We had arranged for everyone to meet on our final morning at the church of St Michael and All Angels in Hathersage. It is a place we have visited on many occasions, but, as had been the way lately, recent visits had shed new light on old, familiar details. Even ones we had previously photographed and written about, but still not really seen.
The current church is largely fourteenth century, with all the usual later renovations and additions, though there had been a church on the site, close to an old settlement of the Danes, since at least 1100. The names of all the vicars are still remembered, as far back as 1281.
Initially, the decision to visit the church had been taken simply to provide a point of interest along the way, as our main site for the morning was at some distance from our base in Bakewell. A visit to reconnoitre had changed that perspective, once we had made the Eyre connection.
And anyway, given that we had spent the previous afternoon at Robin Hood’s Stride, it seemed only right to pay our respects at the giant grave of his companion, John Little, better known as Little John…and chuckle at what appears to be a parking meter beside his resting place.
Charlotte Bronte stayed at the vicarage here when she was about to write Jane Eyre. The name of her heroine is that of the influential Eyre family whose tomb dominates the chancel of the church, along with a number of medieval brasses showing the Eyre knights and their ladies.
It was one of their descendants, Thomas Eyre, who had been the parson at Birchover and who had shaped enigmatic landscape of Rowtor Rocks where we had spent the previous morning. And as if that wasn’t enough of a connection, there were all the other details we had missed…
As with so many things we have known but not realised until the time was right, it hadn’t even registered fully that this was a St Michael and All Angels, in spite of the dragons carved as gargoyles and grotesques on the outside of the church. The St Michael dedication is commonly found in areas where the leys… the dragon lines… can be found and the All Saints/All Angels attribution, we have found, tends to be significant.
Oddly enough, it is only as I write that it bothers to register that the little church in the village where I have lived for over fifteen years is also a St Michael and All Angels. Even odder still is the fact that the village of Hathersage has two churches dedicated to St Michael.
Arriving early on the last morning of the workshop, we had time to look around the churchyard, noticing how may of the crosses on the headstones were of the ‘cross pattée’ type, or resembled those on the medieval grave-markers we had seen at Bakewell.
Many of these symbols were also associated with the Templars and their successors. And, just to put the icing on the proverbial cake, one grave is carved with the All-Seeing Eye that is a symbol frequently associated with Freemasonry.
We know that it is easy enough for the human mind to join the dots and make patterns, finding significance where there is, in reality, none at all. It is all too easy to come up with a theory and start making the pieces of information you find fit that theory, rather like the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella, cutting off toes to squeeze their feet into the Glass Slipper. We didn’t have a theory… we didn’t have a clue what we were seeing to begin with, only that we were being presented with a lot of odd facts, artefacts and coincidences that all seemed to be related. All we were doing was trying to make sense of it all…
Had we any idea of what we were doing? More importantly, did those who had left us this centuries-old breadcrumb trail know what they were about? If they did, what were they up to? And if not, why were the same pertinent symbols showing up again and again in the most disparate places? What could possibly link a medieval church, the Templars, Eyres and Freemasons, a ‘green’ giant and the Bronze Age stone circle we would be visiting as our last site of the weekend?