Saint Winifred and her Holy Spring

 

Icon of St. Winifred, painted by a modern Orthodox iconographer.
Icon of St. Winifred, painted by a modern Orthodox iconographer.
+ Commemorated November 3/16 
On March 1st, St. David’s Feast, we made a pilgrimage to St. Winifred’s Holy Well
img_0730
 

St. Winifred, whose name in her own language was Gwenfrewi, was born in North Wales in the early seventh century, when Christendom was still whole, and many great saints where living on the British Isles. She was of noble lineage, a descendant of the early Welsh kings of Powys, and the only daughter of Tyfid, Lord of the townships of Abeluyc (Trefynnon, later named Holywell), Maenwen & Gwenffynnon in Tegeingl. Her mother’s brother was St. Beuno, Abbot of Clynnog Fawr in Gwynedd. After difficulties he had encountered from the local princes of Clynnog, St. Beuno sought refuge with his sister’s family, and thus received land from her husband, Tyfid. From an early age, Winifred was instructed in the spiritual life by her uncle, and her sole desire was to dedicate herself to God and become a nun. She lived under St. Beuno’s care, near a chapel he had built in her native town of Abeluyc.

 

One Sunday, while St. Beuno was serving the Liturgy at the church, Winifred was alone in her house. A prince named Caradog was riding by, and stopped at the house to ask for a drink of water. Winifred was very beautiful, and Caradog was stricken with the desire to have her in marriage. The maiden’s resolve to preserve her virginity and become a nun was unshakeable, however, so the prince attempted to take her by force. Winifred struggled free and ran toward the church, but Caradog soon caught up with her on his horse. Out of anger at the refusal, he struck off her head with his sword. Her severed head rolled down the hillside to the churchyard. When her uncle and the congregation—which probably included Winifred’s other kin—saw what had happened, they were horrified. The wicked Caradog fell dead on the spot. (Other historical sources say that Caradog was killed by Winifred’s brother, Owain, as an act of revenge.)

A spring of healing water sprang forth at the place where St. Winifred’s head fell. St. Beuno took Winifred’ head and replaced it to her body, then prayed to God that she be restored whole. By St. Beuno’s prayers, Winifred came back to life. The two sat on a rock which was later named, “St. Beuno’s rock,” and her uncle told her that anyone seeking help through her prayers at that spot would find it. A red mark remained around her neck, as a remnant of her miraculous restoration.

With her parents’ blessing, Winifred soon received the monastic tonsure at her uncle’s hand. St. Beuno advised Winfred to remain at that church to live the monastic life, which she did, eventually gathering around her eleven honorable virgins, and instructing them in the Christian faith. St. Beuno himself became a missionary, traveling west to Ireland.

St. Winifred made a pilgrimage to Rome, and was greatly influenced by the order of monastic life there. When she returned home, she called a synod known as the “Synod of Winifred,” attended by other Christian ascetics of Wales, Dumnonia, and the North. The common ascetic practice in Wales at the time was the eremitic life. At the synod, all agreed that the safety of the coenobitic life she led was preferable to the solitary life. Thus, after seven years in Abeluyc, Winifred decided to go out and help establish other coenobitic communities. It is said that two hermits she approached with the idea, Sts. Diheufyr and Sadwrn, were not interested in what seemed to them an innovation. It was not until she reached Gwytherin that she was welcomed by her mother’s cousin, St. Eleri. Here, Winifred was presented to his mother, St. Tenoi, and together they established a double monastery in the village.[1] Winifred eventually succeeded St. Tenoi as abbess there.

St. Winifred reposed on November 3, 660 AD, and was buried in the monastic cemetery.

Recently a fragment of an eighth-century reliquary from Gwytherin, the Arch Gwenfrewi (Winifred’s Casket), was found, witnessing her status as a recognized saint almost from the moment of her death, the earliest such surviving evidence for any Welsh saint.

Veneration of the saint was mainly limited to Wales until the late eleventh, early twelfth century, when it began spreading throughout the British Isles. Other wells have been recorded as dedicated to her, including one in Dublin, Ireland. In 1136. Her relics were translated to an ornate shrine in Shrewsbury, while her original tomb was retained at Gwytherin and a fragment at Holywell. The spring that had broken forth in Holywell on the site where her severed head fell is still active; the temperature of the water never changes, summer or winter, and the supply remains constant regardless of drought or flood in the locality. It is so clear that the pebbles at the bottom are distinctly seen to be stained as though with blood. It is lined with fragrant moss, the Jungermannia oplevoides.[2]

*   *   *

Holy springs are still a strong tradition in Orthodox countries—among them are the spring of St. Athanasius on Mt. Athos, the spring of St. Theodora of Vasta in Peloponnesus, and the many holy springs connected with saints and the Mother of God in Russia. History shows that there were also many holy springs in Britain during its pre-schism period, but the miraculous spring of St. Winifred is now one of a kind there. The following description of her spring in the town which is now named for it, Holywell, is from Source, “Holywell – Clwyd” by Roy Fry & Tristan Gray Hulse.

HOLYWELLHolywell first enters written history in 1093, when “Haliwel” was presented to St. Werburgh’s Abbey, Chester. In 1240, the Welsh prince Dafydd ap Llewelyn, once more in control of this area in Wales, gave the holy well and church to the newly-established Basingwerk Abbey; and the Cistercian monks cared for the well and its pilgrims until the Reformation.

Winifred’s fame, and with it the fame of the Well, continued to spread throughout the middle ages, but little is factually recorded about the pilgrimage. By 1415, her feast had become a major solemnity throughout Wales and England. Kings could be found among her pilgrims. Henry V came in 1416. Richard III maintained a priest at the Well. But it was during the reign of the Welsh Henry VII that devotion reached its pinnacle, with the building of the present well-shrine under the patronage of Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort.

saint-winifred-and-her-holy-spring1saint-winifred-and-her-holy-spring3

Such glory was short lived, though the Well’s fame was never eclipsed. The Reformation swept away shrines and pilgrimages; but no attempt ever quite succeeded in destroying devotion to St. Winifred at her Well. Through all the years of religious persecution, pilgrims, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, continued to visit Holywell. It became the centre of Catholic resistance. James II and his queen visited the Well in 1686, to pray for an heir. But James was exiled, and the persecution renewed. Through these long years, Holywell and its pilgrims were served by the Jesuits. They wrote popular Lives of the saint; and even kept inns in the town, where Mass could be said in comparative safety.

In the nineteenth century, after Catholic Emancipation, it was the Jesuits who oversaw and directed the spectacular renaissance of the pilgrimage. A church opened in the town in the 1840’s was constantly enlarged and enriched. A pilgrim’s hospice was erected shortly afterwards. And under Fr. Beauclerk in the ‘nineties, the pilgrimage underwent a revival of medieval proportions. Pilgrims came literally in thousands, necessitating a branch rail line into the town. The popular press gave account of each reported cure. And the sick reported cures in such numbers that Holywell came to be called the ‘Lourdes of Wales’. Despite the alterations to pilgrimage patterns caused by the increasing secularism of 20th-century life, and by devotional changes within Catholicism itself, the Jesuit’s heritage continues: people are still coming to Holywell on pilgrimage.

THE WELL CRYPT AND CHAPEL

Unlike Gwytherin, with the grave and other relics of the saint, or Shrewsbury Abbey, which after 1138 enshrined Winifred’s body, the Holywell pilgrimage has always centred on the Well itself. A church, almost certainly on the site of the present Anglican church of St James, over-looking the Well, has stood by the Well, certainly since 1093 and probably since Winifred’s own time. And there may perhaps have been a further small chapel, connected more directly with the Well. But we have no indication as to the form of the Well itself throughout the middle ages. Celtic holy wells take many individual forms, and it is possible that until the end of the fifteenth century there was no form of structure at all around the spring itself, which is what the medieval Welsh votive poems suggest. The sheer force of the spring would support this.

The present glorious structure was begun around 1500 and probably took ten or fifteen years to complete. It is unique, having no parallel anywhere in Europe; and is a masterpiece of late Perpendicular architecture. It takes the form of an almost square crypt, built into the steep hillside, but open to the North through a triple arcade which gives access to the Well. In the centre the spring rises in a star-shaped basin, before flowing into an oblong bath, access to which is gained at either end by steps. All around the Well, graceful columns rise to support the elaborately vaulted roof; and in the centre, directly over the source, is a large pendent boss, beautifully carved with the legend of St Winifred, but now badly worn. Originally, the spaces between the columns were filled with delicate Gothic tracery, destroyed by the Puritans. An open gallery in the west wall originally gave the pilgrim his first glimpse of the holy well as he descended from the chapel above, to enter the crypt through the now closed door.

 

The chapel comprises a nave and a side-aisle, and is built directly over the crypt, with which it is contemporary. At its east end an apse was built out onto the hillside to contain the altar. The well-crypt has never ceased to be used for its original purpose, but the chapel has seen many changes of use, used at times as a court-house, at others as a school. In consequence, it suffered great damage, but it was thoroughly restored and re-roofed in 1976. Both the interior and exterior of the chapel are enriched with fine, and often amusing, sculptures.

Considering the superior quality of the architecture, and the degree of technical skill required to build directly over the source of a small river, it is odd that not a single hard fact concerning its construction has survived. We do not know the name of its architect, nor the name of those who commissioned and paid for the shrine: not even the dates of its construction. The building itself yields the only clues. The emblems and coats of arms carved on the bosses of the crypt ceiling suggest the patronage of Margaret, Countess of Richmond and Derby, the pious mother of Henry VII. Margaret died in 1509. The arms of Catherine of Aragon suggest further royal patronage; and yet other badges indicate the beneficence of other noble families. Such patronage, which alone could account for the building’s splendour, is also the only real clue to dating it to the first decade of the sixteenth century.

Though its exact history will probably always remain a mystery, the shrine remains a fitting setting for the only British pilgrimage to have survived continuously for over 1300 years.

THE HOLYWELL CURE TRADITION

People have bathed in St Winifred’s Well for 1,350 years. They still do. Pilgrims today pass three times through the small inner bath, saying a decade of the Rosary; afterwards entering the outer pool to finish their prayers kneeling on St Beuno’s Stone, by the steps. Some pray for a cure; more “offer up” the discomfort of the icy waters for friends, or simply in honour of St. Winifred, or as a gesture of thanks. Pilgrimage has many reasons.

This ritual is as old as the pilgrimage itself. Maen Beuno, Beuno’s Stone, connects us directly with the time of St Winifred. The Medieval Lives say that Beuno sat on this stone when he told Winifred that anyone coming to the Well and asking something in her name, “might receive an answer to their request at least at the third time.” This was understood to mean that the petitioner should bathe three separate times. After the building of the present Well this meant three dips in the little bath. A carving opposite this bath shows how healthy pilgrims carried the sick through the waters on their backs. The stonework of the Well is covered with hundreds of graffiti, initials of hopeful or grateful pilgrims. Some inscriptions explicitly testify to cures received at the shrine.

 

The exterior pool formed no part of the original building, being added later; but its size witnesses to the crowds of pilgrims who came even during the times of religious persecution. Nor was their faith in vain. For 800 years there is a continuous record of cures and other favours claimed at the Well through the prayers of St Winifred—the only British shrine boasting such an uninterrupted history of pilgrimage and healing. Until the 1960s, the crypt was stacked with crutches left by cured pilgrims. Centuries of letters testify to the power of God and His saints in this place: records of cures not only of Catholics, but of Protestants; and even of those with no faith in anything. One account, touching in its simplicity, a scrap of paper left at the Well 100 years ago, can stand for all the rest:

A Protestant Father wishes to return thanks to God that through the use of St Winifred’s water, his only daughter was cured miraculously, Three years ago of a serious malady, which had resisted the efforts of several doctors & friends for the period of Three and a half years. Signed, C.T. Longley.

[1] Britannia Biographies, http://www.britannia.com/bios/ebk/winifred.html. Partly edited from Agnes Dunbar’s A Dictionary of Saintly Women (1904).

[2] Ibid.
St. Winifred’s life compiled from various sources by Pravoslavie.ru/Orthodox Christianity
Advertisements

Suzana Monastery Retreat I

 

SONY DSC

 

Part A: How the little city hermit became a bird, a fountain, a tree and a pearl!

 

Deep peace of Christ, silence, hesychia, these are the words that come to my mind when I remember Suzana monastery and my three-day retreat there this summer. Also, self-emptying, kenosis. But above all, silence!

 

Only through poetry can such silence be conveyed, so I will paraphrase a favourite poet of mine, Rumi, to convey to you what I experienced here.

 

I had begged the Wise One to tell me
 the secret of my existence, my calling in this world.
 Gently, gently, He whispered at Suzana monastery “Be quiet,
the secret cannot be spoken,
 It is wrapped in silence.”

 

I ground myself, strip myself down, to this overpowering Silence. I feel spiraling into a void of silence where a hundred voices thundered messages I longed to hear.

 

At its unfathomable bottom I encounter a vast fullness, the Spark of LIFE and LOVE, a secret passage to the WAY which wandering talk blocks, a dimension where HE was waiting for me, for my soul to shake.

 

I was carrying so much baggage while seeking the signs of the Way.

 

But at Suzana* monastery, I am ‘forced’ to stop, open up, surrender to this thundering silence, be invaded by ‘It’, and 
stay there until I Saw, until I looked at this blinding Light 
with infinite eyes.

 

This overpowering Silence kidnaps me to the core of Life. There is a sacredness in it. Silence is indeed the language of God, and all else is poor translation.

 

This is exactly what I experience when I am trying to write a poem, how I feel especially when I finish a poem. A great silence overcomes me and I wonder why I ever thought to use language.

suzana6

Silence is indeed the sea, and speech is like the river. The sea is seeking you: don’t seek or walk into the river. Don’t turn your head away from the signs offered by the sea. Listen to the ocean.

 

The sound of Waters and the sound of Silence is a motif in Suzana monastery. At least for me. Everywhere the sound of waters reaches you, so overwhelmingly that I often feel the need to stay in my ‘cell’ and not even venture out.

 

Just listening to that sound was so overwhelming! The very moment I set my foot on this monastery, the sound of Living waters immobilized me, an ocean wave, a mighty river in flood, a cascading waterfall, a fountain of benediction, a Life- Giving spring, welling up to Eternity.

 

Isaiah 43:19

19 Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.

 

John 7:38

38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

 

 

 

Kenosis is also another state I suffered there:

“And they shall build the old wastes,

they shall raise up the former desolations,

and they shall repair the waste cities,

the desolations of many generations.” (Isaiah 61:4)

 

I needed so desperately such ‘Decluttering’ in my life, a Relentless Focus, a Subtraction, Becoming ‘poor’, an Unburdening, a Curtail, a Reduction and Emptying, Until my rebellious bones sore.

 

 

suzana1

This silence, this moment, every moment, this silence brought all what I needed. I sat quietly, and listened for a voice which told me ‘Be more silent.’ ‘Die’ and be quiet. Maybe quietness is the surest sign that you’ve ‘died’. My old life was such a frantic running from silence. Suzana monastery moved me, even for a little, outside the tangle of fear-thinking.

 

In the end, I became a pearl!

 

“And since I have wandered in thee, pearl,

I will gather up my mind

And by having contemplated thee,

Would become like thee,

In that thou art all gathered up into thyself;

And as thou in all times art one,

One let me become by thee!” (St Ephraim, The Pearl)

 

This very old, poor, secluded, fairy-tale monastery, surrounded by forests, mountains and springs, and steeped in holiness, is most certainly God’s special Providence for my tired, exhausted self.

 

I feels like coiling in a virginal womb, unwinding time, beholding

 

“The memory of the glory that I had when I was entirely with You and entirely in You, before time and temporal illusions.

 

When I, too, was a harmonious trinity in holy unity, just as You are from eternity to eternity.

 

When the soul within me was also in friendship with consciousness and life.

 

When my soul also was a virginal womb, and my consciousness was wisdom in virginity, and my life was spiritual power and holiness.

 

 

When I, too, was all light, and when there was no darkness within me.

 

When I, too, was bliss and peace, and when there were no torments of imbalance within me.

 

When I also knew You, even as You know me, and when I was not mingled with darkness.

 

When I, too, had no boundaries, no neighbors, no partitions between “me” and “you.” (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Memories – Prayers By the Lake XXX)

 

Even the very fact that I cannot not speak Romanian, just barely understand it, is an added blessing, an extra ‘precaution’, a ‘just in case’ … Speaking all too often impoverishes, drenches us. As St. Seraphim of Sarov wisely urges us, “Keep away from the spilling of speech”.

 

Hesychia, Deep peace of Christ wrapped me in green leaves like a tree;

I breathed like a tree in the quiet light!

 

* Suzana Monastery is a Romanian monastery about 5.5 to 6 hours away from Rasca monastery in Bucovine, North Moldavia, where Fr. Seraphim Aldea was tonsured as a monk in 2005. After my retreat here I have a slightly better, more ‘intimate’ understanding of ‘Romanian’ Orthodoxy and Fr. Seraphim’s calling to found the first Orthodox monastery, Mull monastery, in the Hebrides in over a millennium. In a sense only a Romanian hieromonk would be really equipped, spiritually, emotionally, as well as intellectually, to undertake such a huge task! Glory to God for everything!

 

 

 

 

 

Continue to Part II

Remain Open To The Mystery That You Are

name1

Don’t waste your time and energy hunting for a predetermined idea of who you are; don’t waste your life hunting for an ideal, an image or a name, because it really is irrelevant what you call yourself. You are not the name you call yourself by; you are the content of your being. Before Christ, Who sees the depths of our being, the only thing that matters is your content, not the name we sometimes fight our whole lives for.

Do not hunt for an image, but for a content.

whats-in-a-name1

Do not assume you know who you are; do not assume you know who you are meant to become. Do not pre-determine where you want to get to by the end of your life, because that is a sure recipe for disaster: you will be constantly in doubt, permanently wondering, always questioning, painfully looking back and reimagining other paths you could have taken.

Remain in the here-and-now. Love God and love people. Stay away from evil and do good, and always remain open to the mystery that you are. Accept yourself as an unfinished being, and keep yourself open and ready to receive the revelation of your true name – that name which corresponds to your true content.

The person you were created to become is unknown to you. Your own self is unknown to you. You are a mystery to yourself, and you must remain open to accept your self before anything and anyone else. Do not enslave yourself to a particular image or expectation, because that will only corrupt and deform you. Remain open and tolerant and ready to embrace your own self. Remain open for a Revelation, because that is how your true self will be given to you.

spirit

Scilly Celtic Saints

scilly1

scilly4

Isles_of_Scilly_NASA

Aerial photo of the Isles of Scilly

*

To continue our pilgrimage to the Celtic sacred sites and pilgrim routes of England, our next stop is Scilly –pronounced “silly”–Islands! Yet another look at Christian faith from a Celtic perspective. Have you been there? The Isles of Scilly (/ˈsɪli/CornishSyllan or Enesek Syllan) (Introduction of the “c” may be to prevent references to “silly” men or saints!) are an archipelago off the southwestern tip of the Cornish peninsula of Great Britain, comprising  5 Major, inhabited islands,St Mary’sTrescoSt Martin’sBryherSt Agnes and 140 others. 

Isles_of_Scilly_in_Cornwall

The Isles of Scilly (bottom left corner) are a part of the ceremonial county of Cornwall (white)

scilly3

Scilly Saints

Holiday Reflections on these Holy Isles

By Father Jonathan Hemmings

scilly2

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:21)

*

Forty miles south west off the Cornish coast are the beautiful Scilly Islands. Bathed by clear water, graced by an equitable and temperate climate, surrounded by wildlife in sea and air, seals, puffins and dolphins, they have a flora unique to the British Isles. The very names of some of these Islands, St.Mary, St.Agnes, St.Martin, St.Helen, suggest a link between faith and culture. Look a little deeper and one finds an important vein of Celtic Orthodox spirituality etched, sometimes quite literally into the very granite of the rocks that form the base of life in these offshore outposts of faith and spiritual powerhouses of prayer.

 *

St. Mary’s

The largest of the Islands, it was known at first as Ennor, the origin of which is obscure, it seems that the name of the island was taken from the dedication of the Church in the Old Town to Our Lady in mediaeval times. As “Star of the Sea” (Steren an Mor) the intercessions of the Mother of God are still sought for those who sail in these shipwreck strewn islands where the hazards of shallow tides and hazardous rocks still persist and catch the unwary voyager. [ For a list of shipwrecks of the Isles of Scilly go to http://list of shipwrecks of the Isles of ScillyThere is a little valley in the middle of the island known as Holy Vale.

scilly-st mary

scilly-st mary and tesco

scilly-st mary1

scilly-st mary3

scilly-st mary5

scilly-st mary6

scilli-st mary's9

Bants Carn, St Mary’s

 scilly-st mary8

Scilly St Mary’s Bant burial chamber entrance

*

St. Agnes

The southernmost Island is that of St. Agnes. Named after the Roman Saint we find during Norman times the replacing of celtic saints with popular western saints. However, to the south east of the Island is the crescent- shaped St. Warna’s Cove which marks the spot where this Irish celtic nun landed and made her dwelling-place after sailing single handed from Ireland. It is remarkable to ponder on the courage and fearless spiritual enterprise of the Celtic Christians who used the Irish Sea much as we today would use the M6 motorway. St. Warna is the patron saint of the Scilly Island of St Agnes and prays for the salvation of those subject to wrecks. It may be noted that it is said that some of the more pagan element wanted shipwrecks in order to plunder the cargo in past times. At St. Warna’s Cove there is a holy well near to the shore where the saint lived in her hermitage and prayed. Nearby there is a large standing granite stone with an impressive and distinctive Cross emblazoned on its face made by the weathering of the wind!

scilly-st agnes2

scilly-st agnes3

scilly-st agnes4

Porth Conger, St Agnes

scilly-st agnes

St Agnes, isles of Scilly and The Bar of sand which connects it to Gugh

scilly-st agnes7

Views taken on or on the way to St Agnes

scilly-st agnes9

Summer Sky – St Agnes, Scilly Isles

scilly-st agnes5

Troy Town Maze, St. Agnes, Isles of Scilly

scilly-st agnes6

Gugh. Gugh, St. Agnes, Isles of Scilly

scilly-st warna5

On the island of St Agnes, St Warna is the patron saint of shipwrecks

 *

St. Martin’s

The Island was originally called Mauded which is similar to the Breton name for the Cornish St. Mawes who has a small town named after him near Falmouth where he lived for a time after sailing from south Wales. In the Roman Calendar his feast day is November 18th. According to tradition he was a 6th Century Welsh hermit and Abbot, also called Maudetus or Maudez. He lived as a solitary and then went to an island off the coast of Brittany, France, where he is revered as St.Maudez. He is believed to have founded other monasteries and churches in Cornwall and Brittany. There is a tradition that Saint Mawgan ( a place near Newquay, Cornwall which has a holy well), if he is to be identified as the same, was at one time Bishop of the Scilly Islands. The transition to a completely different saint, St. Martin seems to be a “latinization” of the name, again from the time of Norman occupation.

 scilly-st maws

scilly-st martin's1

scilly-st martins

Offshore and inshore islands, St Martin’s, The Isles of Scilly

*

Bryher Isles

scylli-bryher2

SCILLY-bryher1

scylli-bryher3

Bryher is the smallest inhabited island in the Isles of Scilly. It’s famous for the spectacular Hell Bay with it’s pounding waves crashing over the rocks on.

Tresco

The name of the Island was at one time St. Nicholas the patron saint of sea farers which seems most appropriate. This beautiful island boasts a Benedictine Priory established in 1114, the remains of which can still be seen today within the gardens of Tresco. It was probably established from the Abbey at Tavistock in Devon which was also dedicated to St. Nicholas.

scilly-tresco

scilly-tresco1

The arch from the wall of the mediaeval monastery in Tresco Abbey Gardens

scilly-tresco5

Abbey Gardens Tresco

Tresco Abbey Gardens, Scilly Isles, UK Looking at the plants in this garden it is difficult to believe that Tresco Abbey Gardens is situated in the British Isles. Containing sub-tropical plants from Australia, South Africa and South America – including Echiums, Agaves, Aloes, Proteas, Aeoniums, Strelitzias and palm trees, this garden looks as though it should be situated in the Mediterranean! However, it is located in England, on the small island of Tresco in the Scilly Isles (approximately 28 miles from the south west tip of Cornwall in the United Kingdom). The photographs in this set where taken in late August when a lot of the color had already left the gardens. However, the varied planting provides a superb example of the value of a clear garden structure filled with diverse and contrasting foliage – creating a wonderful green tapestry of architectural plants throughout the year. Details: With a stunning background of white sandy beaches and vivid turquoise sea, Tresco Abbey Gardens is an outstanding historic garden set amid the romantic ruins of a 16th century priory. The gardens were started by Augustus Smith, who moved to the island in 1834. The garden has subsequently been developed by four succeeding generations of the family from Augustus Smith. The gardens have many delightful features, often seen at their best in the warmth of the afternoon sun, ranging from the Abbey arch, the Neptune steps, the shell house and a number of tastefully placed sculptures (including one to the earth goddess Gaia), all bordered by fantastic foliage of varying shapes, textures, sizes and hues. Surrounded by sea and in the warmth of the Gulf Stream the climate is exceptionally mild and totally frost free in most years. With south facing terraces, these gardens have often been referred to as ‘Kew gardens without the roof’, because in mainland UK, you would only find these plants in a botanical garden glass house. Location: Tresco Abbey Gardens, Tr

Tresco Abbey Gardens, Scilly Isles, UK
Looking at the plants in this garden it is difficult to believe that Tresco Abbey Gardens is situated in the British Isles. Containing sub-tropical plants from Australia, South Africa and South America – including Echiums, Agaves, Aloes, Proteas, Aeoniums, Strelitzias and palm trees, this garden looks as though it should be situated in the Mediterranean! However, it is located in England, on the small island of Tresco in the Scilly Isles … With a stunning background of white sandy beaches and vivid turquoise sea, Tresco Abbey Gardens is an outstanding historic garden set amid the romantic ruins of a 16th century priory. The gardens were started by Augustus Smith, who moved to the island in 1834. The garden has subsequently been developed by four succeeding generations of the family from Augustus Smith. The gardens have many delightful features, often seen at their best in the warmth of the afternoon sun, ranging from the Abbey arch, the Neptune steps, the shell house and a number of tastefully placed sculptures (including one to the earth goddess Gaia), all bordered by fantastic foliage of varying shapes, textures, sizes and hues. Surrounded by sea and in the warmth of the Gulf Stream the climate is exceptionally mild and totally frost free in most years. With south facing terraces, these gardens have often been referred to as ‘Kew gardens without the roof’, because in mainland UK, you would only find these plants in a botanical garden glass house.

scilly-tresco3

Tresco Abbey Gardens

scilly-tresco6

scilly-tresco4

scilly-tresco7

King Charles’ Castle is a ruined coastal artillery fort near the north extremity of the island that dates back to the sixteenth century

scilly-tresco8

Samson

The island is connected with the welsh saint St. Samson of Dol who travelled to Cornwall, Brittany and the Channel Isles. Samson was educated by St. Illtud at the Abbey of Llanilltud Fawr (Llantwit Major) in Glamorganshire; where he was ordained a deacon and then a priest. Samson of Dol found it necessary by the Will of God to remove himself to the monastery on Ynys Byr (Caldey Island). He eventually became Abbot there and considerably established a strong community. Later in his life he chose the life of a hermit near the River Severn but, being made a Bishop, he turned to missionary work in Cernow (Cornwall) and came to the Scillies where one of the islands is named after him. He died on 28th July AD 565 and was buried in Dol Cathedral in Brittany. His ‘Life’ which survives, was written the following century. In the AD 930s, King Aethelstan acquired a number of his relics – including an arm and his crozier – which were proudly displayed in Milton Abbey (Dorset) until the time of the Reformation. The Island of Samson was inhabited until quite recently.

scilly-samson2

Old Cottage on South Hill, Samson

scilly-st samson

Tean

This little northern island was also inhabited until recently. The name Tean derives from the name Theona. There are ruins of her dwelling place still where once as a hermit she prayed and gave glory to the Holy and Life Giving Trinity and also remains of some celtic graves of the 6th century nearby. Recent excavations have unearthed some interesting Romano-British finds. These include an older ‘toothless’ woman whose head lies under the altar of the later built chapel, she may in fact be St.Theona, after whom the island is named.

   Tean,_Isles_of_Scilly._View_from_the_Great_Hill_-_geograph.org.uk_-_260948

Tean, Isles of Scilly. View from the Great Hill – geograph.org

scilly-tean2

Hedge Rock and Tean, Isles of Scilly

scilly-tean

Old Man, Tean, Isles of Scilly

*

St. Helen’s

We know that this island was called St. Helen, the Blessed mother of Holy Constantine the Great, from 16th century maps but it is associated with another ancient saint, that of Elidius or St. Lide as he is also known. On the uninhabited island of St. Helen’s are the remains of St. Elidius’ Hermitage which contains an 8th century Christian monastic chapel which was active until the 11th. century. This holy place is still honoured today with local people making a Pilgrimage to the site on 1st August. There is an interesting connection between the Scilly Islands and the Christian mission to Norway. In 980 Olaf Tryggvason came to the Scilly Islands. Snori Sturluson recounts in his “Saga” that this notorious marauding Viking met Saint Elidius and heard of “the God of the Christians.” He was converted to Christianity and agreed to be baptized and all those with him. He took the faith with him returning to Norway and Iceland with “three priests and other learned men.” As King of Norway he began the process of evangelism which was continued by his successor Saint Olaf.

Peter_nicolai_arbo,_olaf_tryggvasson_king

Olaf Tryggvason, who visited the islands in 986. It is said an encounter with a cleric here, at St. Helen’s, led him to Christianise Norway

st helen

St. Helen

scilli-st helen9

St. Helen’s Viewed From The Block House. Tresco

scilli-st helen's1

On the uninhabited island of St. Helen’s are the remains of St. Elidius’ Hermitage which contains an 8th century Christian chapel

scilli-st helen2

St. Helen’s Pool

scilli-st helen's3

Early mediaeval chapel on St Helen’s

scilli-st helen4

Well known for its pest house, in which sailors infected with plague would be quarantined, St Helen’s is a prominent landmark on the Scilly coastline

scilli-st helen6

Church of St Elid on the island of St Helen’s

*

Sailing into history

What strikes me about these saints is their adventurous and persistent spirit in Christ-their sheer delight and desire to bring Christ to every part of these Islands however small, blessing this part of God’s vineyard by their work, prayers and holiness of life. Whilst on St.Mary’s I learned from the curator of the Museum, that in August 2000, on June 28th a Breton vessel named Saint Efflam (founder of a monastery in Brittany, France. He was the son of a British prince) from an enterprise called Odysee Celtique (Celtic Odyssey) sailed into St. Mary’s harbour re-enacting ancient celtic monastic voyages-it was a Breton vessel and a reconstruction of a traditional curragh.

curragh

Curragh

The boat was constructed from a frame of hazel poles over which was stretched tar-covered canvas imitating the ox skins which would have been used originally. Whilst at sea the crew slept on the open boat and had few concessions to modern facilities during the voyage. As Amanda Martin says in her article in Scilly 2000 in “The Voyage of the Sant Efflam” such an experience was not for the faint hearted. “The whole feat requires a tremendous physical effort not to be undertaken lightly.”

These living saints give inspiration to us today by their energy and boldness for the gospel’s sake. In Christ we should imitate their humility, simplicity and calling.

*

A prayer

*

My boat is small

The ocean vast

Lord fill my sail

Maintain my mast

Christ my captain

Spirit’s power

Save me Lord

In danger’s hour.

Amen

*

These “fools for Christ” saved many because they preached Christ crucified and many believed and so they put the Christ in Scilly. Perhaps we, in this our time of God’s good grace need to make a similar Scilly Pilgrimage!

Thin Places (IV)

celtic72

*

“The Church in The British Isles will only begin to grow 

when She begins to again venerate Her own Saints

 *

(Saint Arsenios of Paros †1877)

*

Celtic Monasticism, A Model of Sanctity By Hieromonk Ambrose (Father Alexey Young) — Part IV of IV

Central to Celtic Christian culture was the Cross.

For the Celts, simplicity wasn’t so much a question of externals–like furniture, architecture, and so forth. It was something internal, and it was founded upon the phrase, “Thy will be done”. This meant God’s will, not our own. It meant dying to oneself, not having opinions and not judging others.

*

Even in the 7th and 8th centuries there were so-called Christians who were uncomfortable with the Cross of Christ and chose to ignore it, just as there are today. The Celts, however, had a particularly clear-headed understanding of the Cross. To quote Sister Benedicta Ward, a renowned scholar on the subject of the Desert Fathers as well as monasticism in the British Isles in the early Christian centuries: “The Cross was not something that made them feel better, nicer, more comfortable, more victorious, more reconciled to tragedy, better able to cope with life and death; it was rather the center of the fire in which they were to be changed.” (op.cit.)

It reminded them that they must pick up and carry their own crosses in this life and follow Christ, for dying to oneself has always been the great secret of holiness.

celtic73

Thus, these monks and nuns saw themselves as warriors of the spirit, for to die to oneself was considered a greater act of heroism than dying on a battlefield in defense of one’s tribe. “The Celtic Church was a Church of heroes…of strong” and fiercely dedicated men and women. “The old Celtic warrior spirit was alive in them, [but now] put to the service of the Gospel and the following of Christ, the High King. Today [we might] find it hard to identify many [such] warrior Christians…[with] the active virtues of courage, strength, outspokenness, decisiveness, and the ability to stand up for something.” (Joyce, op.cit.)

celtic79

Nowhere was the Cross more loved and cherished than in the monasteries, where highly-carved and richly symbolic great “High Crosses”–some of them 15 feet and taller– were set up–many of them still standing today. These were not the suffering and bloody crucifixions found later in the West, particularly in Spain and Italy. Nor were these the serene and peaceful crosses of the Eastern Church. No, Celtic crosses were a genuine Christian expression all their own. Sometimes Christ is depicted, but often not; however, when He is shown, He is always erect, wide-eyed, and fully vested like a bishop, a great High Priest. In this form He is a symbol of victory over sin and death; He radiates invincibility.

celtic71

“The way of the cross for [Celtic Christians] was the way of heroic loyalty, obedience, and suffering. It involved study and thought, doctrine and orthodoxy, art and imagination. It was a complete, unified way of life, lived intimately with God….[Our] fragmented modern world, both secular and religious, has a lot to learn from it.” (Cavill, op.cit.)

celtic78

Saint Kevin, Hermitage of Glendalough

*

“Thou wast privileged to live in the age of saints, O Father Kevin,

being baptized by one saint, taught by another, and buried by a third.”

*

A common ascetic practice, even for the laity, was called crosfhigheall or “cross-vigil”, and it consisted of praying for hours with outstretched arms. St. Coemgen sometimes prayed in this position for days. Once he was so still, for so long, that birds came and began to build a nest in his outstretched hands.

celtic81

Scholars believe that the Celtic High Cross patterns probably came from Egypt. There are no loose ends in these patterns; this symbolizes the continuity of the Holy Spirit throughout existence–for God has no beginning and no end.

celtic66

Lindisfarne Priority, Rainbow Arch

celtic77

The chapel of Saint Kevin at Glendalough

An example of the love and respect they had for the Cross may be seen in an Anglo-Saxon poem, “The Dream of the Rood” (“rood” being an Old English word for “rod” or “pole”, sometimes it also meant “gallows”). In the “The Dream of the Rood,” Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is shone as a “serene and confident young hero…[who] prepares for battle. He strips…and climbs up on the gallows [the Tree of the Cross], intent on saving His people. He is in control, self-determining, expressing His lordship….[And] the Cross trembles at the fearful embrace of its Lord.” (Cavill, op.cit.) Listen, now, as the Cross, personified, speaks of how it raised up Christ:

“Unclothed Himself God Almighty when He would mount the Cross, courageous in the sight of all men.
I bore the powerful King, the Lord of heaven; I durst not bend.
Men mocked us both together. I was bedewed with blood. Christ was on the Cross.
Then I leaned down to the hands of men and they took God Almighty.” (Ward, Ibid.)

celtic68

St Helier’s hermitage –Hermitage rock

The interlacing, knot-work, plaiting, weaving patterns and spiral designs, with animals and plants and saints, and scenes from Scripture, which decorate almost every surface of a Celtic High Cross, are so distinctive and profound in their symbolism that they are a study all to themselves. Today I can only point out a couple of things.

celtic84

celtic86

Scholars believe that these incredibly complex patterns probably came from Egypt, but also may have some Byzantine influences. It’s important to note that there are no loose ends in these patterns; this symbolizes the continuity of the Holy Spirit throughout existence–for God has no beginning and no end; only Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. The same is true of knot-work patterns, which are endless and cannot be untied. Spiral designs symbolized the Most High God Himself, the “motionless mover,” around whom all things move. Some of these are what are called “Crosses of the Scriptures” because they are decorated with panels illustrating scenes from the Bible. High Crosses possess an almost dream-like quality in their complex geometric patterns, dignified and strong, heroic and towering over men, and yet also reminding those Christians of the Christian doctrine of kenosis, the self-emptying of Christ.

celtic80

Lindisfarne Gospels 

One of main factors contributing to the eventual decline and dissolution of a Celtic monastery was when the Cross began to no longer be a focus. “If monastic life…did not have at its center the reality of the Cross, it became a source of corruption….[for] ‘Once a religious house or order cease[d] to direct its sons to the abandonment of all that is not God and cease[d] to show them the narrow way…it [sank] to the level of a purely human institution and whatever its works may be they are the works of time and not of eternity.’” (Dom David Knowles, quoted in Ward, Ibid.)

celtic87

An essential dimension was asceticism (askesis) which, for the Celtic monk consisted of a kind of martyrdom. “A homily in archaic Irish, probably dating from the last quarter of the seventh century…speaks of [this]:

‘Now there are three kinds of martyrdom, which are accounted as a cross to a man, to wit: white martyrdom, green and red martyrdom. White martyrdom consists in a man’s abandoning everything he loves for God’s sake, though he suffer fasting or labor therat. Green martyrdom consists in this, this, that by means of fasting and labor [a Christian] frees himself from his evil desires, or suffers toil in penance and repentance. Red martyrdom consists in the endurance of a cross or death for Christ’s sake, as happened to the Apostles…’

For this reason, the Celtic tradition regarded monasticism as the Army of Christ (Militia Christi) and the monk as a soldier of Christ (miles Christi). Young men, in their effort to emulate the heroism of their ancestors, entered monasteries–the “Green Martyrdom.” Instead of fighting in the Fianna (the Celtic army), they joined the Militia Christi to wage war against the evil spirits and sin.” (Fr. Gorazd Vorpatrny, op.cit.) Not surprisingly, one writer calls these Celts “Ascetic Superstars.” (Bitel, op.cit.)

*

“I should like a great lake of ale for the King of Kings;

I should like the angels of heaven to be

drinking it through time eternal!” – St. Brigit of Kildare

*

And yet, with all of this sober asceticism, the Celts never lost their native enthusiasm, exuberance, and just plain cheer, as we see in a prayer written by the wonderful 5th century Abbess, Brigit, when she exclaims: “I should like a great lake of ale for the King of Kings; I should like the angels of heaven to be drinking it through time eternal!” How could anyone fail to be charmed by such a character–a woman who was a great leader of monastics, both men and women, who was baptized by angels, got out of an arranged marriage by plucking out one of her eyeballs, and fell asleep during a sermon given by the incomparable Equal-to-the-Apostles, St. Patrick!

celtic69

St Herbert’s Island, Derwent Water 

Finally, the Celts were Trinitarian Christians par excellence. This is partly because even before they were Christian they already thought in terms of threes. And for them–unlike most Christians today–the Trinity was very real, very alive, not something vague and theoretical. What one scholar calls a “Trinitarian consciousness” (Joyce, op.cit.) completely shaped everything about them. As another has said: “‘We are here at a central insight of Celtic theology….Christ comes not to show up or illuminate the deformity of a fallen world but rather to release a beautiful and holy world from bondage….an affirmation, difficult but possible, of [that] which is the created image of the eternal Father and the all-holy Trinity.’” (Noel Dermot O’Donoghue, quoted in Joyce, op.cit.) “To follow the spiritual world-view of the Celtic Christians is to embrace a way of life that is a real commitment to the belief that the Trinitarian God is alive in this world.” In the Celtic world, “Jesus Christ is our hero, our sweet friend….The Father is High King of heaven, a gentle and beneficent father, a wise and just ruler. The Spirit is a tangible comforter and protector ….This God is never to be reduced to the ‘man upstairs’ or anyone we can capture and box in. And yet this wonderful, mysterious God is close to us….[This] God is extremely good.” (Ibid.)

celtic85

Brothers and sisters: the sanctity of Celtic monastics is a model for us in that it combines heroism and joy in perfect and beautiful balance. For them, the heroic life was one completely dedicated to living intimately with the God-Man whom they described as “victorious,” “mighty and successful,” “the lord of victories,” a great warrior to whom they pledged undying, fearless, creative and exuberant loyalty. And yet, for all of their heroism, their monastic world-view, could be ‘summed up as the ‘Christian ideal in a sweetness which has never been surpassed.’” (Nora Chadwick, quoted by Joyce in op.cit.) To slip into their world, even for just a few moments, as we’ve done here this afternoon, is, I believe, is not just inspiring; it’s almost breathtaking.

celtic83

Just as I began my talk today with a prayer of St. Columban of Iona, I would like to conclude with another prayer from this great Celtic monastic saint:

Prayer of
St. Columban of Iona

Lord, Thou art my island; in Thy bosom I rest.
Thou art the calm of the sea;
in that peace I stay.
Thou art the deep waves
of the shining ocean.
With their eternal sound I sing.
Thou art the song of the birds; in that tune is my joy.
Thou art the smooth white strand of the shore;
in Thee is no gloom.
Thou art the breaking of the waves on the rock;
Thy praise is echoed in the swell. Thou art the Lord of my life;

*

celtic33

Source: http://www.asna.ca/angloceltic/celtic-monasticism.pdf

Also, listen to Hiermonk Ambrose (Father Alexey Young) about THE UNIQUENESS OF CELTIC MONASTICISM at http://www.asna.ca/angloceltic/

For more information on Celtic Orthodoxy, go to http://www.mullmonastery.com and follow father Seraphim’s pilgrimage and struggles to found the first Orthodox monastery in the Hebrides in over a millennium.

*

To continue our pilgrimage to the Celtic sacred sites and pilgrim routes of England, our next stop will be Scilly –pronounced “silly”–Islands! (/ˈsɪli/Cornish: Syllan or Enesek Syllan) (Introduction of the “c” may be to prevent references to “silly” men or saints!) Yet one more look at Christian faith from a Celtic perspective. The Isles of Scilly  are an archipelago off the southwestern tip of the Cornish peninsula of Great Britain, comprising  5 Major, inhabited islands,St Mary’sTrescoSt Martin’sBryherSt Agnes and 140 others. For more, go to https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/11/05/scilly-pilgrimage/

Thin Places (III)

A Journey into Celtic Christianity

 

celtic53

Llwyngwril St Celynin

*

“The Church in The British Isles will only begin to grow 

when She begins to again venerate Her own Saints

 *

(Saint Arsenios of Paros †1877)

*

 

Celtic Monasticism, A Model of Sanctity By Hieromonk Ambrose (Father Alexey Young) — Part III of IV 

celtic75

Beverley Minster, East Yorkshire, England 

St. David of Wales lived in the 6th century. He came from a monastery which had been founded by a disciple of St. John Cassian. So great is St. David that he deserves a whole lecture to himself, but today I’ll just mention him in connection with the wisdom of the Egyptian desert: he possessed the gift of tears, spoke alone with angels, subdued his flesh by plunging himself into ice cold water while reciting all of the Psalms by heart, and spent the day making prostrations and praying. “He also fed a multitude of orphans, wards, widows, needy, sick, feeble, and pilgrims.” (Edward C. Sellner, Wisdom of the Celtic Saints). The Roman Catholic scholar, Edward Sellner, adds: “ Thus he began; thus he continued; thus he ended his day. He imitated the monks of Egypt and lived a life like theirs.” (Ibid.) The same writer assures us that “because of its [the Celtic Church’s] love of the desert fathers and mothers, it has a great affinity with the spirituality of the Eastern Orthodox [today].”

celtic43

Tomb of Venerable Bede, Durham Cathedral

There are many other evidences of Eastern and Egyptian contact and influence, too numerous to list now. But in his interesting study, The Egyptian Desert in the Irish Bogs, Fr. Gregory Telepneff mentions also the fascinating interlacing knots and complex designs found on the famous standing High Crosses, which show Egyptian or Coptic influence. “Celtic manuscripts show similarities to the Egyptian use of birds, eagles, lions, and calves….In the Celtic Book of Durrow, one can find not only a utilization of the colors green, yellow, and red, similar to Egyptian usage, but also ‘gems with a double cross outline against tightly knotted interlacings,’ which recall the ‘beginnings of Coptic books.’ [Henry, Irish Art]. There is at least one instance of the leather satchel of an Irish missal and the leather satchel of an Ethiopian manuscript of about the same period which “resemble each other so closely that they might be thought to have come from the same workshop’ [Warren, Liturgy].” (Telpneff)

celtic46

St. Magnus Cathedral Kirkwall

*

Culturally, then, I suggest that Celtic culture was a unique

and intriguing blend of Egyptian and other Middle Eastern influences

with native or indigenous cultural elements.

*

celtic41

12th century Shrine of Saint Melangell

Before going further I want to say a few words about the term “spirituality.” In our time this has become a wastebasket word into which we put whatever we want the word to mean. Our English word, “spirituality”, comes from the French, and originally described someone who was clever, witty, or perhaps even mad! But our ancient Christian ancestors, whether from Russia, Europe, the Middle East, or the lands of the Celts, did not have such a concept. Certainly they did not see spiritual life as something separate from the rest of life. For them, spirituality was how they lived, how they prayed, how they worshiped God–and it was all bound up together, not separated out. Today, however, we have managed to artificially compartmentalize ourselves and our lives, making “spirituality” something that we do in addition to or separate from regular life. This has made possible a very artificial approach to the Celts.celtic42

Tomb of St. John Kemble

Thomas O”Loughlin, one of the best of our present-day writers on the subject of Celtic Christianity, make the following sage observation in his book, Journeys on the Edges:

“In the last decade interest in the attitudes and beliefs of the Christians of the Celtic lands in the first millennium has swollen from being a specialist pursuit among medievalists and historians of theology into what is virtually a popular movement. In the process more than a few books have appeared claiming to uncover the soul of this Celtic Christianity in all its beauty….[Many writers] operate by offering their own definitions of ‘Christianity’ past and present, and then setting these against their definition of ‘Celt’ or ‘Celtic’. In this way they can reach the conclusion they want.”

Typical of our modern arrogance and intellectual- spiritual poverty, we project our own feeble ideas back onto a more robust and spiritually rich time, treating the world of Celtic Christianity like a smorgasbord, where we take those things we happen to already “like,” and put them together to form our own very distorted and sometimes even perverted “version” of the Celts.

celtic47

celtic48

1177: Priory Church of the Holy Trinity, Christchurch, Dorset, England

An example: It is a fact that in the early Christian centuries, Ireland, Scotland and parts of Wales were never subject to Roman rule–neither the old Roman Empire nor the Church of Rome held sway over “Celts.” But some modern writers interpret this to mean that Celtic Christians, since they were “non-Roman,” were therefore anti-Roman or even anti-authority and against the idea of an organized, patriarchal Church. There is absolutely no evidence for such a conclusion, although in fact Celtic Christians did have a quite different way of organizing communities than did Christians on the continent–but this was not out of rebellion, but because their own models were from Egypt and the East, not from Europe! The simple fact is that “the Irish church had always been at the edges of Roman Christianity, [and considered to be a] a barbarian church of limited interest to the Popes.” (Paul Cavill, Anglo-Saxon Christianity: Exploring the Earliest Roots of Christian Spirituality in England) “Although the climate and situation of Britain were very different from the hot deserts of Egypt, there were principles–simplicity, prayer, fasting, spiritual warfare, wisdom, and evangelism–that were easy to translate to the communities of these isles.” (Michael Mitton, The Soul of Celtic Spirituality in the Lives of Its Saints)

celtic45

The Shrine of St. Wite

But this means that entering into the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical world of a Celtic Christian monk is difficult–not impossible, but difficult.

First we must realize that the Celts–had no concept of privacy or individuality such as we have today. Families did not live in separate rooms, but all together; no one thought about the idea of “compartmentalizing space” and only hermits and anchorites felt a calling to be alone in spiritual solitude with God, although monks had separate cells, just as monastics did in the Egyptian Thebaid.

The idea that people are separate individuals from the group was not only unheard-of, but would have been considered dangerous, even heretical. Self-absorption, “moods,” and being temperamental–all of these things would have been considered abnormal and sinful.

It wasn’t until the 13th and 14th centuries that people in the West started keeping journals or diaries, and there were no memoirs–also signs of individuality and privacy, of singling oneself out from the family, group, or community–nor were there actual real-life portraits of individuals, until the 14th century. (The art of realistic portraiture developed in response to the medieval idea of romance–for an accurate portrait was a substitute for an absent husband or wife.)

celtic50

Beverley Minster, East Yorkshire, England 

*

Celtic Christian understood, just as do

Eastern Christians, that man is saved in community;

if he goes to hell, he goes alone.

*

Furthermore, “‘the dominant institution of Celtic Christianity was neither the parish church nor the cathedral, but the monastery, which sometimes began as a solitary hermit’s cell and often grew to become a combination of commune, retreat house, mission station…school [and, in general] a source not just of spiritual energy but also of hospitality, learning, and cultural enlightenment.” (Ian Bradley, quoted in Mitten, Ibid.) It was only much later that people began to be gathered into separate parishes, and even later before bishops had dioceses that were based on geographical lines rather than just being the shepherd of a given tribe or group, “being bishops of a community, rather than ruling areas of land. The idea of ‘ruling a diocese’ was quite foreign to the Celtic way of thinking.” (Ibid.)

celtic52

Beverley Minster, East Yorkshire, England 

*

If you think about what all of this means in terms of how we today view ourselves, the world in which we live, and the values that we have today, you can see how difficult it’s going to be for us to enter into the world of the Celts. Today we are quite obsessive about such things as privacy and individuality, of “being our own selves” and “getting in touch with the inner man” and other such self- centered nonsense. But the Celtic Christian understood, just as did and do Eastern Christians, that man is saved in community; if he goes to hell, he goes alone.

celtic51

Beverley Minster, East Yorkshire, England 

So the orientation of those Christian Celts to God and the other world was very different than the orientation of our modern world, no matter how devout or pious we may be, and this makes the distance between us and the world of Celtic monasticism far greater than just the span of the centuries. A renowned scholar, Sir Samuel Dill, writing generally about Christians in the West at this same period of time, said: “The dim religious life of the early Middle Ages is severed from the modern mind by so wide a gulf, by such a revolution of beliefs that the most cultivated sympathy can only hope to revive in faint imagination ….[for it was] a world of…fervent belief which no modern man can ever fully enter into….It is intensely interesting, even fascinating…[but] between us and the early Middle Ages there is a gulf which the most supple and agile imagination can hardly hope to pass. He who has pondered most deeply over the popular faith of that time will feel most deeply how impossible it is to pierce its secret.” (Quoted in Vita Patrum, Fr. Seraphim Rose)

celtic61

Iona Abbey, Scotland 

But is it really “impossible”? To enter their world–the world of Celtic Christianity, which is the same as Celtic monasticism–we must find a way to see things as they did–not as we do today–; to hear, taste, touch, pray, and think as they did. And this is what I mean by the word “spirituality”–a whole world-view. We must examine them in the full context of their actual world–which was a world of Faith, and not just any Faith, but the Christian Faith of Christians in both the Eastern and Western halves of Christendom in the first thousand years after Christ. Spirituality is living, dogmatic, theology. This is the only way we can begin to understand how Celtic Monasticism can be a model of sanctity for us living today, more than a millennium after their world ceased to be. Remember, I said it would be difficult to enter their world; difficult, but not impossible… When we speak of someone or something being a “model,” what do we mean? In this instance–speaking about Celtic monasticism as a “model”–we mean something that is a standard of excellence to be imitated. But here I’m not speaking of copying external things about Celtic monasteries–such as architecture, style of chant, monastic habit, etc., which are, after all cultural “accidents.” I’m speaking of something inward, of an inner state of being and awareness. It’s only in this sense that Celtic monasticism can be, for those who wish it, a “model of sanctity.”

celtic60

Iona Abbey, Scotland 

But what do I mean by “sanctity”? We must be careful not to slip into some kind of vague, New Age warm “fuzzies” which are more gnostic than Christian and have more to do with being a “nice” person than encountering the Living God in this life. By sanctity I mean what the Church herself means: holiness–which is nothing more or less than imitation of Christ in the virtues, and striving to die to oneself through humility, so as to be more and more alive to Christ, successfully cutting off one’s own will in order to have, only the will of Christ, as St. Paul says in his epistle to the Galatians (2:20): “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me…” So, holiness means dying to oneself and especially to one’s passions, more and more, so as draw closer and closer to the Lord God Himself, through Jesus Christ, and Him crucified and risen. In addition, Celtic Christians had the concept of “hallowing” or “hallowed”–an old fashioned term that today has survived only in the unfortunate pagan holiday called “Halloween” (from “All Hallows Eve”–which began as the vigil for the Western Feast of All Souls Day and later took on vile pagan overtones). To early British Christians, something or someone that was “hallowed” was “set apart” from others and sanctified for service to God. Thus, a priest’s ordination or a monastic’s tonsuring was his “hallowing.”

celtic63

St Moluag, Eoropaidh, Isle of Lewis 

And so, thus it was that those blessed and hallowed monastics of Celtic lands modeled forth certain principles that we can still see, study, understand, and imitate today.

The Celts were masters of Christian simplicity. Nowadays there is a movement in our culture to recover some simple basics, but the model is often that of the Quakers or the Shakers or the Amish. Perhaps that’s because those groups are easier and more attractive to imitate; I don’t know. For the Celts, however, simplicity wasn’t so much a question of externals–like furniture, architecture, and so forth. It was something internal, and it was founded upon the Lord’s Prayer–in particular the phrase, “Thy will be done”, as we find in the later commentaries of the Venerable Bede of Jarrow and Alcuin of the court of Charlemagne. This was crucial to living a simple Christian life: “Thy will be done” meant God’s will, not our own–placing absolute trust in the Providence of God for everything–one’s health, one’s finances, the size of one’s family or the size of a monastic community–everything. It meant dying to oneself, not having opinions and not judging others. This was where simplicity began, and from there it easily expressed itself in outward forms, such as not owning five tunics when just two or even one would be sufficient.

celtic64

St Moluag, Eoropaidh, Isle of Lewis

Simplicity did not necessarily mean “plainness,” as we’ll see shortly when we look at the intricate sacred art of the High Crosses. Celtic Christians were not “Plain People,” like Quakers or the Amish. But they were “Simple People,” in that they were single-minded and intensely focused on the other world and the journey through this life to God.

B5A2FH Inchcolm Island and Abbey Firth of Forth, Scotland

Inchcolm Island and Abbey Firth of Forth, Scotland

In common with all Christians at that time, the Celts had no concept of “private prayer” in the sense of spontaneously thinking of words or phrases to say to God. This practice belongs to a much later period in Christian history, when ideas of privacy and individualism had become more important than traditional ways of seeking God through prayer. This didn’t mean that a Celtic Christian didn’t pray outside the divine services, but for them, prayer was primarily liturgical, and this meant the Psalms. Most monks and nuns memorized the complete Psalter. Occasionally a particularly gifted monk would compose a prayer, such as the one I read by St. Columban at the beginning of this lecture. But in moments of need one remembered verses and phrases from the Psalms – such as “In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and He heard me,” from Psalm 120, and “Hide not Thy face from me, O Lord, in the day of my trouble” (Psalm 10, or”In the Lord I put my trust” (Psalm 11).

*

[To Be Continued …]

*

Source: http://www.asna.ca/angloceltic/celtic-monasticism.pdf

Also, listen to Hiermonk Ambrose (Father Alexey Young) about THE UNIQUENESS OF CELTIC MONASTICISM at http://www.asna.ca/angloceltic/

For more information on Celtic Orthodoxy, go to http://www.mullmonastery.com and follow father Seraphim’s struggles to found the first Orthodox monastery in the Hebrides in over a millennium.

For Part IV go to https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/11/01/thin-places-a-journey-into-celtic-christianity-part-iv/

To follow an alternate route at our pilgrimage to the Celtic sacred sites and pilgrim routes of England, you may go to https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/11/05/scilly-pilgrimage/ and visit Scilly –pronounced “silly”–Islands! (/ˈsɪli/Cornish: Syllan or Enesek Syllan) (Introduction of the “c” may be to prevent references to “silly” men or saints!) Yet another look at Christian faith from a Celtic perspective. The Isles of Scilly  are an archipelago off the southwestern tip of the Cornish peninsula of Great Britain, comprising  5 Major, inhabited islands,St Mary’sTrescoSt Martin’sBryherSt Agnes and 140 others. 

Thin Places (II)

celtic11

The Holy Hierarch Saint Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne  (651)

*

“The Church in The British Isles will only begin to grow 

when She begins to again venerate Her own Saints

 *

(Saint Arsenios of Paros †1877)

*

Celtic Monasticism, A Model of Sanctity By Hieromonk Ambrose (Father Alexey Young) — Part II of IV 

“… Monasticism appeared attractive to a warrior people who were drawn to an ascetic lifestyle. … It appealed to a marginalized people who saw the monk as one who lived on the edge of things, on the very margins of life.

celtic39

The Holy Hierarch Saint Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury ( 690)  

Christianity softened all of this, but Celtic Christians did not lose their fierceness which, under the influence of Christ, no longer expressed itself in a lust for war, but now was channeled into Christianity as a way of life–and this they pursued with a single-mindedness rarely seen elsewhere. “Monasticism appeared attractive to a warrior people who were drawn to an ascetic lifestyle. It appealed to a marginalized people who saw the monk as one who lived on the edge of things, on the very margins of life.” (Timothy Joyce, Celtic Christianity)

celtic40

The Holy Hierarch Saint David of Wales, Bishop of Menevia Confounder of Pelagians    († 601)

We see this in the lives of monks like St. Cuthbert and St. Guthlac, who “were uncompromising solitaries and their ascetic practices aroused wonder … To go all-out for something” is a distinctive mark of Celtic Christians. (Benedicta Ward, High King of Heaven). Another example is in the life of St. Columban who, we are told, “leaped over his mother’s grieving body, which was draped across her threshold, in order to head for” a monastery. (Lisa M. Bitel, “Ascetic Superstars,” www.christianitytoday.com/ch/60h/60h022.html)

celtic7

It is perhaps not surprising then, to learn that the brave stories of the valiant and heroic King Arthur (who was an actual person) originated among the Celts and were only later picked up and modified and expanded by medieval troubadours and scribes elsewhere in Europe. These included tales of the Round Table and the noble Quest for the Holy Grail, as well as accounts of Arthur’s spiritual father, Merlin (who, by the way, was most probably a Celtic bishop named Ambrosius Merlinus, after St. Ambrose of Milan, and not a Druid priest, as used to be thought).

celtic6

As an aside, may I say that Celtic hermit life “was no walk through a nature reserve or stay at a holiday camp. The hermit had deliberately chosen to live at the limits of existence, a human person containing both heaven and earth.” (Ward, op.cit.) Speaking of his own hermit days, St. Cuthbert testified that the demons constantly “cast me down headlong from my high rock; how many times have they hurled stones at me as if to kill me. But though they sought to frighten me away by one phantasmal temptation or another, and attempted to drive me from this place of combat, nevertheless they were unable in any way to mar my body by injury or my mind by fear.” (Quoted in Ward, Ibid.)

celtic5

This account is amazingly close to the temptations suffered by St. Antony the Great in the Egyptian desert. But this is not surprising, because their Christianity– which is to say, their monastic life–was primarily influenced by and formed by the Christian monasticism of the Egyptian desert, and only incidentally from the continent of Europe. This means that Celtic Christians were more like the Byzantine or Slavic Orthodox Christians than Latin or Northern European Christians.

celtic4

Early this last summer I had an appointment with a new diabetic specialist. Dr. Jennings was very intrigued and pleased to meet “a real live monk”, “But,” he said, “you don’t look like a monk.” I said, “What do you mean, I don’t ‘look like a monk’? I have a beard and wear a black habit.” He replied, “Well, you have to realize, Father, that my only images of monks have been formed by television commercials–where the monks are all wearing brown robes, are clean-shaven, have a bald spot in the center of their heads, and are advertising either ‘Beano’ or computers.” I’m afraid this really is the popular image of monks in our culture, today. Most of these images are based upon stereotypical ideas drawn from medieval Western monasticism and applied to both Celtic and Orthodox Christian monastics: it’s assumed that we all look like Francis of Assisi, and live in great stone monasteries with cloisters. But this is not an accurate image of Celtic.

celtic1

Rather, Celtic monastic communities were more a relatively modest ‘monastic village’ than a huge complex of buildings. The village had a stone wall around it to keep animals in and thieves out. Within the walls were many small huts, whether wooden buildings or crude structures of mud and wattle. Later, especially in the west of Ireland, stone buildings were erected. Remains of many “stone clochans, called ‘beehive huts’ in English, are scattered over the countryside….There is no indication that any large church buildings were ever built….” (Timothy Joyce, Celtic Christianity) “Other monks and nuns lived out their days alone….in small wood-and-mud huts; they kept a cow or two, and accepted gladly the gifts of an occasional loaf or basket of vegetables from local farmers. The desire for a solitary life and time to spend simply yearning for God…must have drifted through the hearts of even the busiest abbot in the most bustling monastery.” (Bitel, op.cit.)

celtic82

Stone clochan, Ireland 

celtic7

Monastic life was seen as an absolutely essential part of Christian life–the norm for all Christian life, not the exception–, and monks and nuns, hermits and hermitesses were the great heroes of the common people, who saw them, as St. Cuthlac put it, as “tried warriors who serve a king who never withholds the reward from those who persist in loving Him.” (Quoted in Bitel, Ibid.) Indeed, it is this quality of persistent, even stubborn heroism that particularly stamps the character of Celtic Christianity and, particularly, monastic life–for these were a people whose heroes were monks and nuns, not political leaders or other cultural figures.

celtic8

St. John Cassian, who is still carefully read and studied by Eastern Orthodox monastics today, was well known to Celtic monks. St. John had spent years as a monk in Bethlehem and Egypt–and recorded his conversations with the Egyptian Fathers–later establishing a monastery near present-day Marseilles, France. The Life of the Egyptian Father, St. Anthony the Great was translated into Latin around the year 380, and we know that this was studied by Celtic monks, who depicted St. Anthony and St. Paul of Thebes on some of the great Irish “High Crosses” (about which I’ll say more, shortly). There was phenomenal literacy and very high culture among these monks. In addition, they also learned from the monks of the Egyptian desert how to practice daily “Confession of Thoughts.” Their monastic clothing was primarily made from animal skins, so that in appearance they actually resembled St. John the Baptist out in the wilderness–a far cry from the monastics of Europe in their sometimes rather elaborate woven cloth habits.

celtic37

Holy Martyr Saint Dymphna, Patron Saint of Mental Illness ( 650)

Now we come to the interesting part: There are records of any number of Christians traveling to the Desert Fathers from the British Isles, and an old Celtic litany of the saints mentions seven Egyptian monks who came to Ireland and died and were buried there. Scholars believe that most of the contact between Ireland and Egypt occurred before the year 640. On an ancient stone near a church in County Cork, Ireland, there is the following inscription: “Pray for Olan, the Egyptian. Also interesting is the fact that even though there are no deserts in the British Isles, the Celts called their monastic communities diserts or “deserts.” This was particularly true of island monasteries or hermitages –those spiritual fortresses–, where the sea itself was like a desert, as an ancient poet said of St. Columban’s island hermitage:

celtic33
“Delightful I think it to be in the bosom of an isle on the peak of a rock, that I might often see there the calm of the sea…That I might see its heavy waves over the glittering ocean as they chant a melody to their Father on their eternal course.”

celtic34

Saint Ninian Bishop of Whithorn, Apostle to the Picts († 432)

We have a wonderful description of a visit to the monks of Egypt near the close of the fourth century, written by Rufinus of Aquileia. He wrote: “When we came near, they realized that foreign monks were approaching, and at once they swarmed out of their cells like bees. They joyfully hurried to meet us.” Rufinus was particularly struck by the solitude and stillness of life among these monks. “This is the utter desert,” he observed, “where each monk lives alone in his cell….There is a huge silence and a great peace there.” (Quoted in Celtic Saints, Passionate Wanderers, by Elizabeth Rees)

celtic35
Saint Ita (Ida, Dorothy), Hermitess in Limerick, Ireland, and Foster-Mother of Saint Brendan (570)

*

[To Be Continued …]

*

Source: http://www.asna.ca/angloceltic/celtic-monasticism.pdf

Also, listen to Hiermonk Ambrose (Father Alexey Young) about THE UNIQUENESS OF CELTIC MONASTICISM at http://www.asna.ca/angloceltic/

For Part III go to https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/11/01/thin-places-a-journey-into-celtic-christianity-part-iii/

To follow an alternate route at our pilgrimage to the Celtic sacred sites and pilgrim routes of England, you may go to https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/11/05/scilly-pilgrimage/ and visit Scilly –pronounced “silly”–Islands! (/ˈsɪli/Cornish: Syllan or Enesek Syllan) (Introduction of the “c” may be to prevent references to “silly” men or saints!) Yet another look at Christian faith from a Celtic perspective. The Isles of Scilly  are an archipelago off the southwestern tip of the Cornish peninsula of Great Britain, comprising  5 Major, inhabited islands,St Mary’sTrescoSt Martin’sBryherSt Agnes and 140 others.