Bull Rocks – #writephoto

 

Liminal - Bull Rocks

In response to Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt. Liminal – #writephoto

Bull Rocks

Did you, then,

Perhaps

See the bull?

His horns like wings

His feet, suggested

If not seen

Ancient anchors

In the rocks of here.

Or did you

Greet the green-white stones

With familiarity

Born of expectation?

Assembled barrow

Just for you…

Just for me?

You ask, incredulous

Why yes, they say–the voices

And if you lose yourself

In glad and happy voice

Then we will sing to you

And it will be the song

Of you and us

Unique in thousands

Of spinnings around our Sun

He comes again – Our Sun

Our Son, be welcome!

Be…

Be now with song

Give us voice one more time

And we will help you See…

——-

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2016.

Whispers in the West – part three

Whispers 3 - 1

Whispers in the West – part three

After the group’s successful ascent of Carningli (panorama shot above), the second day of the Silent Eye’s Whispers in the West weekend continued, with a short, further car journey to one of the historic highlights of the trip – Pentre Ifan.

Whispers 3 - 1 (11)

Pentre Ifan is the best known, and because of its height, the most impressive megalithic monuments in Wales. It is believed to be the remains of a chambered tomb for the communal burial of the dead, which would have been used, continuously, for some period before being finally sealed for good. The tomb was erected in the Neolithic age, perhaps as early as 3.500 B.C.

Whispers 3 - 1 (13)

The burial chamber itself was once partially covered by a great cairn (see schematic, below), extending well to the rear, but the stones have long since been removed; so it now lacks its original covering.

Pentre Ifan schematic from board

(Schematic taken from a partial photograph of the CADW information board at the site)

Pentre Ifan is classified as of the Portal Dolmen type, with the front of the chamber composed of three large uprights set in an ‘H’ formation – though here it is placed, unusually, at the centre of a curving facade of slabs, in line with the design shown in the schematic.

Whispers 3 - 1 (22)

The enormous capstone, nearly 17 feet long, weighs over sixteen tons and is supported on just three stones, as can be seen in the above photograph. It is believed that the juxtaposition of supporting and non-supporting stones was part of the design of the dolmen.

The weather continued to be wonderful, as you can see from the photographs. Beyond this, though, and the fact that it was now late afternoon, there was a very peaceful atmosphere about Pentre Ifan. It is a very beautiful and spiritual place. No-one in our party wanted to depart…

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In leaving, we took one final look beyond the perimeter hedge, to see the now-familiar shape of Carningli, mountain of the angels, from which we had just come. Seen from this angle, you can see how high it is, and how it dominates the land around.

And then it was back in the cars for a short journey into a very beautiful valley to the north of Pentre Ifan to see St Brynach’s church in the lovely village of Nevern.

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The church is most famous for one of its many yew trees, near to the gate, which is called the “Bleeding Yew”. The yew tree is about 700 years old, which is extraordinary in itself.

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It has a red sap running out of it which has the consistency of blood – though it dries pink rather than brown. Trees are known to ‘bleed’ when their internal flow structures are exposed, but, according to local legend, St Brynach’s bleeding yew has been in that state for hundreds of years.

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There are many myths about why the Nevern yew tree bleeds: some say that as Jesus was crucified on a cross it is bleeding in sympathy. One myth says that a monk was hanged on this tree for a crime of which he was innocent and the tree is still protesting the injustice. There are many other stories, but the church and its surroundings have much more to offer than just the Bleeding Yew.

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Further up the main path to the church is a large and dominant Celtic Cross, carved with the familiar Celtic knot-work pattens seen elsewhere in western Europe.

The cross is one of the most perfect examples of ancient Celtic stone carving in all Wales. The total height is thirteen feet and the cross is two feet in diameter at its thickest point.

Experts date the cross as late 10th or early 11th century.  The four sides of the cross are carved with geometric interlacing patterns.

The West and East faces have inscriptions. One is Ans, meaning Dominus, latin for Master. The other is not as certain, and could be the word for Hellelujah.

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Language is major feature of the inside of St Brynach’s church, which unashamedly celebrates the Celtic history of the land around it. The famous Nevern Ogham Stone, which has inscriptions in both ‘Celtic – Ogham’ and Latin, has been laid as the lintel of one of the windows in the south side of the transept.

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The photo shows the Ogham lines cut into the corners of the stone to form words. There is even a notice showing you how to use the stone to write your name in Ogham – assuming there are sufficient letters.

And with that, our time in Nevern had come to an end. It had been a long and wonderful day of discovery and we were due to have an early dinner at the Sloop pub in Porthgain, on the twenty mile return journey to St David’s.

Lizzy had arranged things so that we would just have time for a slight detour on the way there to have a very special glass of Welsh cider at a place called (locally) Bessie’s pub in Cwm Gwaun. The valley which houses Bessie’s is well hidden and I would not have liked to find it on my own! Having said that, the village was delightful and full of friendly local people, sitting on their doorsteps in the early evening sun, who smiled at our band of weary travellers and waved us towards Bessie’s – the only pub in the valley.

And the cider? Well, if you get chance, have a pint of Black Dragon if you’re passing through these parts. ‘Nectar of the Gods’ springs to mind…

Whispers 3 - 1 (24)

The final part of this series of posts will conclude, next week, with our Sunday morning walk to St David’s Cathedral, via the coastal footpath and St Non’s clifftop church and shrine. St Non was the mother of St David.


The Silent Eye runs four such weekends per year; in April, June, September, and the start of December. Apart from the main April workshop, which combines mystical drama with teachings, they are very informal occasions, but a good way to meet some of the names and faces from the Silent Eye School of Consciousness. Everyone is welcome – we simply wander in a landscape and get to know each other.

The formal teaching programme of the Silent Eye School is a three-year correspondence course, studied at home and in the individual’s daily world, with personal supervision via email, and workshops. The teaching programme is based on a guided journey through the spiritual layers of a nine-pointed figure called the Enneagram (below). The Silent Eye is a not-for-profit organisation and charges as little as possible for its work.

The Silent Eye's version of the enneagram has a few extra features added to the core (but unchanged) symbol.
The Silent Eye’s version of the enneagram.

You can find details of the forthcoming events for the year on our website.

leaf and flame 014

c0d53-silenteyemodernmasteraa

 

Whispers in the West – part two

Whispers in West Two Carn Ingli - 1 (9)

Whispers in the West – part two

The second day of our the Silent Eye’s Whispers in the West weekend began with relief – that we didn’t have to drive all the way across South Wales, again, to reach the town of Newport – our starting point for day two.

There are, apparently, many Newports in Wales, but only one of them, some twenty miles up the Pembrokeshire coast from our base in St David’s, has this nearby:

Whispers in West Two - 1

It stood alone on what looked like the cliff edge, dramatic and serene. In the brightness of a warm June day, with azure skies, we walked forwards in respectful silence… to look at ‘Samson’s Rock’.

Whispers in West Two - 1 (1)

Carreg Samson is five thousand years old… quite a thought, when you consider that its capstone, five by three metres and a metre thick, has rested for a considerable part, if not all, of that time on only three of the six standing stones, which vary from one to two metres tall.

I hadn’t realised until recently, that most of these Dolmens (or Quoits, as they used to be popularly known, although this, technically refers to the capstone, alone) were, at one time, buried, sometimes with enough of the stone visible to form an entranceway. The land has eroded or been excavated around them, yet their fundamental construction was so strong that they remain stable, like stone creatures from a distant age, to tantalise us in our search for their deeper meaning…

Whispers in West Two - 1 (2)

It was as hot day, and we were beginning to thirst for a coffee, at least, so we played a game, with Barbara supervising of how many Silent Eye weekenders can you fit into a Quoiter pint stone glass… sorry, couldn’t resist it!

Whispers in West Two - 1 (4)

Lizzy had structured the day very carefully, to give us all the best the coast and the nearby hills had to offer, and we had to leave the serenity of Carreg Samson and its idyllic location for our next Dolmen, just along the coast.

Whispers in West Two Little Bear - 1

Carreg Coetan Arthur is a neolithic chambered tomb, or dolmen, of the same age as Carreg Samson, which sits in its own little ‘park’ within a holiday village built during the late 1980s. According to Lizzy’s carefully prepared notes, its significant location is obscured by the hedging, but it stands a few hundred metres south of where the river Afon Nyfer enters Newport Bay; and just over a mile north of the hills of Mynydd Carningli, towards which the dolmen seems to be orientated.

Whispers in West Two Little Bear - 1 (1)

It consists of four uprights, and is not much taller than a person. The remains consist of four uprights, only two of which support what appears to be a precariously-balanced, wedge-shaped capstone, which is tilted backwards. There is little trace of any of the original cairn material that once covered the stones.

We stopped and stared, admiring what Stuart had named “Little Bear” before taking as many photos as possible before being shunted out of the way by the next group of visitors.

Lizzy’s plans for the day were unfolding, beautifully, and Carningli, the mountain of the angels, beckoned, as the next item on our agenda.

But that coffee would have been nice… And, as fate would have it, we were about to get one, but in a rather unexpected way. Lizzy suggested a short stop in the small town’s centre and we set off for a nearby car park, in three cars, around the tight streets of Newport’s main road. Sadly, I took a wrong turn and we lost sight of the lead car and ended up doubling back before concluding that we were lost! We had noticed, on our detour, that there had been a sign to a beach car park nearby. The two lost cars turned down this road, reasoning that we might be easier to find in such a location, and we emerged onto a car park next to a very scenic beach with a… tea room across the road!

Well, we reasoned, Lizzy wouldn’t have wanted us to go thirsty in our confusion, and, if we stayed put, there was a good chance she’d find us…

Half an hour later, guzzling tea, coffee and cream and jam scones in the garden of the tearoom, and not looking anywhere near guilty enough, we were ‘found’ by our guide and brought back into the convoy to begin our climb up to the Angels of Carningli.

Whispers in West Two Carn Ingli - 1 (2)

Carningli doesn’t rise up like some of the stone masses of Snowdonia, but it does dominate the landscape for miles around; and it is accessible with ordinary walking gear with about a thirty minute climb, as the car does a lot of the work for you.

We began the climb, with everyone aiming to reach the top. Ages and fitness levels always vary on these occasions, so it’s wise to constantly check that everyone’s okay. By the time we had reached the plateau below the rocky summit, it was obvious that there were very determined people intent on conquering that peak, perhaps doing something they had not done for a many years.

Whispers in West Two Carn Ingli - 1 (3)

It was a wonderful spirit and got us all to the top – with considerable pride on the faces of those who had had to work the hardest.

Whispers in West Two Carn Ingli - 1 (5)

The top of Carningli is very rocky and we had to pick our way carefully to a stable ridge from which we could all look down at the glorious views of Pembrokeshire’s countryside and coast.

Whispers in West Two Carn Ingli - 1 (10)

In this magical spot, the verdant countryside is as beautiful as the lovely coast.

Whispers in West Two Carn Ingli - 1 (11)

We had climbed Carningli with an additional goal in mind: to hold a distant healing vigil for one of our members who is facing a severe illness. Chris, one of the weekend group who had to work the hardest in the climb, revealed he had a secret goal – to take back a small rock for our suffering friend, ‘charged’ as it were, with the spirit of that shared moment.

Whispers in West Two Carn Ingli - 1 (12)

It was a very beautiful, lofty, interlude, and we were glad that Lizzy had urged us to make the climb – the views, alone, were worth it. We came down from the peak of Carningli the direct way, which was somewhat challenging, but we all finally emerged back at the car park and began to dream of a promised cider in a little village that lay close by.

But, first, we had an appointment with another Dolmen – one of the best in Europe; and a wonderful church in a very special valley… So Chris had a lie-down on the grass, instead…

Whispers in West Two Carn Ingli - 1 (13)

More to follow in the story of this amazing day… quite a bit more, actually…

Whispers in West Two Carn Ingli - 1 (14)


The Silent Eye runs four such weekends per year; in April, June, September, and the start of December. Apart from the main April workshop, which combines mystical drama with teachings, they are very informal occasions, but a good way to meet some of the names and faces from the Silent Eye School of Consciousness. Everyone is welcome – we simply wander in a landscape and get to know each other.

The formal teaching programme of the Silent Eye School is a three-year correspondence course, studied at home and in the individual’s daily world, with personal supervision via email, and workshops. The teaching programme is based on a guided journey through the spiritual layers of a nine-pointed figure called the Enneagram (below). The Silent Eye is a not-for-profit organisation and charges as little as possible for its work.

The Silent Eye's version of the enneagram has a few extra features added to the core (but unchanged) symbol.
The Silent Eye’s version of the enneagram.

You can find details of the forthcoming events for the year on our website.

leaf and flame 014

c0d53-silenteyemodernmasteraa

 

The Silent Eye runs four such weekends per year; in April, June, September, and the start of December. Apart from the main April workshop, which combines mystical drama with teachings, they are very informal occasions, but a good way to meet some of the names and faces from the Silent Eye School of Consciousness. Everyone is welcome – we simply wander in a landscape and get to know each other.

The formal teaching programme of the Silent Eye School is a three-year correspondence course, studied at home and in the individual’s daily world, with personal supervision via email, and workshops. The teaching programme is based on a guided journey through the spiritual layers of a nine-pointed figure called the Enneagram (below). The Silent Eye is a not-for-profit organisation and charges as little as possible for its work.

The Silent Eye's version of the enneagram has a few extra features added to the core (but unchanged) symbol.
The Silent Eye’s version of the enneagram.

You can find details of the forthcoming events for the year on our website.

leaf and flame 014

c0d53-silenteyemodernmasteraa

Whispers in the West – part one

Whispers St David's Headland

Whispers in the West – part one

It was early on Friday afternoon. Lizzy, one of our Companions in the Silent Eye, had assembled us for the start of three days of delightful discovery on the western fringes of Pembrokeshire, centred on the lovely town of St David’s, home of one of the most remote cathedrals in Britain.

As promised, we met, on the car park above Whitesands Beach, for coffee and…ice cream. The weather was hot, the air clear and the sky blue – perfect conditions for the opening walk on what was to prove an adventurous and wonderful weekend.

Whitesands beach

The ice-cream reluctantly finished, we resisted the quite reasonable demands for another and set off along the cliff path that leads to the distant vista of St David’s Head.

Whispers headland 2

The town of St David’s gets its name from the patron saint of Wales, who was a Welsh bishop of Myryw (now renamed St David’s) during the 6th century. He is believed to have been the son of a high-born nun–Saint Non, and the grandson of Ceredig ap Cunneda, King of the ancient land of Ceridigion – now part of Pembrokeshire. Other, more dramatic tales say that the lady who became St Non was raped by a local prince and bore the resulting child as her own, bringing him up to take his place in history, despite the trauma of his conception.

We will return, in the final post, to the Chapel of St Non, in its idyllic setting close to the ocean beyond the present town of St David’s; and to the magnificent Cathedral of St David’s.

This part of the Welsh coast is one the the most beautiful places in Wales, and has that ‘other worldly’ feel about it which marks out secret gems of landscape that stay in the heart, forever. It is also the home of some of the most ancient stone structures in Europe.

We reached St David’s head after about an hour of walking. The cliffs are very steep and we were advised to ‘look the other way’ as we rounded curve after curve on the high path – with the dark blue of the ocean a long way below.

Arriving at the headland, we did what a group of Silent Eye folk often do – go very quiet… in the face of the beauty of what lay below, and its ancientness.

St David's headland rocks flowers

Much of the rock in this part of Wales is volcanic in origin, and is over 500 million years old. In the distance, off to the south-west, can be seen the rocky islands of Ramsey, Bishops and Clerks several miles out to sea.

Islands in the Stream

On the section before the headland we had passed the remains of a stone-age settlement.

Ancient settlement

In a recent post, Stuart and Sue raise the very interesting question, “Why would anyone want to live here, in such an exposed place?”

Our historic research duo have carried out extensive work on such ancient sites and gained their own insights by being sensitive to the land’s own story. This journey to a deeper perception of natural surroundings is well-documented in their books.

After a suitable time for personal exploration and meditation, we picked our way, carefully, back over the rocks to take a slightly different path in the direction of a distant hill – Carn Llidi (which turned out to be closer than it looked). After a short way, we stopped in surprise at the sudden emergence of Coetan Arthur, a Neolithic burial chamber (A dolmen in this case) dating from about 4000BC. It has a huge capstone almost 20ft wide, which is supported by a side stone over 3ft tall. It was almost certainly built this way, with one end resting on the ground, as what is known as an ‘earthfast’ megalith.

This use of ‘Arthur’ is not related to the Arthurian tales, but linked to an ancient use of the world ‘Bear’.

Coetan Arthur 1

Approaching these ancient sites, it is difficult not to feel an immense sense of respect and reverence for what the builders crafted. We know very little of their full purpose, though burial of the ‘long bones’ of key individuals seems to have been a common element.

Although they may look crude by today’s standards, the sheer ‘presence’ of these stone megaliths may be a result of the fact that they used rocks of certain size, shape and proportions that were ‘found’ naturally in the earth, thus giving a specialness to their placing. As Sue and Stuart explain, such stones were the very ‘bones’ of the ancient earth and revered as part of a living body that sustained all life.

Coetan Arthur 2We would struggle to recreate them, today. One of the smallest, the capstone of Coetan Arthur weighs 4.6 tons. It is believed that it was created to mirror the nearby peak of Carn Llidi, which was to be our next compass bearing for the final leg of the afternoon’s walk.

Coetan Arthur 3

For my part, I am always taken by the importance of these structures as ‘keepers of time and place in the cosmos’. The were usually oriented east-west, though there are exceptions. They were placed in relation to other stones in the landscape which gave the positions of the sun at the four key points of summer and winter solstice (maximum and minimum days), and spring and autumn equinox (equal night and day).

The passing of the year would have been of great significance to our ancient forebears. The cycles of planting, fallow, growth and harvest were key to their survival and they had to know where they were in the year. There was, undoubtedly, a deeper aspect to it all; in that they felt an intensity of relationship with the sky above them, as well as the air they breathed, the water they drank, and the ground below, in which all foods, apart from meats, grew directly; and meat was dependent upon vegetation in the greater cycle.

Their connection to the natural world, and its cycles, was therefore part of their deepest experience – so much so that people like the Druids were a specially trained layer of their society whose role was to honour and deepen the understanding of this relationship of mankind (observer; man and woman) to that which was observed and whose deepest secrets (untouchable but capable of being seen) were painted in the geometry of the night sky.

It is here that proto-science and mysticism met, adding, nobly, to each other’s cause… in fact, in those times they were indivisible, and the spirit of mystery pervaded the sacred search for knowing

Carn Llidi

The final leg of the walk (though not of the day) was to take the path over the hilltop of Carn Llidi and back to join the road to the lovely Whitesands beach.

Carn Llidi peak details

One of our number sprinted off to gain the actual peak, but the rest of us were content to amble along the high road and take in the scenery.

Summer sun on sea perfect

The day had been perfect and what finer way to cool the feet than to take off the boots and paddle in Whitesands bay…

Beach and sea Whitesands

Then it was time to return to the hotel to change, and a gentle walk into St David’s to have a pub dinner at The Bishop. All in all, the perfect Day One of our Whispers in the West weekend.

The Bishop pub St David's

More to follow…


The Silent Eye runs four such weekends per year; in April, June, September, and the start of December. Apart from the main April workshop, which combines mystical drama with teachings, they are very informal occasions, but a good way to meet some of the names and faces from the Silent Eye School of Consciousness. Everyone is welcome – we simply wander in a landscape and get to know each other.

The formal teaching programme of the Silent Eye School is a three-year correspondence course, studied at home and in the individual’s daily world, with personal supervision via email, and workshops. The teaching programme is based on a guided journey through the spiritual layers of a nine-pointed figure called the Enneagram (below). The Silent Eye is a not-for-profit organisation and charges as little as possible for its work.

The Silent Eye's version of the enneagram has a few extra features added to the core (but unchanged) symbol.
The Silent Eye’s version of the enneagram.

You can find details of the forthcoming events for the year on our website.

leaf and flame 014

c0d53-silenteyemodernmasteraa

History and Mystery on Caldey Island – Part Five, Warriors of the Heart

Caldey etchings montage

History and Mystery on Caldey Island – Final Part (5) , Warriors of the Heart

Their age is uncertain, but most observers place them as medieval. I’m no expert in ancient Christian symbolism, but, on my first visit to Caldey, a decade prior,  I knew that the uncovered plaster etchings on the lower walls of St Illtud’s church were unusual. My first reaction was that they could also be partly alchemical, but I have no evidence for this, other than the initial impression of certain visual similarities.

Now, I was back, with a better camera, and determined to obtain a good set of photographs despite having to crouch low to take the shots of the old stone etchings which line the lower walls of St Illtud’s church.

A sun drawn as a circle (see first photo, above) with a smaller circle inside it. Four straight lines radiate from the upper and lower verticals, and the left and right directions. Further straight lines radiate out in each quadrant, but the mid line of each quadrant is wavy, as we might draw a ‘wavelength’ line in physics.

A dove descends (second photo) – a common Christian symbol of the Holy Ghost – but this dove descends from a figure of the sun above, and it’s own body radiates the ongoing life to those below.

Three fishes swim in a sea clearly marked by its surface (third photo). The three fishes form what looks like the head of an arrow pointing downwards. Smaller fishes curl at the lower edge of the piece, but these are not part of the power of three represented by the core group. Three is, of course, a symbol of the Trinity; and, prior to Christian thought, the mystical symbol of creation, ‘three primary forces in one’, the radiating of divine will into the ‘primal stuff’; the embodiment of that will; the projection from the ‘male’ energy of a receptive ‘female’ form into which the potency of the male may reside… leading to the birth of the world, or should we say, our realisation of the birth of that world…

Esoteric Christianity contains some of the most profound mysticism in the history of mankind and I wondered how much of this was being shared by the creators of these designs, etched in the past, where the ‘past’ is anything from one hundred to one thousand years ago.

There are over twenty of the ‘etchings’. When I first came to Caldey, they were dilapidated; and many were mouldy. Now, they had been lovingly restored under the supervision of Father Gildas, the Abbot of Caldey, though he recently confessed to the local newspaper, The Western Gazette, to knowing very little of their origin.

All Photos - 26 of 34

What is known is that the site of St Illtud’s church was the original home of the 6th century Celtic Christian church; the medieval Benedictines; and the more recent group of monks who created the modern religious landscape of Caldey in the last century. Although the present Abbey is Cistercian, the founding group of monks of the recent cycle of habitation were also Benedictines, and led by a very unusual man – Dom (Father, from Latin Dominus, master) Aelred Carlyle, also chronicled by some as the “Lord Abbot” and the “Druid Abbot” due to his highly unusual approach to his calling…

Dom Aelred Carlyle began his working life in London, where he tried to establish an institution that helped underprivileged young men to fit themselves for gainful work. This failed and he found himself in a series of roles, culminating in a vision that the restoration of Caldey Island as a place of isolated Benedictine worship should be the goal. He was, to say the least, an unusual man, not to mention an very ‘different’ priest. We would expect the word Benedictine to be associated with the Catholic faith, but Dom Aelred Carlyle’s followers were Protestant Benedictines –  a line descending from the survivors of Henry VIII’s dissolution of most of the monasteries in 1536.

Dom Aelred’s proposition attracted some sponsorship, and, in 1906, the then owner of Caldey Island, the Rev Done Bushell, Chaplain of Harrow School, agreed to the sale of Caldey with certain strict provisions, including the construction of a formal guest house for visitors, who would be expected to pay, handsomely, for the privilege of being ‘part of the community’ for a while. A train was chartered to bring the Don Aelred’s existing Benedictine community from North Yorkshire to Tenby, where they were allowed to rest and wash, before making the short crossing to Caldey, their future home, in a local boat.

We have to admire their bravery, as they worked to restore what is now St Illtud’s church, at the same time as trying to feed themselves from the land and sea. The site of the Celtic and medieval communities had become, once more, the home to monastic worship on Caldey.

Sadly the story goes downhill from there. A series of grandiose plans for one of the largest abbeys in Europe were expensively shelved. But the present Italianate abbey was designed and built – taking Dom Aelred’s group massively into debt.

By 1929, the project was no longer viable, despite the construction of the present set of buildings, and the abbey was taken over by the Belgium (Catholic) Cistercian monks whose spiritual ‘descendants’ are today’s inhabitants. It is a tribute to them that they have continued to maintain and further restore St Illtud’s church and its long history. Today, the abbey is financially secure and the community is growing.

There remains one more treasure to document before closing this set of posts: that of the stained glass window in the sanctuary of St Illtud’s church.

St Illtud's window 1-AA

One of the unsung heroes of the present day story of St Illtud’s is the Rev William Done Bushell, who restored the church in the closing years of the 19th century, and was the man who sold Caldey to Dom Aelred’s Benedictine group.  To crown the restoration, he installed the large sanctuary window, which shows St Illtud (also written St Illtyd) as a young Arthurian Knight, being visited by an angel who urges him to turn away from Arthur’s court and return to the religious life of his youth. It’s an interesting and potentially controversial message, given the mystical interest in the inner symbolism of the Arthurian stories today.

Perhaps we are best ending this by thanking the present monks for their care of precious things from the near and far past, and for keeping those treasures alive for us all to see… and wonder at…

I will conclude with a view of Caldey’s ‘Calvary’ monument, overlooking the arrival and departure of its visitors, and the borrowed sentiment we often use in the Silent Eye School: “there is only one truth but a thousand windows through which to see it…”

Calvary Caldey cross Christ

Previous parts of this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four,

History and Mystery on Caldey Island – Part Four, Two Ships


DSC_0270

History and Mystery on Caldey Island – Part Four, Two Ships

There were two ships on that day, each of them spoke of other dimensions…One completed our journey back from Caldey, in a way that could only be seen as symbolic. The other was the vessel called St Illtud’s church, whose foundations, and, perhaps some of the contents, had carried the ancient wisdom of the sixth century and beyond, so that we could gaze on it today with something approaching wonder.

St Sampson Status
St Samson, the first Abbot of Caldey in the 6th Century.

St Sampson (above) was the first Abbot of Caldey island. He established the 6th Century Celtic Christian church, and later, its monastery, on the site that is now a ruin, apart from the outbuildings which form the perfume factory and the church of St Illtud.

The latter is mysterious home of everything talked about in this post. St Illtud was the founding ‘father’ of the Celtic church in this part of Wales, and his personal influence spread as far south as Brittany. It was fitting and generous, therefore, that the Cistercian fathers who took over Caldey’s Benedictine Monastery in 1930 should re-name the original church of St Mary, which stood on the site of Samson’s monastery, St Illtud’s.

(the previous posts have discussed the history of worship on Caldey, see the foot of the post for fast links)

There is a growing interest in Celtic Christianity. Many see joy in its directness of worship and its sexual equality, and much spiritual vitality is seen in its art, such as the wonderfully ‘illuminated’ Lindisfarne Gospels. Celtic Christianity, derived from the Eastern Christian tradition and heavily influenced by the Desert Fathers, was heavily oriented towards the works of John the Evangelist, which are widely seen as the most mystical of the of the Gospels.

To quote from Andrew Dunn, an authority on the role of Celtic thought within modern Christianity:

“The Johannine emphases on the presence of God among us, the Word made Flesh, the Spirit who has come in Jesus’ name, the risen Lord speaking to his Church and drawing it, and all believers, into union with him (“Abide in me and I in you . . . without me you can do nothing”1) – all moulded the Celtic way.”

Lindisfarne Gospels cover
The Lindisfarne Gospels, an example of objective art          Source Wikki Commons

Celtic Christianity flourished on the fringes of Britain – particularly in the West, coming here from Ireland, and, prior to that, from the Eastern Church via Brittany, where there were training schools for early priests who would spread the word of the original church.

The Synod of Whitby, in 664 A.D., marked the official end of the endorsement of what we now call Celtic Christianity. It was gradually replaced by the Roman view of how Christ’s life should be viewed and emulated. But the Celtic Christian faith did not die out quickly, instead, it went underground, and continued to flourish for hundred of years in those Western reaches that had given it its early life.

Prior to all this, the people we now view as the original ‘Celts’ had been quick to adopt it. In their turn, the descendants of these people were keen to defend it, seeing in it a vital link to their forebears’ beliefs that nature was the ‘Second Book’ and that an understanding of the Divine Feminine was key to finding the ‘spirit’ in the world.

Rome different view

Rome took a different view and, even today, wrestles with the results…

When great beauty is expressed as spiritual art, as it has been from time immemorial, it presents the observer with an experience, rather than a seen thing. In the Silent Eye, we honour many of the ideas of the philosopher Gurdjieff, including his statement that such art reaches inner parts of our consciousness because it is objective – that is, it speaks an exact truth which is beyond the filters of belief, thought and prejudice applied by the subjective ego.

To create objective art requires that the ‘artist’ bring it into existence with this purpose in mind; and that such creators are then assisted by the innate power of truth in a creative process that can easily be seen as religious, but which can be described in many other ways, too, including those used by mystics. The inner cores of the world’s religions have always stressed that there is only one truth – and many windows through which it may be viewed.

Caldey Enneagram

In the Silent Eye, we use the ‘stations’ of the enneagram as, firstly subjective, and latterly, objective windows by which the evolving soul can come to gaze on the beauty of its origins…

There are three wonderful elements of St Illtud’s church that speak of what I have come to think of as its spiritual ‘playfulness’ of purpose. One is the Caldey Stone, with its Ogham script, introduced in the last post; the second is a set of plaster engravings which depict very early Christian images; and the final one is a magnificent stained-glass window of St Illtud, himself – but with a very mysterious subtext…

We will consider the Caldey Stone in this post and conclude the series next time with a look at the other two.

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As far as is known, the Caldey Stone was dug up in the old priory grounds in the 18th century. Local records from the time quote and elderly islander, ‘Ned of Caldey’, as saying that other inscribed stones had existed on the island; but none have ever been found.

The ancient Ogham script was used by the Druids and comprises a series of notches on the edge of the stone. The Caldey Stone, which has both Ogham and Latin inscribed on it, has been translated in several ways. One of the most respected experts, Professor Burkitt, translated the opening words as “With the sign of the cross, I, Illtud, have fashioned this monument.” This interpretation would date the Latin text to the time of St Illtud, who died in around A.D. 535.

But the Caldey Stone is only a single artefact. Around the lower parts of the walls of the Sanctuary in St Illtud’s sit over twenty plaster reproductions of ancient Christian art, and some of these are very enigmatic, indeed…

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Previous parts of this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three