St Just…

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Not only did our last hotel

fail to provide any windows, to speak of, in our room,

  it also failed to provide us with a breakfast…

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Which is just as well, really,

for we were up, and off, and away

long before breakfast would ordinarily

ever have been dreamed of…

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However, by nine bells one might be forgiven

for expecting the local sea-front eateries to be offering

something in the way of refreshment?

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Not so!

So, we headed for St Just…

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How to disguise your sacred monument…

 

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Firstly, cover it with the Dragon’s Breath…

Secondly, consign it to a relatively late historical period…

Thirdly, invent for it a plausible name…

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“What is a miracle play, anyway?”

“It’s a medieval drama based on episodes from the life of a saint.”

“What, like St Just?”

“Yes, just like St Just, Hermit and Martyr.” …

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“And what did St Just do?”

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“Well, apart from displaying his true colours,

and confirming the link between the stonework

of ancient and less ancient sacred sites,

he also reminded us why we’re here.”

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“That’s the church of St Just, what did the real St Just do?”

“Oh, pretty much the same sort of thing, I expect.” …

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A Sacred and Profane Memoir

 by Alfred John Prufrock

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Note on Celtic Saints:

These ancient savants seem of an entirely different cast to their Roman Catholic successors.

Like the Bards of old they travel the land far and wide, taking their entourage with them, seeming reluctant to ever settle…

St Samson, though born in Wales of ‘royal stock’, enjoys legendary status on Caldey, in Ireland, Cornwall and Brittany!

These places are all centres of stone.

The official hagiographies of the saints often seek to conceal much more than they reveal.

One charming account has both Samson and Arthur, as children, playing together in their eponymous Dolmen.

The notion of St Samson as Itinerant Pendragon is greatly appealing.

 

Excerpt from Kith ‘n’ Kin by Stuart France and Sue Vincent…

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Lands of Exile:

KITH ‘N’ KIN

Stuart France & Sue Vincent

The Beeley Stone, ‘liberated’ from the churchyard at Bakewell, stands proudly in the centre of its village green once more. While the locals enjoy the fruits of its restoration, Ben, who had led the daring raid against authority, still languishes in jail.

Don and Wen, arrested and released without explanation in Ireland, now plot an erratic course through the wild places of Wales, while Jaw-Dark and Kraas, seeking the legendary stone of Fergus Mac Roy, have been separated in the most uncanny of circumstances…

As the darkness closes around them, the Black Shade haunts the moors above Beeley and, in the shadowy rooms of the old tower, an ancient and even stranger story begins to unfold…

Available via Amazon UK, Amazon.com and worldwide, for Kindle and in full colour illustrated paperback

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‘The Book of Assassinations’

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We were determined not to get wet, so we went to Chesterfield, on the general principle that there would be both indoor parking and a cathedral big enough to keep us both dry and occupied for some time. We got those points right… but we failed miserably in the staying dry department as the heavens open and the chill, northern rain pelted down. As my companion made a judicious dive for the porch, I found a convenient tree under which to shelter the camera and get some shots of the famous crooked spire.

sheffield chesterfield hare 004The church dates to the 13th Century and the tower was added in around 1362. The tower is twisted by 45 degrees and leans 9’ 6” from true centre. Several local legends tell how it became so contorted, many have to do with the Devil and the purported virginity of brides. Wikipedia says : “One well established legend goes that a virgin once married in the church, and the church was so surprised that the spire turned around to look at the bride, and continues that if another virgin marries in the church, the spire will return to true again; with only 3 weddings in 2010 in the church it seems that this legend understandably discourages marriages at the church. Another legend is that a Bolsover blacksmith mis-shoed the Devil, who leaped over the spire in pain, knocking it out of shape.” There are others, and it is well worth looking some of them up.

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I didn’t linger too long under my tree. It was raining quite heavily and my feet were already squelching in the little slippers I habitually wear for some strange and unfathomable reason. You would think I would have learned by now… Even the pigeons had given up and had taken shelter where they could, so I too followed their example.

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For all the church has been embellished over the centuries, being the foremost building in the area, it still retains its atmosphere of calm peace, and every nook and cranny inside hides symbols and artistic treasures, bits of history and the evidence of the faith of hundreds of years.

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The Lady Chapel, as so often for me, had the most attraction, and a curious Revelations window in the north chapel too had us thinking. There is an eclectic mixture of styles here, from a dreadful neon cross to lovely sculpture with an African feel, from medieval marble tombs to a modern St Francis window full of gentleness.

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The place was full of visitors, though, and that always ends up with me documenting as much as I can with the camera while my companion wanders in search of his own inspiration… we then adjourn, usually to a local pub, and compare notes; knowing we have enough to go on in order to make a decision about coming back on a quieter day. It is these subsequent visits where you begin to really get to know a place, both by its details and by its feel.

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Today was no exception, but, unfortunately for us there was a bookshop and we became a tad sidetracked as we delved through the shelves, exiting with what rapidly became known as the Book of Assassinations as we trawled its pages under an awning while the rain still fell.

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It is odd, of course, we think we are going to places for our own purposes, but so often, if you are open and ready to go where you are led, you end up finding far more than you had envisioned. We had gone to see a cathedral, but came away with a couple of years of speculative thought confirmed by the well-thumbed pages of a dog-eared book. Not a bad way to spend a rainy Saturday in Chesterfield.

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Dans Maen…

Cornwall Recce, 2018…

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This kind of weather

adds to the atmosphere of these places,

and makes the sun big…

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The Merry Maidens stone circle

is another of those with an attendant legend…

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  Which posits the stones as people

petrified for dancing, or making merry, on the Sabbath,

and which, ‘sort of makes one want to dance here’…

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It is, perhaps, natural to speculate

on the original inhabitant of our next site…

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Given its proximity to Dans Maen,

a short walk away,

and to the road, which would have been a track,

but a few feet…

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It is tempting to ascribe it a hermit’s tomb…

Our notions of that venerable occupation,

today, differ somewhat from the undoubted

reality of the situation…

It is difficult for us to imagine him or her dancing.

 

 

Sidetracked to breakfast

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The Haystack seems a misnomer for the huge rock that sits beside the path that leads towards Backstone Beck and looks down to the Cow and Calf. It is a very special rock. Between archaeology, myth and the stories woven by my grandfather, it has a very unique life for me. It is an altar, a place of ancient sanctity as sacred as any other.

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It stands at the edge of the Green Crag cairn-fields… a place of the dead from a time when the dead were honoured; their presence sought, their wisdom valued, and their place in the Otherworld perhaps not so far removed from the hearths of the living. This huge, altar shaped boulder, covered in carvings stands at the entrance to the necropolis which extends across Green Crag and beyond.

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My grandfather showed me how to pace out the two circles of small, almost buried boulders that surround the stone and told me that this was a place of sacrifice where the groove in the rock carried the blood out to the edge of the moor. In spring you can faintly see a strip of lighter green… Of course, the lurid tale delighted the child I was, sending those delicious shivers down my spine, yet I never saw a problem with sacrifice in essence, only in the bloody practice. It always seemed to me as if they had the right idea, but had misinterpreted the deeper meaning and the death need not be physical. Then, you see, I was an odd child, I suppose, with an even odder upbringing.

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These days, I still delight in sharing that tale, although the circles may now be officially classed as prehistoric walling dividing, perhaps, the realms of life and death. I feel that this may have been an altar upon which the dead rested on their journey to the cairns to be brought to birth in the Otherworld. Perhaps the carvings map the heavens or the journey through the veil to that Land of the Dead… perhaps they map the moor itself… We do not know. My grandfather told me the figure carved there was the sun god… perhaps he was right. Or perhaps it is simply a man… or a woman, a goddess, about to give birth… Or maybe it is something we cannot know. It doesn’t matter. It matters only that it shapes our thoughts and fires the imagination as it points across to the Pancake Rock.

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This stone too is covered with faded carvings. It juts out from the edge of the moor with the necropolis behind it. From one angle it looks like a hawk poised for flight, but most of the time it is the profile of a face, the flat rocking stone on the top his hair, or his hat. It is said that only an honest man can move the rocking stone. It is also said, with a certain amount of local pride, that no Yorkshireman ever has… Some say it is the face of a druid, some that of a god; I was told it is Giant Rombald who sleeps there… he for whom the moor is named… guarding the sleep of the dead. These are the legends and stories of my childhood, and these are the tales I wove into the adventure in Swords of Destiny. So much more could have been written… maybe one day I will, before the old tales are lost.

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We walked down to the beck, drinking first, then washing the peat stains from feet and my shoes… which, made of soft fabric, we already soaked and could dry on my feet. The menfolk were hungry and ready for breakfast by this time. We had been out for around five hours and it was only about nine in the morning. I, however, wanted to show them a hidden place, Rocky Valley, where the great stones cling to the crags like monumental totems. “We’ll never get her down…” I heard the mutter of despair, but set off up the track. They waited a while as I climbed the ridge that separates the valley from the little wood where another godlike creature is carved in a stone, and where memory lay in ashes for me. They joined me in silent companionship and we looked across the beauty of the moor.

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Retracing our steps we crossed the beck a final time. I showed them the little waterfalls and the pools where I had played as a child, where my sons had dammed the stream and where my memories were all of laughter. Then we passed once more through the heather and headed down for breakfast.

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Citadel of the Sun…

Cornwall Recce 2018…

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‘There is a certain atmosphere about the place,

an echo of a life that is hidden deep in the recesses of the mind.’

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If our hotel room had any windows we would be able to see St Michael’s Mount, but the tide is at present unfavourable and we will not be able to get there until after-noon.

With more than a goodly number of sites to go at, many of them close to major routes, we are not expecting our morning to be idle…

“Brown Sign!”

The Green Goddess lurched violently as she swung around the almost impossible corner, before her steady growl returned, and then a roar of satisfaction as she contemplated yet another ‘worm-hole’ through the space-time continuum…

“What is Carn Euny anyway?”

“It’s a prehistoric village.”

For the first time that day the mist which had descended with our arrival began to show signs of lifting.

And beyond it, the sun…

It was hard to believe that anyone else could have found the place but in amongst the well positioned stones and wild grasses, a lone baseball cap bobbed.

Patience can be key but when patience fails a well turned chant usually does the trick.

We did have a date with the tides to consider, after-all…

“And the Fogou?”

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“Is up for grabs.”

“Grain storage?”

Snort

“Last line of defence?”

Snort again.

“I’d say this was a sweat lodge.

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Bring in hot stones. Pour on water…”

“…And journey to the Spirit World.”

“It still retains its air of sanctity.”

And just as we started to chant the sun shone in…

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… We had been at the mercy of the tides before.

At Lindisfarne we were stranded on the ‘island’ for eight hours.

This time we were ‘stranded’ on the mainland…

There is something about cause-wayed isles that speaks to the soul.

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We wonder why anyone would choose to sail over.

Our fellow ‘pilgrims’ have, for the most part, dressed for the sun and they set off over the causeway before the tide has fully receded.

They appear largely unaware of the ‘why’ of their presence there. So we watch the birds instead. And they explain to us how the ‘line’ does not pass through the castle…

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Friday morning – an early start

Sue’s recollections of the second April workshop…

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The little village of Great Hucklow nestles quietly in the Derbyshire Dales, tucked away from any main roads under the sheltering ridge. It is a beautiful place where, you might think, little ever happens. You would, of course, be wrong. In every village, every town, and city, dramas are played out daily; lives begin and end, emotions reach the heights of joy or plumb the depths of despair and fear. There is surprise and laughter, meetings and partings… Every human emotion will have been written in the warm golden stone or walked amid the celandines and daisies.

land of the exiles 029Drama was about to unfold here too. There was, however, a difference on that Friday morning as two excited travellers parked the silver bullet, piled high with bags, boxes and shimmering silks, outside an ancient inn. We knew what was going to happen. Well… partly, at least.

land of the exiles 006We hadn’t predicted, for example, that by half past nine we would be hugging the first of our Companions for the weekend, yet Dominic was already seated outside the pub in the sunshine writing postcards and it was wonderful to meet his eyes and feel the warmth of his smile once again. He had been there for the birth of the School and it wouldn’t have felt right to have anyone else in his role. He was the first of the many friends we were to hug in welcome, as people arrived through the day from Ireland and the Netherlands, from Scotland, Wales and the farthest extremes of England… even from America… all converging on this tiny village that has become very special to the Silent Eye. It is amazing and wonderful that people come so far for these events.

land of the exiles 008Many would be joining us for the weekend… school members, friends, people with whom we have studied in other School; some who walk their own path, some with whom we have shared part of the journey. We all carry the same light, though the lanterns may be different and each illuminates the path in a unique way, adding to the Light we share. A drama would unfold… a ritual drama, carefully crafted to tell the story of the human condition and the search for spiritual growth, allowing the participants to experience the story through imagination, action and emotion, for experience leads to knowledge, and beyond that towards understanding.

land of the exiles 010But first, we had work to do. We had already been high up on the ridge… a sort of tradition. I’ve done it every year… placing myself in the landscape that enfolds us so beautifully. This may be only the second workshop for our own School, but the Nightingale Centre has hosted many others which Steve, Stuart and I have been part of over the years. It has a feeling of coming home… a familiar warmth and comfort and we know the Companions will be well looked after… and even better fed. It is also a bit of a tradition to use the hillside for one of the rituals and this year was no exception, so we had something planned and needed to check out the ground… and a nearby thorn tree.

land of the exiles 026The hillside was ablaze with celandines and daisies in the sunlight… a carpet of gold and white stars. If we could just have this weather the next morning! Last year the celandines had been encased in frost… this year the weather was beautiful on Friday and we had high hopes.

land of the exiles 028By the time we came down from the hillside the pub where we were to meet some of the early arrivals for lunch was about to open. We had time to take a deep breath… and raise a glass… and then there were hugs as old friends arrived, new ones were introduced and a hat essayed by our very own Steve. We started as we hoped to finish… in sunshine, warmth and laughter. It was a good beginning.

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