Keys of Heaven (10): A Final Resting Place

continued from Part 9

The village of Lastingham, of the southern edge of the North York Moors, was a fitting place to end our weekend – both for its mysterious wells and also on the basis that the crypt of St Mary’s Church marks the final resting place of St Cedd. Following the fateful Synod of Whitby in AD 664, Bishop Cedd returned to his beloved Lastingham, the place where he had founded his originally monastery; but tragically caught the plague and died, bequeathing the care of Lastingham to his brother, Bishop Chad – later St Chad. Chad became bishop of Lichfield shortly thereafter and had to manage his brother’s bequest from afar.

(Above: St Mary’s Church, Lastingham, in all its simple beauty…)

We have to wonder at the irony and sadness of this: first to lose (in the service of his king, Oswiu) the Celtic Christian tradition in which he had been raised since a boy; then to lose his life in one final visit to his beloved Lastingham.

Cedd was buried here, and the place of his burial in AD664 became the ground on which all the layers of the present church were constructed.

(Above: The unusual semi-circular apse of St Mary’s church contains the entire history of the building and its ancient foundations)

St Mary’s church attracts visitors from all over the world. Christian and non-Christian ‘pilgrims’ are welcomed here in a warm spirit of spiritual openness. Though not formally a Christian, I am entirely happy with the scriptural idea of Christ as the ideal and perfected ‘inner man’. I am at home in most temples of the spirit, but seldom have I felt the kind of harmonic energies that are present in St Mary’s.

There is, in the words of one of our companions of the weekend ‘Something very special here…’ And you can feel its presence in the air around you.

(Above: Ancient Celtic designs in the crypt)

The original monastery was wooden, and nothing remains of it. But the present church of St Mary’s is built upon its site, and specifically, upon the original crypt that was constructed over the location of St Cedd’s grave two hundred years after his death. This region (of what was then Northumbria) was a wild place, and lawless – possibly one reason why Cedd devoted so much of his time establishing the original monastery as a spiritual refuge for the local people and their hard lives.

(Above: St Mary’s extraordinary crypt)

After the Synod of 664, the seat of religious power moved south from Lindisfarne to York, though Whitby survived for a while, in the form of the influential Abbey whose abbecy passed from Hild to Eanflæd, the wife of King Oswiu, upon his death. A royal princess and later queen to Oswiu, she brought grace and dedication to the abbey in the town that would later become Whitby.

(Above: the Benedictine Abbey at Whitby)

But, the age of the Vikings was upon the land and the northern Saxon kingdoms were eventually overrun. Little is known of life here during that period and the former monastery was left to decay.

Over four hundred years later, in 1078, Stephen, abbot of the recently rebuilt monastery at Whitby, obtained permission from no less a person than William the Conqueror to take a team of skilled monks to restore the monastery at Lastingham as a Benedictine house.

Stephen designed the crypt we see today and built it over the place where Cedd had been buried. Above this crypt he began to build a new abbey church, but work was abandoned in 1088 when Stephen and his monks moved from Whitby to the all-powerful York; there to build St Mary’s Abbey… This may have been due to the increasing lawlessness of life within the hills making things impossible for the monks.

The Lastingham Crypt deserves a post in itself, but our story of the Keys of Heaven weekend (now ten posts) has to be brought to a close.

There was a communion service on that Sunday morning. We took care to arrive after it had finished, but I hoped we would be able to meet one or two of the local team. Historic places are fascinating, but the ‘now’ contains some miracles, too. As we pushed open the heavy oak door, one of the church wardens greeted us and we were welcomed into the ‘coffee area’ of the church and urged to join the larger than expected residual group of parishioners.

(Above: The main floor of St Mary’s interior – above the crypt, but the shape of the apse walls reveals the upwards continuity of the structure)

This was my third visit to St Mary’s. The main floor of the building is special in its own right, but I knew the ‘attracting power’ of what lay beneath. Most of our companions drank their coffees then melted quietly away down the stone staircase and into the crypt. But, by that time, as leader of our group, I had not only been given ample coffee and biscuits, but introduced to a cleric in a splendid set of robes… somewhat grander than I had expected for a small village.

Bishop Godfrey is well known throughout the North York area. He has served the Christian cause all his life and is now part-retired with a special attachment to Lastingham; a place in which he feels very much at home. He asked about our group and I was honest about our affiliations and goals. He seemed delighted with our attempts at local scholarship and offered to solve my one remaining problem of the weekend…

(Above: the kindly Bishop Godfrey with Briony, one of our companions of the weekend)

Ten minutes later, happy to pose for a photo as long as someone else was in it, Bishop Godfrey waved us with his blessing down into Lastingham’s very special crypt – the final resting place of St Cedd. As I walked down the stone steps I couldn’t help but feel just a little ‘blessed’ as we finally entered the place where the mortal remains of another very special bishop were interred.

(Above: a peaceful figure in meditation…)

Most of the group had already found their bearings, and were quietly exploring the beautiful crypt. But, one figure sat in the middle of a stone pew locked in total inner and outer silence. His back was to us, and he later described how the crypt had both embraced and entranced him… exactly the effect it had always had on me.

(Above: the vaults of the crypt are filled with priceless history)

The meeting with Bishop Godfrey had made me late into the crypt and we had two important things to do. With an inner certainty, I knew that this visit was for my companions. I had done my part in bringing them here and the magical place was doing the rest. Snapping a few photographs to supplement the ones I had taken in October, I sat quietly, giving thanks that the weekend had gone well; and that we had largely achieved what we set out to do.

(Above: just across from the church – the Blacksmiths Arms)

I could see that the group were tired and in need of some lunch. Across the road from the church is the Blacksmith’s Arms, a lovely and traditional Yorkshire pub with a fine Sunday lunch menu. There are no ‘facilities’ in St Mary’s church, but Bishop Godfrey and the landlord have reached an amicable agreement. The pub displays a sign saying that those attending or visiting the church may use the pub toilets but are asked to leave a donation towards the upkeep of the church. The bishop had smiled as he told us of the monthly cheque the landlord brought him…

The lunch was wonderful… An hour later, with the afternoon upon us and time running out, we set out on the last trek – a last walk around the village to visit Lastingham’s celebrated wells.

(Above: the first well is on private property)

Space does not permit too much description, but, briefly, there are four of them. Two are set into the walls of local properties and one is in the garden of a private house near the church. None of these are currently flowing… but the fourth one – St Mary Magdelene’s well – is. The problem is that it’s well outside the village and very hard to locate. On our recce trip in October, Bernie and I had failed to discover its location, despite directions from the Blacksmith Pub’s landlord.

(Above: St Cedd’s well)

But now I was miraculously equipped with the more precise instructions from Bishop Godfrey and I could feel the ‘cogs of happenstance’ aligning.

(Above: St Cadmon’s well)

I explained to our companions that we had the chance to discover St Mary’s well in a very real way. We drove to a where the place where I had given up looking in October and I pointed out the sloping bank to which Bishop Godfrey had directed us.

(Above: Finally found! St Mary Magdalene’s well)

Within seconds, Gary – the figure in a peaceful trance in the crypt – had found it…

We stood around it in an arc and I explained the final purpose of the small empty jars given out to everyone on our opening trip to the beach, so long ago on the late Friday afternoon.

St Mary’s well is a small arch of stonework set into a stream-filled bank that leads down to the small river that flows through Lastingham. And now, as the only person with wellingtons, I needed to fill each of the jars. The only way to do it was to stretch my legs over the small valley of the spring and lean towards the stone arch, reaching down (thank you, Pilates) to fill each jar. I could hear the mental bets being taken that I would end up in the water, but reached the last jar still vertical, albeit locked into the muddy banks on either side…

(Now to try to fill the small jars…)

A set of friendly hands were outstretched in case I lost my footing, but, with one last push and the weekend’s second sound of a mired boot breaking free, I managed to reunite my legs and scramble away from the water and mud. Everyone now had a Christmas candle and a small jar of very rare St Mary’s well water to take away.

Moments later, with jars tucked safely into travel bags, we hugged and said our goodbyes. The Keys of Heaven workshop was over; and it had been a success. In silence, I drove back to Runswick Bay to collect Bernie for our promised beach walk for Tess and our extra night in the location to unwind.

Later, we would walk through the darkness to the Cod and Lobster and reflect on the weekend. But that is where our story began…

End of Series

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine This is Part Ten, the final part.

©Stephen Tanham

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 (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 (8): crosses at heaven’s gate ~ Steve Tanham

Reblogged from Sun in Gemini:

The traveller’s ancient friend: Young Ralph’s Cross

It’s seventeen miles long and crosses the ‘roof of the world’ in the heart of the North York Moors. You’d think twice about going there once the autumn has given way to winter. Local photos show the many times that groups of people have been stranded on the long line of its peak. In one case, in December 2010, a group of seven (two customers and five staff) were snowed in for eight days at the nearby Lion Inn that straddles the highest point on the road – a route known simply and famously as Blakey Ridge.

Continue reading at Sun in Gemini

Whitby Weekend: Lastingham’s Holy Wells

The weekend was almost over, but before we reached a parting of the ways, there was lunch in the seventeenth century Blacksmith’s Arms opposite the church and a wander around the village of Lastingham to visit the holy wells.

The first well, St Ovin’s Well, we did not see. It is tucked away on the road that leads towards Pickering and all that remains is the eighteenth century well housing… neither spout not basin have survived. The well’s origins, however, are much older… as are those of the other wells in the village. St Ovin was a Fenland Bailiff of Queen Eltherdreda who turned his back on the life of the nobility to serve his God with his hands. Perhaps that is a true nobility after all.

St Ovin’s Well, Lastingham, ©hiddenteesdale.co.uk

The next well is dedicated to St Chad, brother of St Cedd and Bishop of Lichfield. The well housing sits beside the road and, Steve told us, used to flow until very recently when the owners of the property found out they were being charged for the water. There is a legend that says the remorseful Mercian king, Wulfhere, converted to Christianity, acceding to the wishes of his wife, Queen Ermenilda, after punishing his sons for worshipping at the well… though there is no guarantee it was this St Chad’s Well and the story may be linked to the well of the same name at Lichfield.

The grandest of the wells sits beside Hole Beck and is dedicated to St Cedd himself. It is believed that some of the stones may have come from nearby Rosedale Abbey. Like the other wells, the origins of this holy well is far older than its current appearance would suggest.

The most interesting of the Holy Wells, however, lies just outside the village and issues from a grassy bank. The well is dedicated to Mary Magdalene… and there was once a chapel to that Lady in a nearby village. A spring of clear water issues from the well to be collected in a stone basin sunk into the earth and surrounded by water mint. When it was cleared and excavated in the ‘sixties, fragments of medieval and Saxon or Roman pottery were found, suggesting the well has been in use for at least fifteen hundred years and very possibly longer. There were ribbons left as offerings when we visited and this well in particular has the feel of a sacred place… though to what god may be open to debate. Local legend says it is haunted by a white Lady… The Holy Wells that now bear the names and legends of the saints have, very often, an allegiance to the spirits of earth and water that predate the Christian story.

Here we filled the empty vessels we had carried throughout the weekend with the pure water of the spring. It was the final act of the Silent Eye weekend… though, for some of us, there was still a little time to share. With hugs all round and thanks to Steve for organising the weekend, we went our separate ways… knowing that it may not be too long before we meet again.

Like a Heartbeat ~ G. Michael Vasey

Gary shares a moment from the recent workshop:

This weekend, I attended the Silent Eye Keys of Heaven weekend workshop in the Whitby area of Yorkshire. Of this much more later…..

However, the penultimate stop of the weekend was the church in Lastingham and a visit to its beautiful crypt. The remains of St. Cedd are supposed to be buried just to the right of the altar under the small church and there are a number of old carved stones to view.

On approaching the church, I could feel it. Energy! Once inside the church, I could feel it pulsating strongly and I remarked to one of my colleagues – it’s like a heartbeat! Down inside the crypt, the heartbeat was strong and regular. To sit there and silently experience the energy pulsating was I think possibly the highlight of the weekend – possibly along with the Sticky Toffee Pudding with masses of custard I had experienced the evening before….or perhaps the dance of the Foxes in Whitby. These weekends often have many highlights and magical – WOW moments that I genuinely believe are magical that spontaneously happen when a group of like-minded souls get together.

Continue reading at The Magical World of G. Michael Vasey