The Incomparable Comper…

*

…The nearest church is St Nicholas’ of Great Kimble so we head off there.

“Why blue specifically do you think?”

“Well, we’re sort of assuming that it’s a healing energy but if we follow the Theosophists then I suppose it could be devotional.”

“And what are we expecting at St Nicholas’s?”

“To be honest I’ll be surprised if there is anything.”

“What, nothing at all?”

“We were given Our Blue Chapel, remember and I just think that it is special.”

“Well it certainly feels special but it will not be the only church built on an old site, I mean it went out as a definitive edict, to ensure the populace kept coming to the old sites they built their churches on top of them.”

“It very much depends on what has happened in the meantime.”

*

I hasten along the gravel path, and enter the church porch, pause, look back at Wen as mysteriously as I can, and then twist the iron door ring with a yank and lean into the heavy oaken door.

The door yields…

The door is open…

We step inside.

Now it is a curious thing that since experiencing Our Blue Chapel, we tend to judge all other churches by its incredibly exacting standards and if it does not immediately have the same feel, there is a definite sense of disappointment, which is palpable here, yet this is not a disappointing church by any means. It is well kept. It is obviously well attended and it has some wonderful features, a lovely little side chapel and some quite astonishing stained glass windows, Wen even picks up a bit of colour around some of the side aisles although to my eye there looks to be green mixed in with the blue which sets me thinking…

Wen is quite vociferous in her disappointment. She has appropriated the ‘corporate’ word for use in her appraisal of the place. If you know Wen, you know that ‘corporate’, is a bad, bad word…

“What if the colour is linked to the name?”

“Go on…”

“…Blue for All Saints, Green for St. Nicholas…  I don’t know… purple for Our Lady?”

“You are aware that there were tinges of purple in the central isles of Our Chapel and that the blue from the windows is a different blue to the blue on the walls and floors?”

“I was not aware of that no…It did seem though that the more I looked at the photos the more blue there was.”

“That’s probably just you attuning. The blue from the windows is a lapis blue, whereas the earth blue if that is where it comes from is more of a royal blue.”

“This is crazy…crazy… but true…possibly.”

“And how do they name the churches anyway?”

“There’s a special office, they’re called ‘planters’ but I suppose it’s like priests. There are good ones who know what they’re doing and there are those that don’t. Get a good planter, he tunes into the energy vibration of the place, sees the colour, or feels it and gives it the correct name.”

“It’s a stunning idea but I’ll be amazed if it works like that even though it evidently should.”…

*

… “And for a long time that is all we had.”

“That, and the Green light of the Lady Chapel.”

“That, and the Gold-Green light of the Lady Chapel.”

“And, when that is all you’ve got you tend to attend to it.”

“Enjoyed ‘tend to attend’ but what did we in fact, have?”

“Well, even that’s not certain.”

“So, what did we appear to have?”

“We appeared to have the head of Christ, which appeared to be floating.”

“I may have to take issue with ‘floating’. I may even have to take issue with ‘head’. I am duty bound to take issue with ‘Christ’.”

“Oh dear, taking issue with Christ is not a happy place to be. Is there a particular reason?”

“Red hair.”

“Ah, well, yes, red hair for Christ is, perhaps, not a familiar attribute, but he is wearing a crown of thorns and he is affixed to a cross.”

“‘He’ is wearing a green crown of thorns and the cross may be a halo and appears to be feathered.”

“Floating?”

“Carried, or ‘raised’ by angels. Carried, or ‘raised’ by red haired angels to be precise.”

“Do we ‘know’ any red haired angels?”

“Michael has red hair.”

“That’s that then, but what about the head?”

“It looks more like the angels are carrying or raising a banner with the representation of a head on it.”

“Or, an icon! Is there such a thing in the tradition?”

“There is such a thing, although, whether or not it can be regarded as traditional is very much open to question.”

“Pray, tell of this thing?”

“The Veronica.” …

*

… “The Veronica?”

“It is one of the ‘Stations of the Cross’. One of Christ’s female adherents approaches her Lord and wipes the sweat from his face as he struggles to Calvary under the back breaking load of the cross. When he has gone, Veronica looks at the cloth, she has used to administer to her Lord, and it bears the imprint of his visage upon it.”

“Another miracle? But of questionable traditional authority you say?”

“The ‘Stations of the Cross’ are supposed to represent Christ’s journey to the cross and beyond as related in the Gospels.”

“Supposed?”

“The Veronica does not occur in the any of the four canonical gospels.”

“And the apocryphal gospels?”

“It is not in any that have so far come to light.”

“So where did it come from?”

“It was ‘made up’.”

“By whom?”

“If he had a name it has long since been lost to the annals of time, but it is ten-to-one-on that we know not who he was but what he was.”

“You are starting to make less and less sense, ten-to-one-on?”

“He was a Jesuit.”

“Okay… Why would a Jesuit make up something like that?”

“Why, indeed?”

*

Quest for a Quest: The Initiate’s Story

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

17-19 April 2020

Contact us at Rivingtide@gmail.com for more details. Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

Keys of Heaven (9): blown down the mountain

The welcoming warmth of the Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge

continued from Part 8

My companions of the Silent Eye’s ‘Keys of Heaven’ weekend were waiting when I arrived at the Lion Inn. We had coffee and biscuits and discussed the options for our last day of the workshop. Everyone was looking forward to the visit to the celebrated St Mary’s church at Lastingham – the final resting place of St Cedd.

The coffee before the storm…

There was a group excitement; a buzz. Human nature responds to being ‘on top of things’ in both a physical and metaphorical sense. We had all managed to find the Lion Inn – it’s not trivial! We were at the highest point in the North York National Park, but we weren’t here just for coffee and the views. We planned to take advantage of the rich history to be found in the immediate area of the Inn, which, although completely isolated, has a site that has been occupied for hundreds of years; and contains archeology that is thousands of years old.

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(Above) Top of the world…

There are some very special pathways that cross these high moors. Some of them link ancient sacred sites, often marked by crosses that surprise with their age – over a thousand years old in some, cases… possibly a lot older in others.

Where they cross – or meet, might be a better word – they create a special place of exchange and, often, hospitality. Years pass, then hundred of years, and there becomes established a place of meeting. In a few rare cases the meeting point defies the often hostile elements by becoming a permanent building of refuge and hospitality.

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(Above) The Lion Inn – a refuge in the sky

The Lion Inn on the top of Blakey Ridge is one such. As high as you can be in the North York National Park (1,325 feet), it sits astride a crossing of ancient ways and alongside the more modern road linking Castleton to Hutton-le-Hole. The Inn has been run by the Crossland family since 1980. Being on the highest point, it offers breathtaking views down into the Rosedale and Farndale Valleys.

The story of the inn on Blakey Moor dates back to the 16th century. During the reign of King Edward III a house and ten acres of land on Farndale Moor were given to the Order of Crouched Friars, who had been unable to find a home in York.. It is thought that the friars founded the Inn around 1554 to lighten their poverty. Friar Inns are common enough in all parts of the country – Scarborough has two. Since that time there has always been an inn here.

We were fortunate that two of the most significant historic sites are adjacent to the inn. All we had to do was take the short walk from the Inn’s door.

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(Above) The Neolithic Burial mound of Loose Howe is next to the Lion Inn

The grave at Loose Howe (above) is a short scramble up a hillock to the east of the inn. It can be seen from the windows in the bar. Here, a Bronze Age chieftain was interred in a boat-like oak coffin: armed, clothed and equipped for his voyage.

Cockpit Howe is a Neolithic burial mound just behind the inn, facing the Ferndale valley, below.

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(above) Cockpit Howe

The ancient Waymarks – standing stones and stone crosses – known as ‘Fat Betty’ and the Ralph Crosses (previous post) bear witness to the continuous tradition of passage over this pinnacle of the North York moors. The earliest history of these markers remains a mystery.

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We had a plan. Our destinations were all within a few hundred metres of the Inn – two of them much closer. The above photos (taken during our recce trip in October) show how simple it should have been…

But…

What really happened, when we stepped out of the Lion Inn on that freezing December Sunday, was this:

Loose Howe stands about twenty metres taller than the Lion Inn. By the time we had climbed half that height the winds were making it difficult to walk forward. By the time we reached the mound itself, we had to huddle or grasp the stone to stay upright.

The expressions and body language are all the narrative needed. Photo by Gary Vasey
Loose Howe – moving safely was a two-person job! The intense wind was literally tearing at our clothes.

It was no better down behind the Inn at Cockpit Howe. If anything, it was worse. The wind was so strong that it was becoming dangerous.

Even strong figures like Gary struggled to stay upright…

By the time we got to the third site, a marker stone a hundred metres down the Blakey Ridge road, only a handful of us were still able stand against the ferocious winds. We knew when to give up.

Only four of us made the final leg along the Blakey Road to the last standing stone…

My success crossing the bog, earlier in the morning, seemed a long time ago…. The winter had won. Our only choice was to abandon the peak at Blakey Moor and escape down the mountain, earlier than planned… However, wildness has its attractions and no-one seemed unhappy with the experience!

But fate and circumstance have a habit of ringing the changes… and continuing to do so. We retreated to the warmth and safety of the cars and, once warm again, drove – slowly – down to Lastingham,

Where the magic was waiting…

To be continued…

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight This is Part Nine

To be continued…

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.

Keys of Heaven (7): the path to gentle darkness

The tiny fishing village of Staithes is a place of peaceful beauty. It lies part way between Whitby and Saltburn on the North Yorkshire coast. It’s geography is also one of the few breaks in the vast cliffs that define this region; and which are the main source of the famous Whitby Jet semi-precious stone.

(Above) Whitby Abbey to Staithes along the Cleveland Way. Image Google Maps

Staithes was our destination… and I was taking a calculated risk in order to give us a dramatic contrast to the morning. The visit to the Abbey – to recreate in our own minds the seismic events of AD664 – had been intense. At the conclusion of the synod, Bishop Colman had known that his world was over; that the new age of Christianity would follow the Roman church model. He took his followers and walked out of the Abbey, northwards.

(Above) Whitby Museum – full of ghosts…

We can never know the emotion that flowed between Bishop Colman, King Oswiu (who was, until that point, a Celtic Christian) and the two facilitators of the synod, Bishop Cedd and Abbess Hild, but we can know that it did exist, and that as wise and experienced a king as Oswiu would not have acted without being aware of the consequences – including the impact on the holy island of Lindisfarne…

Symbolically, the group of us walking against the keen winds on the cliffs beyond Port Mulgrave had as little a choice as had Bishop Colman, walking away from Whitby – but our predicament was brief – whereas his changed the rest of his life.

We had been dropped off a Mulgrave… our only refuge would be to get to Staithes. Our risk was not great. The weather has been kind: windy but not too cold. December on the high Cleveland Way can be very different…

(Above) The sun begins to set on the Cleveland Way, which follows the edge of the cliffs from Whitby, north to Saltburn

Development of the Cleveland Way began in the 1930s when the Teesside Ramblers’ Association pressed for the creation of a long distance path in the north-east of Yorkshire linking existing paths along the boundaries of the North York Moors and footpaths on the Yorkshire coast.

(Above) The Cleveland Way: over one hundred miles of wild beauty from Helmsley to Filey (source)

A formal proposal to create the route was submitted in 1953 to the council North Riding of Yorkshire, by the National Parks Commission. In 1969, the path was finally opened – only the second of its kind in the UK.

Our problem was not the cold. It was the light. The path was muddier than we had expected and progress towards Staithes was slow. At an open place where the views of the coast fell away on either side, we stopped for our final exercise of the day. Once again, we revisited the sequence of four words we had each selected at the opening meal. By now, we knew each ‘pointed’ to a process whereby we could bring to consciousness one related set of psychological obstacles to our spiritual growth. Mine was:

Flattery – Pride – Humility – Will

Facing the wind off the sea, we each voiced how our words could be seen as one of the keys of inner transformation.

With the light beginning to fade, we came down from the cliff path and onto the flat agricultural land that borders the upper village of Staithes.

(Above) The high cliffs from which we had descended to get to the fishing village of Staithes

Below us, the lights of Staithes were twinkling.

A ‘staithe’ is an old English word meaning ‘landing place’. The plural name “Staithes” of the fishing port is due to its twin ‘landing places’; one on each side of the stream that flows down from the moor and into the sea- named Roxy Beck.

(Above) Staithes’ twin ‘landing stages’.

Staithes was once one of the largest fishing ports on the north-east coast. It was also an important source of minerals such as jet, iron, alum and potash. These days, the huddle of cottages nestled between towering cliffs is an attractive holiday destination and lies within the North York Moors National Park.

The village is famous as a source of inspiration for artists, in particular the impressionist artist colony known as the Staithes Group, among them Laura and Harold Knight. The quality of light and the variety of perspectives offered by cliff-top views and winding paths have made Staithes a magnet for artists.

(Above) The timeless image of Staithes’ harbour front

The risk had been worth it. We arrived at our destination just as a gentle darkness fell. We had picked the Cod and Lobster tavern on the main quayside as a meeting point. Those who had been unable to make the walk met us there. After the intensity of the day, we needed simple refreshment. Tomorrow would be a challenging day.

(Above) The Cod and Lobster – our final destination for Saturday

To be continued…

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six This is Part Seven

Keys of Heaven (6): the greater force ~ Steve Tanham

The greater force... What did they know of it!

Anyone could see it in the fall of boulders in the mountains; in the crashing of the seas on the rocks, in the burning of the forests when the wildfires took hold; in the legends of the earth boiling and glowing when the ground ruptured…

But only a few could see it at work in the eyes of men… and some women, thought King Oswiu, looking across the chamber at Abbess Hild, seated across the square of the small, altar-like table in the chamber at the Abbey of Streanshalch, facing her fellow warrior of the mind – Bishop Cedd. King Oswiu had ordered that neither were allowed to take a side in the arguments that had raged all day in the chamber. That was Wilfrid and Colman’s role; but both had steered the course of that passion to bring it to this point of pregnant silence; silent but not finished…

Continue reading at Sun in Gemini

Keys to Heaven: Gluttony…

Image result for odin's cross

*

The Norse God, Odin, hangs over all.

His attendant wolves symbolise our lower self,

and both their names can be translated, ‘greed’, which leads us to glut…

*

For most people the plan is simple:

to experience all they can in sensations quest,

and this too can lead to a sort of glut…

*

One cannot have too much of a good thing, can one?

*

After breakfasting we meet at the Whalebone Arch,

and it is difficult not to wonder how

long it will be before our gluttony

as a species empties the oceans…

*

From here, framed within the jaw bones of the once great sea beast,

we can see the skeletal remains of Whitby Abbey,

where weighty decisions about the religious tenor

of our country were once made.

*

We, though, make our way back into town, and a Cafe…

and from there, eventually, up to the Abbey,

but not before crossing the swing bridge,

which simultaneously separates and joins the new town

from the old, and which, as we approach, is just about to swing…

*

For those with eyes to see the swing bridge has something to impart.

Black letters on a yellow board.

‘Krampus Run – Three-Thirty Pee Em!’

*

The ‘Krampus’, it turns out, is a sort of shadow

side to the European St Niklaus,

who instead of giving gifts to good children,

punishes those that have been bad!

An antidote to wanton gluttony, perhaps,

or a living, breathing, walking Baphomet?

Initially, there will be more than one of them,

 a whole parade full vying for the dubious crown.

*

We count the steps to the Abbey and breeze through

the Abbey gift shop where, historical, religious and fantasy

items all, peculiarly levelled, jostle for attention.

*

The once grandiose and resplendant Abbey interior,

now stands open to the elements…

Wind whistled bare,

was Odin a Lord of Air?

We try to feel St Cedd’s presence there,

but he is long gone.

*

As bitter grey clouds-of-cold skit in from the sea,

we perform the second run of our ‘ritual’,

before heading back down into town, for more food.

*

Image result for odin's cross

Keys to Heaven: Planning…

Image result for odin's cross

*

Baldrick, famously, hatches cunning plans which always back-fire.

*

Dick Dastardly, equally famously, hatches devious plans which always back-fire,

and he usually has to be saved from destruction by his pet dog, Muttley.

*

So, what is it that they are doing wrong?

The plans they hatch purport to deliver the best possible outcome

but from their own, limited perspective, alone.

*

But surely, having some form of plan

is better than having no plan at all?

The key may be in the phrase, ‘some form of plan’.

Meticulous planning to the ‘nth’ degree is destined to fail

if it leaves no space for spirit…

*

Before we convened on Runswick beach at dusk, for our

inaugural ‘ritual’, the first of four, we visited St Oswald’s Church in Lythe.

*

We had been to St Oswald’s before, one bitterly cold January day,

on our way back from our first stone inspired foray

into Scotland, which was now, almost five years ago…

*

Curiously, neither of us recognised the spire of the church,

even though we, were on the right road and, were

expecting it to be where it was.

*

St Oswald’s is famous for its ‘Ginger-Bread-Man’.

A depiction of the Norse God, Odin, swallowed by wolves

at Ragnarok, carved onto a Viking, Hog-Back, gravestone.

*

The image is justly iconic and we speculated on its relevance to one

of our themes for the weekend: Unity from Duality.

*

Were the wolves, swallowing, or regurgitating the Wide Wanderer?

And does it have to be wolves, in the well known fable it is a fox?

*

Alongside the display of old stones were photographs

of the old church with its old spire, which, almost impossibly

is how we had remembered the church even though it had

not looked like that for over one hundred years.

*

Image result for odin's cross

A date for the diary ~ Scotland with the Silent Eye, September 2020

On the trail of the Picts (plus optional Orkney extension)

North of Inverness, Scotland

11th – 13th September, 2020

The Picts were a mysterious race who settled in the north-east of Scotland and flourished between the 3rd and 8th centuries AD. They were a peaceful peoples who fished and farmed and created astonishing art. They suffered frequent Viking raids and their eventual disappearance may have been due to eradication or simply blending in with the broader Scottish tribes, as their culture dissipated.

Our weekend will examine their cultural and artistic legacy by following the established ‘Pictish Trail‘ created by Historic Scotland.

This part of Scotland is only a short distance from the north Scottish coast, from which ferries are available to Shetland and Orkney. A group of us will be continuing to Orkney for a few days. You are invited to join us as an extension to the Pictish Trail weekend, but this is optional.

We will be based in one of the small towns north of Inverness. More details will be published as we firm up the itinerary.

Contact us at Rivingtide@gmail.com for more details. Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

Rites of Passage: Light and shade

We walked through the village, watching the changing expressions of visitors as the full horror of the plague story hit home. From the mildly curious to the stark shock of those who aligned themselves with the  story for a moment, it was interesting to observe those who merely skimmed the history from an emotional distance and those for whom empathy made it personal. It is difficult to keep the story at bay if you open yourself to what people experienced, rather than seeing them just as characters on the page of history.

Central to the story of the villagers’ response to the plague in 1665 was the church, even though all services were soon moved to a nearby field to try and prevent the spread of the disease, and it was there that we were heading.

There has been a church in Eyam since before the records of its incumbents began. Its first recorded rector served here in 1250, though its story goes back much further.  In the churchyard stands an intricately carved ‘Celtic’ cross of Mercian design, dating back to the eighth century, preserving that mix of Pagan and Christian symbolism that typifies the style. The top part of the shaft is missing, broken long ago for use in domestic building, and we cannot help wondering what artwork and symbolism was lost.

Within the churchyard is the tomb of Catherine Mompesson, the Rector’s wife, who had stayed in the village when others left, to support her husband and his congregation. Her husband had wanted her to leave when they sent their children to Yorkshire for safety during the early days of the plague, but she had refused to go. Catherine was amongst the last to die during the outbreak, having contracted the disease whilst nursing those infected. You can only imagine how she and her husband must have felt as they faced these decisions. Catherine is buried close to her husband’s church. She was just twenty seven years old.

The current church of St Lawrence is a mainly fourteenth century building, yet traces of its earlier history are easy to find.

In this small church there is a feeling of living history, the continuity is caught and held here somewhere between the ancient burial urn, interred on the moor three and a half thousand years ago and the Saxon font that has seen the baptism of villagers for over a thousand years.

The font stands in St Helen’s chapel and close by a medieval grave slab bearing St Helen’s Cross is set into the wall.

All in all, it is one of those old churches that seems, on the face of it, to have everything we get excited about. It is obviously loved by its parishioners, is well cared-for and, from the children’s corner to the village notices around the church, still very much part of the community today. And yet, there is an oppressive atmosphere, felt by most of us, as if the ghost of sickness still clings to the place, not helped by the story of the plague displayed in the side chapel and the book listing the names of those who died; a place designed for spiritual inspiration given over to the memory of old death.

Wall paintings show the twelve tribes of Israel and a Memento Mori of grinning skeletons. But there are a number of beautiful stained glass windows, one of which commemorates Mompesson and his congregation, with vignettes telling their story, from the outbreak of the plague to the tragedy of Emmot Sydall and Rowland Torre, lovers who lived either side of the quarantine boundary.

Emmot, a young woman in her early twenties, lived in Eyam. Rowland lived in Stoney Middleton, a neighbouring village just a short walk away. They would meet every day, as young lovers do, and when the quarantine was imposed, their meetings continued, though they could only shout to each other from a distance.

John Sydall, Emmot’s father, lived with his family opposite the cottage where the plague had broken out. He and four of his children were amongst the first to die. In the spring of 1666, Emmot failed to come to the rendezvous with Rowland. He returned every day to the appointed spot, until the quarantine ended some months later. At the first opportunity, he walked into Eyam to seek for his love, only to be told that she had fallen ill and died in April. One sad story amongst so many…

The Mompesson window also contains a ring of roses, in reference to the nursery rhyme, long thought to be associated with the story of the plague. In some ways, it is ironic that the beauty and fragrance of roses should be forever joined in the folk record with such a horrific episode in human history. In others, regardless of the historicity of the attribution, it is a good reminder that apparent beauty may hide its thorns and its petals strew a path to despair, and yet, when we face the horror of our darkest fears, our choices may lift us to the Light.

In spite of its beauty, no-one felt like lingering in the church. There were still two more places we wanted to take our companions that afternoon… and, as we walked out into the sunshine, we were acutely aware that the next story we had to share could be harrowing…

Rites of Passage: The weight of history

It was a beautiful day, and our first port of call on the weekend workshop was the picturesque Derbyshire village of Eyam which nestles within the shelter or moorland hills. With its mellow stone, quaint cottages spanning centuries of architecture, a medieval church and the riotous colour of its cottage gardens, it should be the perfect place to spend a pleasant afternoon… but we had other ideas and Eyam is a village with a long history and a story to tell.

On the moors above Eyam are a number of barrows and ruined stone circles, almost lost beneath the heather and bracken, attesting to a living presence in this area since before recorded history. With views across to Higger Tor and Carl Wark, which we had visted on a previous workshop, there is little doubt that these sites were linked to the wider landscape, both mundane and sacred.

The Romans mined lead beneath the spot that grew into a village and many caverns and mines are still being explored by cavers… with names like Merlin Mine and Carlwark Cavern adding to the sense of mystery.

The village of Eyam, though, was founded by the Anglo-Saxons, who called it Aium, which comes from the Old English word for ‘island’. It was to become a prophetic name, as Eyam is best known for its role and reaction to the outbreak of bubonic plague that struck the village in 1665.

Bales of flea-infested cloth are thought to have brought the disease to the village; the tailor, Alexander Hadfield, had ordered materials from plague-ridden London, where, by August of that year, ten thousand people a week were dying of the plague, according to the St Paul’s Broadsheet…which also contained adverts for astrologers, coffins and dubious remedies.

A previous outbreak of bubonic plague during the fourteenth century, known as the Black Death, is estimated to have killed around a hundred million people worldwide. The disease, untreatable in the days before antibiotics, was justly feared and almost all who caught it died a swift and painful death.

Extract from St Paul’s Broadsheet, August 1665

The bale of cloth from London was opened by Hadfield’s assistant, George Viccars, who took ill and quickly died, followed by his stepsons and Hadfield himself. The disease spread rapidly, claiming seventy-eight lives in one month alone. Figures vary widely, but it is certain that between a third and three quarters of the villagers died. To a village of just a few hundred souls, this was a shocking loss.

Not all who came into close contact with the disease contracted it. This may be due to a genetic anomaly, still present in villagers today, that renders them immune to the plague. Helen Jones, who was with us on the weekend, pointed us in the direction of new research that suggests the mutant gene, known as Delta 32, increases the body’s immune system and may yet prove to be effective against AIDS and other virulent diseases.

But back in 1665, such glimmers of hope were few and far between. Measures were taken to try and limit the spread of the plague and it is these measures that have earned the village a place in history. Villagers buried their own dead. All church services and gatherings were moved to a field, Cucklett Delph, so that no-one needed to come into close contact with each other, yet the life of the community could continue, at some level at least.

The village, at the urging of Rev. William Mompesson and his predecessor, the Rev. Thomas Stanley, then placed itself under strict quarantine to contain the infection. The Earl of Devonshire, lord of Chatsworth, along with other local notables, ensured the village was supplied with the necessities of survival. Goods were left at the boundary stones and wells, some of which still survive, and still have the depressions that were filled with vinegar to sterilise coins left in payment.

In the early days of the infection, before the quarantine was self-imposed, many who had the means to do so had left the village. Rev. Mompesson and his wife, Catherine, chose to stay, offering what comfort, succour and guidance they could. Catherine was amongst the last to die during the outbreak and is buried outside the church.

The decisions taken by the villagers saved many neighbouring villages from the horror of the plague but we wanted to explore how they must have felt as they cut themselves off from the outside world and watched their loved ones sicken and die, one after the other, never knowing who would be next.

Even today, with the tourist focus on Eyam’s history, a heavy pall of darkness seems to cling to the village. As is so often the case with human tragedy, the outer appearance masks a deeper pain. Walking the pretty street towards the church, we all felt the weight of sorrow… a kind of psychic uncleanliness that modern interest is helping to perpetuate as so many hearts and minds relive the horror felt by parents who watched their children die a horrible death, couples who imagine the death of a partner and children the loss of their parents.

It does no good to bury your head in the sand when disaster strikes, nor does it help to deny or ignore tragedies of the past… such things are part of who we are and will become. But to dwell upon them, constantly reliving them and reanimating the associated emotions, keeps the past all too present.

Such grief, fear and hopelessness … and yet, somehow, when the plague had struck, the villagers of Eyam had found a way to turn from their own despair and had chosen to serve a greater good, protecting the people of their land from the horror that was to decimate their own village. Perhaps this tragic episode in history had something to teach about how we could transmute our own fears?