned thine office thou didst retire to Tintern and the silence of the eremitical life; * but, upon the invasion of the pagans, * was prompted by an angel of God * to return and lead the victorious Christian host; * and grievously wounded, didst consecrate the Welsh soil with thy blood; * and borne to Mathern didst leave the mortal world * and wast born again in heaven. * Wherefore, O Holy Tewdrig, * intercede to Christ the High King of Heaven, * to bless our land, * and have mercy on our souls!
Venerable Hermit-King and Martyr, Tewdrig, pray to God for us!
It has been very good to be able to rest, pray and read in Glastonbury, spending much of yesterday in the abbey and the gardens at Chalice Well with its iron-rich spring waters flowing through the beautiful gardens at the foot of Chalice Hill.
Glastonbury Abbey, a short distance away, claimed the presence, long-stays, pilgimage-visits and relics of many saints, but whether the great monastic house was ever visited by all the saints that the annals claimed, we shall never know, just as we shall never know the voracity of the many relics the monks claimed to possess – some in direct opposition to other claimant-establishments.
Around the margins of the Glastonbury Icon of the Mother of God, we see many Celtic saints that link Ireland, Wales, Brittany and Somerset – y Gwlad yr Haf – together with the Archangel Michael, St Aristobulus and St Joseph of Arimathea.
The monastic preeminence of Glastonbury Abbey, and its centrality in the growth of Christianity in this part of the British Isles is undeniable, and given the great importance of Glastonbury, it should not surprise us that such eminent saints as David, Patrick and Brigid should be linked with what came to be called Glastonbury with the coming of the English, but was still Ynys Witrin in the age of our great Celtic saints.
As sanctuaries of holiness, culture and learning, the great religious houses of their time were not islands and isolated, but closely interlinked and connected by the much-sailed sea-roads on which monastics – saints among them – visited one another’s communities. Glastonbury was of course an island at that time, making it particularly accessible for those coming from South Wales, with its great religious centres at Llancarfan, Llanilltud-Fawr.
Even though there is now so little to see of the greatest English Abbey that claimed precedence over every other monastic establishment in Britain, and whose abbot sat in the House of Lords, people are still drawn to the ruins, though many through a concocted belief system of their own making.
Yet, whatever people may believe, their coming and going (and I’ve encountered people that repeatedly and regularly come from the far corners of the world) means that the site is loved and cared for, even though it sometimes feels like the Anglican custodians of the ruined abbey have consciously tried to quash any manifestation of spirituality and piety since the millennium: quite ironic considering what the millennium marked.
But, praise God, the site is preserved, even if one can only wonder at the glory of the once great abbey that stood here, and equally wonder at the wanton violence and demonic acts of those who desecrated the great sanctuary on England’s holiest earth. Whilst, in Walsingham England has its Nazareth, in Glastonbury the whole of Britain had its Jerusalem.
Gone are the dazzling colours of gold, paint, jewels and enamel which once adorned the shrines and their treasured relics, but now the colours of nature shine here, especially in autumn.
The abbey has a great many species of trees, soon to be resplendent in their autumn colours, and the flower and herb beds still manage a few flowers after the passing of summer.
I always say to those put off Glastonbury by the New-Age, occult, and and do-it-yourself-pseudo-religious commercially lucrative rubbish, to not be robbed of our holiest site by these works of darkness.
I recall seeing a documentary on the growth of occultism in Glastonbury when I was a teenager, with the camera looking down on the town form the tower of St John’s Church, and its vicar saying what no Anglican incumbent in the town would dare to say now – that the cosmic battle between good and evil is going on right here in this little Somerset town.
This is why must come!
We must come to worship, pray and venerate the holy sites, as I have been doing since I was a teenager – back then, sometimes with the most wonderfully devout friends on the West of England Pilgrimage – a very English, but also very Anglo-Catholic and in-your-face (with all of the senses) demonstration of Christianity.
Much has changed since then. The obvious Christian presence is much diminished, despite the imposing Catholic Parish Church, served by Benedictine monks.
Christianity seems very much in the shadows… which is why we MUST come, honouring the Mother of God in the place of her first British shrine, with David, Patrick, Brigid, Collen, Rumon, Fili, Kea, Indract, Dominica, Beon, Gildas the Wise, Dunstan, and all of the saints who shone forth in Glastonbury.
May they pray for us and for this confused and suffering holy-place.