Friday, May 11, 2007

Botolph and Black Shuck

On a warm summer’s day there’s nowhere more beautiful, nor peaceful, than Iken Church! It stands the end of a wooded promontory jutting out into the tidal mudflats of the Rive Alde! You can get there by foot following the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Path that begins in Lowestoft! The day visitor might find it easier to walk, cycle, or motor from Snape Maltings only three miles away.

However lovely on a summer’s day, in winter with the wind straight from Siberia via the North Sea it would be quite different! Summer and winter you will find an open door during the hours of daylight.

Within an 11th Century Norman nave, is a 9th century Saxon cross, first erected to mark the place of a monastery burnt by Viking raiders.

The monastery was founded in 654 AD, the year Anna, king of East Anglia, was killed in battle against the pagan Mercians.

Its first abbot? Botolph!
St. Botolph brought the Rule of St. Benedict to
England. He was sought out by the Ven. Bede’s abbot, Coelfrith, who called him "a man of remarkable life and learning, full of the grace of the Holy Spirit"! Among the laity Botolph was famous for doing battle against evil spirits of the marshes. For those who dismiss such ideas as ancient superstition, remember Black Shuck! He still has the ability spread fear and there are few in East Anglia today who walk marshland paths by night!

What better place to rest and remember in prayer those caught up in the violence of war, all who dwell in fear and those who live under the shadow of evil. On Fridays there is a vigil of silent prayer from 12 noon until 1 p.m.. Pilgrims are welcome to attend.

Returning home by way of the A12 why not stop off at Blythburg church . It was to an earlier church on this site, overlooking the river, that the body of king Anna was brought after the battle of Bulcamp. On the present church door burn marks can be seen! “Left by the paws of Black Shuck,” it is said, “ Or perhaps the Devil’s hoof-print, when the steeple fell down in 1577!”. Enough of darkness! Inside the church is flooded with light from the clerestory and intricately carved and painted angels adorn the roof! “He will give his angels,” charge over you…” sings the Psalmist!

© Richard Woodham 2007

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

St. Piran, Trethevy, Cornwall (not back home yet!)

From the Reformation until 1941 the chapel was used as agricultural buildings. It was returned to the Church by Sidney Harris - may he rest in peace and rise in glory!

© Richard Woodham 2007

St. Piran and the Conversion of Cornwall

Walking on from the Rocky Valley Labyrniths we turned left at the main road and walked up-hill to Trethevy.

St. Piran's Well and Chapel are just off the main road on the right.

I found the still centre I had been looking for here. In the cool darkness of the chapel.

Coming out into the light, I blessed God for St. Piran and the light he brought to the people of Cornwall. I prayed for the success of the continuing Christian mission here and throughout the world. And reminded myself of my own baptism, as I blessed myself with water from the well.

I set off with a new spring in my step refreshed on my earthly pilgrimage, thankful for those who keep the church open and welcoming

© Richard Woodham 2007

Still Abroad ! The Rocky Valley Labyrinth

We parked by Trevalga Church famous now through Rev'd Christine Musser and the TV programme "A Seaside Parish". Trevalga is on the sea side of the road from Tintagel to Bostcastle. From the church we went through the farm-yard and down the lane towards the coastal footpath. Turning left towards Tintagel, we enjoyed the sun, wind, flowers, birds and scenery as we looked out for puffins, razorbills and guillemots nesting on Short and Long islands - but had no luck.

There's no mistaking Rocky Valley. The path zigzagged down to a stream, which we crossed and turned left. Shortly at a ruined mill we came to the famous carvings. A week before I had run my finger around a copy made by the arts and spirituality project Breathing Space Arts ( ) The effect was to make the hairs at the back of my kneck stand on end! The originals were carved sometime between 1400 and 1800 BC! Kneeling before them and running my finger around the lines again I found my way to the centre. But found no stillness, no calm!

Strips of cloth, votive offerings I imagine, hung from trees. Stones, rocks and rolled invocations (I suppose!) were wedged in cracks or ledges of the rocks. I walked onwards and upwards!

© Richard Woodham 2007

Norfolk Pilgrim Goes Foreign

St. Winwaloe appears in Norfolk weather law - First comes David, Then comes Chad, Then comes Winnold roaring like mad (i.e. March 1st, 2nd and 3rd) . He also gave his name to the horsefair at Downham Market. How does a 5th century Cornish saint get to be remembered in Norfolk?

In France, St. Winwaloes is known as Saint Guénolé or Guennolé. His relics were transferred from a moanastery he founded at Landévennec, Brittany to Montreuil-sur-Merand away from the Viking raids in 914 AD. Following the Norman Conquest the monks of Montreuil-sur-Mer were granted land at Wereham. And so his fame and cult came to Norfolk.

Winwaloe is patron of the Lizard Peninsular and where he established a Cornish monastery. Last week I parked at Poldhu Cove and walked over the hill to Church Cove. The path was surrounded by wild flowers - bluebells, wild garlic, thrift, sea campion and the golden flowers of the gorse. High above a raven and buzzard disputed territory and newly arrived swallows swooped after fresh hatchings of mayflies.

The first sight of St. Winwaloe's Church revealed it as a perfect location for a 5th century monastery. It is sheltered from the south and west by the bulk of a hill that doubled as a coastal castle from ancient times. Close by a clear running stream discharges into the surf on a sandy beach. Nothing of the original church remains but the free-standing bell tower is said to incorporate the original hermits cave.

The deep stillness and subdued light of the church contrasted with the wind, waves and sunshine outside. The prayerful atmosphere is remarkable. Many holiday makers and pilgrims find there way here. The visitors book and book for prayers both provide evidence of how moved people are and what a precious place it becomes for them. Truly a thin place, where God may be encountered.

The church has been called - The Church of the Storms! I'd really like to be there when a Force 1o south-westerly is raging and mountainous surf is crashing on the beach.

© Richard Woodham 2007