Voices in the Mist (2)

(Above: The Canadian WW1 monument at Vimy Ridge as it first appears from the car park)

Continued from Part One.

From a distance it looks too stark to be a monument. The eye is, initially, disappointed as the form makes its modernistic impact. Both the height of the pylons and the width of the base ( a massive 6,000 tonnes of steel-reinforced concrete) look devoid of detail… but this is an illusion, for the Canadian National Monument on Vimy Ridge is designed to have many faces; some of them literal, others spoken of in bare symmetry.

The icy mist had continued to haunt us. Our last-minute dash to see Vimy before heading for Calais was a gamble. The damp and misty air made it almost impossible to hold the camera, making the fingers numb after only a few seconds of exposure.

But, if anything, the weather was perfectly aligned with the emotional goals of Canadian architect and sculptor Walter Seymour Allward (1876-1955), who, in 1921 won a competition set up by the Canadian government to create a national monument commemorating its soldiers killed in the First World War. His winning design became the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, established on the peak of Vimy Ridge – the site of one of WW1’s most horrific battles.

Walter Allward said the idea for the monument came to him in a dream:

“I turned my eyes and found myself looking down on an avenue of poplars… I have tried to show this in the monument to Canada’s fallen, what we owed them and will forever owe them.”

Walter Allward
(Above: The mourning mother figure looks down at her empty womb)

As you draw closer along the path that appears to be the entrance, two figures stand out from the base of the shining stone (6,000 tonnes of the purest limestone, quarried from a disused Roman mine in what is now Croatia). The first is a mother figure, naked from the waist up and looking down at her empty womb. The symbolism of her forlorn breasts stabs at the heart; it warns you that this monument is not for the faint-hearted, and marks the place where thousands of young Canadian soldiers died storming the ridge against the well-armed German army.

(Above: The father figure’s fingers are clenched in anguish and impotence…)

To the right along the base of the monument is the father figure, also half-naked and seated in anguish with his left hand clenched in anguish along the skin of his thigh; his right hand supporting the organ of thought and regret – his head.

The sheer poignancy of these two figures brings home the central story of the monument, which is one of time and events. We were not at the front of the sculptures but at the back. But there are no signs to say so… The visitor centre was closed for maintenance, so only exploration and understanding would bring that knowledge.

And, suddenly, you realise you are not only in story but a process of consciousness…

The two grieving figures represent the sorrow and mourning that comes after the deaths of the young men of their nation on an unprecedented scale. Though compelling, it is desperately sad… and immediately changes your consciousness. From here on across the monument, you are going backwards in time and events, in order to see what led to such loss.

Our eyes were beginning to grasp the design. There are figures high on the pylons at the front and in the rear of the central twin-structure. They represent Peace and Justice, Knowledge and Truth. We would only come to understand them in the context of what lay on the other side of the pylons…

(Above: The figures of, left, Peace and Knowledge; and right, Justice and Truth)

Beyond the vast base of the monument is the edge of Vimy Ridge; the downward slope is the site of most of the battle. A story was opening up before us, told in classical figures worked with beauty and precision in shining limestone – each one carved by Walter Allward in situ, even those at the top of the near-100ft pylons!

I looked up and wondered, given the state of my fingers here at ground level, how cold it was up there… That sense of having gone beyond and into the unknown must have been one of Allward’s main intentions. It’s beautiful and chilling at the same time; and speaks of the power of youth to go where it is guided – in this case into into the hell of war and isolation found at the top of those towers… the place of death in the wall of bullets from the German machine guns. But that is telling the story on the physical and not the moral level.

(Above: the first view of what was now revealed as the front of the monument. The wide-angle lens masks the height of the pylons – nearly 100 feet
(Above: for a brief moment, as you cross the stone floor of the upper level’s terrace, there is only the far wall and the slope of Vimy Ridge below)

Inscribed on the far wall of the terrace is: ‘The Canadian Corps on 9th April 1917 with four divisions in line on a front of four miles attacked and captured this ridge’

Having understood the physical layout of the whole monument, we realised that we could not penetrate the symbolism further without descending to the lowest level and looking back from the perspective of the ridge being ‘attacked’ by the Canadian Army and defended by the German forces.

(Above: the whole of the newly revealed ‘front’ of the Vimy memorial flows down the slope and is dominated by the solitary figure in the middle)

Knowing what was on the opposite face, we could now appreciate the whole of the monument. Visually, we were ‘advancing’ from below – just as the four divisions of Canadian soldiers did, as told in the words of the visitor plaque:

“After two unsuccessful Allied attempts to dislodge the Germans from this heavily fortified height, the four Canadian divisions, fighting together for the first time, seized the ridge on 12 April 1917 after four days of intense fighting. Meticulous preparation, the use of advanced technology, teamwork and the sacrifice of thousand of Canadian lives produced this remarkable result, It was an important turning point for Canada in the war.”

(Above: As you approach from below, the solitary female figure of ‘Canada’ looks down in sorrow at the slaughter taking place beneath her gaze…)

The single, central figure is revealed to be that of ‘Canada’. She gazes down Vimy Ridge, moved beyond words… but unmoving. Directly beneath her, at the base of the tall wall, is a tomb.

(Above: the figures of ‘Sympathy of Canadians for the Helpless’)

To the right of the downward-gazing figure of ‘Canada’ are the multiple figures of ‘Sympathy of Canadians for the Helpless’. It’s a beautifully carved sculpture and leads the eye to the twin pylons above – representing higher principles and forces at work in the human consciousness. This is an important point – the whole of the monument is about the human mind and heart, and their capacity for greatness or war – the ultimate failure of humanity’s communication and learning.

(Above: The full set of figures of the ‘Sympathy of Canadians for the Helpless’ sculpture

The basal wall is massive and runs the whole width of the monument. On the left of its face is an enigmatic piece known as “Breaking of the Sword’.

(Above: the full length of the basal wall, with the ‘Breaking of the Sword’ sculpture in the leftmost position)

Beyond the guardian figure of ‘Canada’ the upper level can be gained by either set of stone steps. We returned to this and faced the complete set of figures on the twin pylons.

(Above: The full suite of sculptures on the Front (downward) face)

The middle two figures, between the bases of the pylons, are ‘Sacrifice’ and ‘The ‘Torch Bearer’. Both stare upwards into the heights of the cold sky… The demands of society and civilisation will carry a high price…

(Above: The top of the pylons on the Front (down-ridge) face)

The figures here are curious. They are listed as (left) ‘Faith’ and ‘Hope’, but my eyes saw three ‘headless’ figures on the left (see photo) They may have been weather-damaged and in the process of restoration, but I definitely see three!. The figures on the top of the right pylon are listed as ‘Honour’ (top) and ‘Charity’.

Together, these are the focus of the figures of the Torch Bearer and Sacrifice – the very centre of the monument. These two are the ‘centre of the pillars’ – spiritually significant on any level. They tell the story of the whole of mankind, embarked on a near-impossible struggle between the inheritance of the animal nature–and its evolutionary ladder back to matter, and the inner flame of the divine; that which fights entropy by creating its own gradients.

The one quality I found to be unreferenced was ‘Will’. But then, I looked again and could see how Walter Allward had created the perfect tableau, one which took all his own willpower, but left the final ‘stone’ to the future observer. Only in our own hearts and minds will we find the inner will to gaze upwards, with the Torch Bearer and the Sacrifice our witnesses, and seek the peace that encompasses all differences.

I think Walter Allward, and, hopefully Canada, might echo that…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Voices in the Mist (1)

We had never been to the First World War monuments and graves in northern France. As a young man, I considered them part of a national mindset that glorified war. But, over the decades, that view was moderated and I realised that such places are the result of something much deeper in the national psyche.

And not just national. Like a vast whirlpool, WW1 drew in polarising forces from across the world as the British Commonwealth and its allies faced the might of the armies of Wilhelm, the last Kaiser and Emperor of Prussia. The opening picture is from the deeply moving Canadian monument at Vimy Ridge – to which the second post in this series will be dedicated.

But the first part of our journey was the road up the hill from the small town of Amblain St. Nazaire to the French monument of Notre Dame de Lorette. As we climbed the hill the mist thickened. It was fitting weather to come face to face with a part of France that has been the focus of such intense emotion and international remembrance.

(Above: Notre Dame de Lorette Basilica with its lines of war graves is only part of this hilltop cemetery)

Notre Dame de Lorette is the name of the French Military Cemetery on top of the ridge which was the scene of so much conflict and death in the ‘Great War’. The name applies to the ridge, the basilica and the French national cemetery building. The hump-backed ridge stands nearly 170 metres above the surrounding land and the nearby town of Arras, which I wrote about in the last blog. This hill and Vimy ridge are the most dominant features of this otherwise flat part of northern France.

(Above: It would be hard to describe how cold the freezing mist was…but the sense of ‘rightness’ was complete – the cold horror of what happened along this ridge, and what happens when mankind forgets the power of the dark side of our nature)

Two buildings appear on the left-hand side of the road as you approach the cemetery. First the basilica of Notre Dame de Lorette, then, behind it, a tall tower, known as the Lantern Tower. They form an odd pair… until you stand in the space between them and something dramatic happens.

This part of the ridge has long been consecrated ground. Centuries ago, it was the site of a miraculous cure and gained the name of Notre Dame de Lorette because of the association of the miracle with the Virgin Mary. The present building is really a basilica built in the Romano-Byzantine style but retained the name of ‘chapel’ to honour the older tradition. It is unusual in that the small altar of the chapel is located outside the building at the entrance to the east door. The Notre Dame de Lorette statue of the Virgin Mary with Jesus stands next to the main altar inside the chapel.

Sadly, the basilica was closed for maintenance during our visit, so we had to be content with a tour of the exterior and the space between chapel and tower. But this did give us time to consider several of the beautiful inscriptions on the walls of both buildings.

(Above: the twin stone date markers flank the approach to the ‘chapel’ (really Basilica) of Notre Dame de Lorette)
(Above: up close, the Basilica is much larger than it looks on the approach. Sadly, it was closed for maintenance on the day we visited..)

Between the Chapel/Basilica and its associated tower is what can only be described as vast ‘plain’ paved in the same sandstone as the entrance walkway. Nearer the chapel, but dividing the two structures is what appears to be mausoleum which draws the eye from both in a way reminiscent of Egyptian temples..

(Above: the proximity of chapel to ‘mausoleum’ belies the relationship to the lantern tower, which is only appreciated when you look the other way…)

The ‘red plain’ – whose symbolism is later obvious, but not immediately grasped, is a completely flat surface and draws the eye outside of a human frame of reference and into the ‘spiritual’ world, beyond. Before turning to look at the tower, a larger context needs to be held in the mind and heart: that given on the side of the basilica in the photo below. Bearing in mind its religious link with the Virgin Mary; no stranger, herself, to suffering…

(Above: the engraved message from the eternal self fighting to stay sane in a world of seemingly endless violence)

My French is limited, but Sue has lent a hand: “To thee who from the heart of pain gave birth to Holy Hope, to thee this temple born of tears… Offered by the women of France…”

It just gets to you… In the freezing fog, with tears in my eyes, having grasped some of the import of the inscription and with my un-gloved hands hurting with cold while I held the camera, I turned, in order to look across the ‘red plain’ to grasp the importance of the Lantern Tower. But my eyes were captured by the ‘mausoleum’ building next to where I was standing.

(The ‘mausoleum’ reveals itself as something more…)

The significance of the supposed mausoleum becomes apparent at this point. The sheathed crossed-swords of valour are stationed outside this portico, whose purpose is solely to house the external altar of the ‘Mother Mary’. The relationship is to the words written on the facing walls of the ‘chapel’.

(Above: the twin swords of valour are sheathed in the stone)
(Above: Finally, the eyes are drawn to the Lantern Tower in the near-distance)

The Lantern Tower has, as its name suggests, a light at the top. Louis Cordonnier designed it to revolve five times each minute, once darkness falls… It’s a very poignant monument, and sits 150 feet high, above what is already the highest point on the ridge. The Lantern Tower was inaugurated in August 1925. Until recently, the 200 internal steps could be climbed by visitors, but the viewing gallery at the top has been closed for security reasons.

(Above: the Lantern Tower – light from a dramatic structure…)

The light from the Lantern Tower can be seen for 45 miles – encompassing all the local battlefields at the time of WW1. The base of the tower is a 25 metre square which frames a crypt containing the remains of 6,000 soldiers and a chapel of rest.

A container for relics was placed in the tower in April 1955. It contains soil and ashes from the concentration camps of World War II.

But the left-hand side of the road does not encompass the whole of the monument. Across the way, and only opened in 2014, is a vivid reminder of the horrors of war, and a moving memorial to all those who died in WW1. The French government decided that a monument of total inclusion was appropriate. This means that the names of the fallen among the ‘enemy’ were included in the monument’s role to the casualties of WW1.

(Above: the first of the alphabetic panels in the ‘Round Monument’ : L’Anneau de la Memoire

Such an inclusive approach may be our only hope to prevent such catastrophes in the future: to regard all people involved in wars as victims, and thereby point back along the chain of causality to the real causes… ego, power and bullying in human nature.

The name of Wilfred Owen, one of the most celebrated of the ‘war poets’, who died one week before the end of WW1.

Written on the entrance to the circular monument is written this:

“The 580,000 names are listed in alphabetical order, without distinction between rank or nationality, former enemies and friends side by side……. This memorial was erected in a peaceful Europe in memory of a terrible tragedy which devastated a generation of young men, who for the most part could read and write.

L’Anneau de la Memoire”

“Who for the most part could read and write…” a poignant and telling end to the dedication to an entire generation.

Our time had run out. We were due in Calais in a few hours. But we had found out that, nearby, was another major memorial site: that of the Canadian Monument at Vimy Ridge – the site of one of the major battles of WW1. We decided to steal some time and make the short journey.

It was to be one of the best decisions we could have made… and brought us face to face with what I’ve come to think of as one of the most dramatic of monumental sculptures in the world.

The Canadian monument at Vimy Ridge. See Part Two of this series.

To be concluded in Part Two.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Faces of Shiva (3) The Colour of Kin

(Montage image by the author. See base of post for source of Shiva element)

We began this series by looking at how, at certain times in the life of civilisations, a ‘perfect storm’ of events overtakes and paralyses the forces of commonly perceived ‘good’ and cohesion; a state established over a long period of time.

We can consider that, in the case of America and the UK, this former consensus is in decline, and the shift of extreme wealth to the few produces a corruption which then erupts with society-changing force in varieties of violence, bringing the ‘age’ to an end… To people deprived of the the wealth and prosperity seen in those controlling the age, this is a good thing. To those of wealth it is a terrible prospect..

I am not a socialist. Having run a software business for over twenty years the aspiration-sapping dogma that often goes with it is not appealing. But the holding of more than ninety percent of a nation’s wealth by less than ten percent of its citizens is indefensible at the ‘state’ level.

No-one can blame an individual for being successful; it is what our commercial world is built on. But a society has to be something beyond this – and it has to be the home of our values. In my opinion, the living concept of society has been in decline since the time of Thatcher in the UK and Reagan in the USA.

To the ancient Hindus – who gave us so many of our core ideas of philosophy, this destructive decline was, and is, inevitable. It had to happen before something of new vigour could be born and grow to a restoring maturity.

The world would never be the same, again, of course, but the ‘real’ in mankind had to be given new life, new expression, like the spring brings the new growth of the organic world.

The last living memories are leaving us, but WW1 was such an event. Between 1914 and 1919 the old ‘age’ of Victorian Britain – and its empire – was swept away, as the country gazed on the blood-bathed horror of trench-based mutual destruction across a front line of war.

The U-boats’ successful attacks on American merchant ships was the trigger for the USA to enter the war in April 1917, under President Woodrow Wilson. Faced with this, the German forces, having tried to negotiate directly with the USA, signed a humiliating agreement – the Armistice – in a railway carriage located in the french Forest of Compiègne.

Endings are important. The German diplomats knew they would be hated for their perceived ‘surrender’. They also knew that their country was dying under the strain of military expenditure. President Woodrow Wilson’s entry into the war had tipped the balance and signalled their defeat. Both sides were exhausted in a way that we can barely imagine in our comfortable western world.

The terms imposed upon Germany were savage and punitive. The currency collapsed and there was widespread starvation. We could say that ‘they’ deserved it – many in Britain did, and continued to hate anything German for decades to come.

To me, it is ironic that Germany rose to become the dominant and the most inclusive, politically, as the forerunner of the EU was established after the ruin of WW2.

Matthias Erzberger, the German politician who agreed the terms of the armistice – reluctantly, for he knew how it would end – was murdered three years later by ultra-nationalist thugs from his own country.

In the confines of that forest, on the day of the Armistice, a younger German officer had witnessed his country’s surrender. He took with him a cold determination from that moment of national humiliation.

His name was Adolph Hitler…

Winning is complex; and the hatred generated by winners can be the driving force behind the destruction of an age. In 1938, no-one in Europe could believe that the continent had forgotten the horror of WW1 so thoroughly that another war was looming. But it was, fuelled by the hatred of the defeat and humiliation imposed by the ‘victors’.

There were few victors in the years that followed, as new depths of the human spirit were plumbed. The Nazis focussed their hatred of a target minority (the Jews) into the creation of the concentration camps – their ‘final solution’. Psychopaths – children of hatred – were running Germany, while the millions of  ‘good Germans’ stood by in silent horror, terrified of speaking out but watching their country bring about what it hated, most.

Today we face a different war; one in which the natural and shared financial resources of the planet are centre-stage. We have reached the ‘finiteness’ of the Earth. Our intelligence has built machines that destroy as well as they create. The idea of ‘the good’ is paid lip-service, if not ridiculed by common expressions such as ‘do-gooders’.

Power breeds abuse. Abuse creates minorities who hate. Elements of the super-rich can harvest hatred as energy for their own purposes. Another name for this phase of ‘the Shiva cycle’ is fascism; where a minority with ‘differences’ is demonised for their skin colour or their ‘destructive’ religion. In the history of mankind it has been one of the most successful political philosophies.

As Edmund Burke – who was quite a right-wing figure – said: All it takes for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’.

Usually, it’s not enough – nor in time. Occasionally, the Shiva force is put back in its box…

Is there a spiritual dimension to this? The force that feeds this negativity is hate. As a parent might look at their fighting children and wish upon them the higher perspective of an adult, so we can look at ourselves enmeshed in this cycle and pull ourselves ‘above it’. Without this, there will never be healing.

Other parts in the Faces of Shiva series:

Part One   

Part Two


These are my personal views. I respect those of others who may not agree with them. If there is a way through these things we need to share opinions and ideas in a non-polemic way. Currently, hatred reigns. As Stephen Hawking said, “All we have to do it to keep talking”.

If we don’t there may not be a future…

Please free to add your own comments.

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Images: The opening montage is by the author. The underlying image of Shiva is from Wikipedia under the licence detailed below.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Shiva_cropped.jpg

Thejas Panarkandy from India – Murudeshwara Statue

A game of three halves (3 of 3)

Continued from Part Two

So, this one day, considered in all its facets, resolves itself into a journey, a destination and an arrival – an arrival at a meeting with a French relative we have never met, and whose unlikely presence, here in the north-west corner of Wales, completes a cycle of mystery and loss lasting ninety-three years…

As we journey along the spine of Anglesey, to meet her by the Red Tower in the university town of Bangor, Juliette is waiting, over a coffee, in a place where she will be able to see us walking up the main street.

The car journey, fortified by all the strange connections, becomes an arrow; an arrow that completes…

The island of Middle Mouse seen from the cliffs above St Patrick’s church

On the road across the island, we talk of the wonderful good luck of finding the local guide cum historian in the church of St Patrick at Llanbadrig Head; of his smile when he had told us that, usually, he attends on only two afternoons a week, but this morning, he felt he should be there… Wonderful story teller that he is, he had walked us to the cliff edge to see the island of Middle Mouse,  to point at the dark rock and bring to life St Patrick’s escape from the storm that wrecked his ship. He had told us of the deadly cliffs, below, and that we were standing right over the cave that gave sanctuary to the swimmer on the dawn as Patrick escaped from his isolated rock and made the relative safety of the shore, with its protective cave with the freshwater spring.

And then how he had taken us back into the church, the remarkable church rebuilt by Lord Stanley, the man who had fallen in love with an Islamic lady and been so ‘opened’ to the love in his soul that he had converted to Islam and devoted his time to ‘good works’, including the reconstruction of the remarkable St Patrick’s Church.

On hearing that, a shiver ran up my spine. What, I had asked myself, as our guided tour unfolded, did any of the history of St Patrick’s Church have to do with the fact that, on this day, we were due to close the gap between two parts of a family lost to each other for nearly a hundred years? Suddenly, in the guise of Lord Stanley – Adbul Rahman as he became, in his new spiritual tradition, there was a symbol of a man who loved a woman so deeply that he gave up his ‘home’ – physical or spiritual, for her.

Stephen, my great-uncle and Adrienne, his wife

My grandmother’s eldest brother, Stephen, had done that, too. He came through the war unscathed, and, while still in France, married Adrienne, the woman he loved. Then he brought her back to England and the northern working-class town of Bolton, where their first child, Madeleine, was born. We do not know what happened after that; only that the three of them returned to France within two years. Stephen, later known in the family as ‘The Englishman’, went to work in the family’s bakery business and, subsequently, ran a successful Tabac near Calais.

Elizabeth, my paternal grandmother, never saw him, again… Was there bad feeling, that the Bolton family had lost their eldest son to a French girl? Maria, Stephen’s mother, was said to be a strong personality, even refusing to have her photograph taken because it might ‘steal her soul’. Perhaps she and Adrienne, Stephen’s new wife, fought. More likely is that her lack of spoken English may have created great hardship and homesickness for her – especially with a young child. My aunt Mary, Stephen’s niece and still alive in her nineties, remembers Adrienne ‘being very quiet; she just sat there and said nothing…’

Adrienne in the family Tabac and coffee shop

Whatever the reason, on returning to Calais, the family links seem to have fallen away… and were lost, eventually, to the knowledge of their English cousins and their children. They stayed that way for nearly a hundred years.

As a teenager, I remember my grandmother telling me the story of her eldest brother, and crying at the sadness of never having seen him again after his return to France. Other than the ancestral records and the fact that I, too, am called Stephen, I have little presence in her, or great uncle’s Stephen’s story… but the memory of her tears is very real and painful, and gives me a point of historical reality that suddenly becomes very raw, like a wound that needs healing.

Perhaps this is why we are here… on this day; to make good that gap in love. And, as Stuart would say, names are important; and mine is Stephen.

Stephen and Adrienne’s four children. The boy is Etienne – French for Stephen

In the car, we review what we know: Stephen and Adrienne had four children. Etienne (Stephen in French) was their third, and is still alive, though in his nineties. His wife is Mado (Madeleine) who began her earnest search for their long-lost English family over a decade ago. It was Mado’s message that Bernie, my wife, found on the Ancestry website while she was conducting a parallel search.

One of their children is Christophe, who is a Green politician in Calais. His daughter is Juliette, the Erasmus Language Scholar, studying at Bangor University, who waits for us in Bangor, near the red tower.

We arrive with five minutes to spare. We walk from the car park in near silence. The events of the morning have been overwhelming on so many levels. I feel as though a great weight rests on our shoulders as we complete the physical act of climbing the hill to the Red Tower. I speak a little French, though it is rusty. Perhaps I need not worry; she is a languages scholar, after all…

Juliette has finished her coffee. She sits on a bench by the Red Tower, rising to her feet and smiling, as we approach…

 

‘We found him, Grandma, and this woman is his great-granddaughter…’

Epilogue

I could have written: ‘we discovered that a long-lost branch of the family was alive and well in France. A younger member of that family is studying in Bangor, Wales. We happened to be on a short break, nearby, that weekend, so we arranged to meet up with her.’

But where would the fun have been in that? Moreover, where would the truth have been in that?

Any spiritual path, including that of the Silent Eye, requires that we examine the whole of our life, in detail, as it happens. We observe and let unfold; we do not judge – we simply let happen so that it may reveal its real nature.

This has been the story of that day’s unfolding. Everything in the three parts of this story is the truth, told as it happened.

Juliette and her grandmother, Mado – the originator of the French side of the search

Other parts of this series of posts

Part One; Part Two

…………..

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost, supervised correspondence courses. His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©️Stephen Tanham

 

 

 

 

 

 

A game of three halves… (2)

It is, still, all of it, only one day…

Though now the winds that buffeted the bed-and-breakfast farmhouse have abated. I look at my watch. We have two hours to go before we need to leave to drive across Anglesey to meet a young woman named Juliette, who holds the key to this entire story. She will be waiting, at noon, by the red tower in the centre of Bangor – the nearest town on the other side of the beautiful but deadly Menai Straits.

We have time, we decide. Time to visit the isolated and mysterious St Patrick’s Church on the rugged cliffs to the east of Cemaes Bay. Prior to this trip, we hadn’t heard of it. Now, after hearing local accounts of its history, we can’t wait to visit…

After a couple of false starts, we correctly interpret the hand-drawn map, donated at breakfast, and make our way from the main Holyhead road along the mile of narrow and twisting country lane to find the archway to the church ahead of us.

Not far away, but long ago, he is standing a little way ahead; looking down at the crashing waves and bringing his gaze from the dark rock of Middle Mouse island towards the cliffs beneath his feet.

IMG_6653

It is 1864 and he has used his wealth to fund the restoration of the little church behind him.

He gazes down at the waves… How long had Bishop Patrick clung to the inhospitable granite of the tiny island of Middle Mouse, as the wreckage of his ship washed past him? Did he wait till first light, before tying what was left of his heavy and saturated woollen robe across his back and entering the sea, again, to swim the half kilometer to the cave he could now see; a cave that would offer a fresh-water spring and let him tend his wounds, a cave that would become his home until the miracle of his survival became known to the local people, who would build him a church on the headland – the first Christian church in these parts.

Badrig – St Patrick

Adbul Rahman looks down one last time at the savagery of the waves breaking below. He shakes his head at what early religious pioneers of all faiths had to go through. His own sacrifice is small by comparison; and carried out under the cloak of wealth. But, in his own way, he has sought out worthy causes, to show that his heart is still within Britain, though his faith has changed. Now a devout muslim, and the first such in the British House of Lords, Adbul Rahman, formerly Henry Edward John Stanley, Third Baron of Alderley, has just overseen the full restoration of St Patrick’s first church in Wales.

The feeling is a good one. He, Adbul Rahman, has made a contribution to the sincere worship of God, paying respect, as is the custom in his new faith of Islam, to those of other faiths. The completion of the church at Llanbadrig has been timely; his sister has just given birth. The infant’s name is Bertrand Russell. It sounds like a good name -a portent, perhaps of the child’s future…

Entering the tiny church, he is greeted by the ancient cross, the one bearing the two-overlapped fishes – said to be the original Christian cross design. Beneath the cross is a crude carving, chiseled, with patience and dedication, on the ancient granite pillar whose origin or possible previous use is unknown. It is a palm tree. No one knows what it means, or why it is juxtaposed with the crossed fishes…

On the far eastern wall, behind the simple, but beautiful altar, the wall tiles are of an Islamic pattern, though fired in England. It has been his one overt imposition on the design of the restored site, though several more are hidden – for those who have knowledge of eastern symbolism – in the design of the church.

It is 1919. Stephen Duffy fingers the document in his pocket for the umpteenth time, realising that his constant fretting with it is wearing the paper away. He pulls his fingers from his jacket’s inside pocket, glancing, nervously across at his youngest sister, Elizabeth, who knows him so well that she has spotted his fretful behaviour. From the look in her eyes, she senses that something dreadful is going to happen, despite the smiles of her beloved brother and his new French wife.

Stephen Duffy and his French wife, Adrienne

A soldier in the Royal Engineers, he has come through the first World War unharmed – a miracle in itself. But his wife, Adrienne, cannot settle in the working class darkness of post-war Bolton, and needs to return to her home town of Calais, where her relatives have created a new job in the family’s bakery business. Stephen is a baker by trade and will be very welcome in the family’s boulangerie, The couple’s newborn first child, Madeleine is assured of a warm, family welcome. Three more children will follow, including Etienne, Juliette’s grandfather. Etienne is French for Stephen.

Stephen Duffy, of Bolton, Lancashire, and his wife Adrienne are leaving for France. The document in the breast pocket is the ticket for the ferry. Elizabeth Duffy, my paternal grandmother, looks at him across the table where Sunday lunch has been, and senses, correctly, that despite his surviving the horrors of the war, she will never see her elder brother, again.

Juliette Duffy is twenty years old. She is combing her hair and looking at her reflection in the small room’s mirror. She knows she looks like her devoted grandmother Mado. Mado – the preferred short-form from her given name of Madelaine – has been a detailed researcher of the family tree – particularly the lost English connection, for decades. Juliette knows that there is a mystery back there, back then, as to why the two families lost contact… but fate has cast her, an Erasmus Scholar of languages, studying at Bangor University, in an unlikely role.

Seven years ago, Mado placed a request on the Ancestry website asking for help from anyone who could help reunite the two sides of the family by giving details of its lost English connection. Two weeks ago, that notice was finally seen by a woman in England who knew of the Duffys; indeed had married the grandson of one…

Juliette puts on her coat and leaves the student block. She will be early. She will have a coffee and think what she might say to these two middle-aged relatives on behalf of her grandmother, who is frantic with anticipation across the channel in Calais…

(Continued in Part Three)

Other parts in this series:

Part One;

…………..

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost, supervised correspondence courses. His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©️Stephen Tanham

A game of three halves… (1)

It is, after all, only one day…

Have you ever re-assembled a day into a different sequence? Been so involved with its contents that the threads seem to weave themselves, again… and differently.

But it is only one day… and at the halfway point she will be waiting; waiting near the red tower where we will meet for the first time. And then the torn thread of ninety-seven years will be re-woven… for real, not just as a story.

It’s early October, 2017. It’s also AD 440 on a rocky cliff top towards which we are walking; and it’s 1914, and a picture from my genetic past rises, again, in my consciousness and returns to haunt me…

She’s very young, the girl in the black and white family photo. Her feet don’t touch the floor, on the adult chair. She stands out as much younger than the rest of them. She is my paternal grandmother, and her name is Elizabeth.

We know the island of Anglesey quite well. Even from Cumbria, it’s a relatively easy journey, courtesy of the northern M6 and the A55 dual-carriageway that follows the North Wales coast right to the bridges over the beautiful Menai Straits.

We’re having a short break near Cemaes Bay, which is located at the top of this historic and fascinating island.

My annotated Anglesey photo (above) from the tourist information board at the tiny seaside village of Camaes Bay shows the location of this beautiful stretch of coast, which boasts that it is ‘the most northerly village in Wales’.

We had planned our trip carefully. It was to be a day of two halves, with very different agendas. The lunchtime and afternoon were to be spent on the reuniting of two family threads that have been separated by a near-hundred year gap, about which more later…

The morning was ours to fill, and we had our eyes on the nearby clifftop church of St Patrick’s; a place we had read about but never visited.

The beautiful bay of Cemaes is well known. Less celebrated is the ancient tiny church on the adjacent headland of Llanbadrig, and its founding by no less a figure than St Patrick, the father of the first Christian communities in Ireland and the west coast of Scotland

According to local legend, in AD 440, Bishop Patrick, as he was known back then, was on his maiden voyage from St Columba, on Iona, to Ireland, in order to bring it into line with Christianity – empowered by holy orders from Pope Celestine.

As often happens with the Patrick of legends, his voyage was ravaged by storms. The ship was driven towards the brutal coastline by the notorious Anglesey winds and shipwrecked onto the rock of Middle Mouse – now called St Patrick’s island, where he was marooned.

Above left: the tiny rock of St Patrick’s Island, formerly Middle Mouse.

 

He clings to the rock that, later, he will find is called Middle Mouse, though they will rename it. His coarse robe has taken on so much water that it’s seen him nearly drowned. Only by tearing at it was he able to squeeze between the jagged, black rocks that held him captive, while the breakers pounded him to a bloody mess. But he’s alive… nearly naked, frozen, bleeding and weeping. But alive… In the boiling sea, splinters of wood flicker into focus as he scans the waves for signs of they who brought him here, steered a course from Iona until the waves turned to salty mountains risen from the blackest nightmare.

 

But alive…

 

The photograph is taken; the photographer is thanked and dismissed. The members of the family – minus mother, Maria, who believes that cameras steal your souls – leave the family room. But not all of them… Stephen gazes down at his youngest sister, tears forming in his eyes. How difficult it is to know he will see her, again. She will not turn to look at him. She knows that the most precious person in her world is leaving. He is going to war; he and his fine engineer’s mind and his self-taught and fluent French.

(Continued in Part Two)

——-

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost, supervised correspondence courses.His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©️Stephen Tanham