A game of three halves (3 of 3)

 

Continued from Part Two

So, this one day, considered in all its facets, resolves itself into a journey, a destination and an arrival – an arrival at a meeting with a French relative we have never met, and whose unlikely presence, here in the north-west corner of Wales, completes a cycle of mystery and loss lasting ninety-three years…

As we journey along the spine of Anglesey, to meet her by the Red Tower in the university town of Bangor, Juliette is waiting, over a coffee, in a place where she will be able to see us walking up the main street.

The car journey, fortified by all the strange connections, becomes an arrow; an arrow that completes…

The island of Middle Mouse seen from the cliffs above St Patrick’s church

On the road across the island, we talk of the wonderful good luck of finding the local guide cum historian in the church of St Patrick at Llanbadrig Head; of his smile when he had told us that, usually, he attends on only two afternoons a week, but this morning, he felt he should be there… Wonderful story teller that he is, he had walked us to the cliff edge to see the island of Middle Mouse,  to point at the dark rock and bring to life St Patrick’s escape from the storm that wrecked his ship. He had told us of the deadly cliffs, below, and that we were standing right over the cave that gave sanctuary to the swimmer on the dawn as Patrick escaped from his isolated rock and made the relative safety of the shore, with its protective cave with the freshwater spring.

And then how he had taken us back into the church, the remarkable church rebuilt by Lord Stanley, the man who had fallen in love with an Islamic lady and been so ‘opened’ to the love in his soul that he had converted to Islam and devoted his time to ‘good works’, including the reconstruction of the remarkable St Patrick’s Church.

On hearing that, a shiver ran up my spine. What, I had asked myself, as our guided tour unfolded, did any of the history of St Patrick’s Church have to do with the fact that, on this day, we were due to close the gap between two parts of a family lost to each other for nearly a hundred years? Suddenly, in the guise of Lord Stanley – Adbul Rahman as he became, in his new spiritual tradition, there was a symbol of a man who loved a woman so deeply that he gave up his ‘home’ – physical or spiritual, for her.

Stephen, my great-uncle and Adrienne, his wife

My grandmother’s eldest brother, Stephen, had done that, too. He came through the war unscathed, and, while still in France, married Adrienne, the woman he loved. Then he brought her back to England and the northern working-class town of Bolton, where their first child, Madeleine, was born. We do not know what happened after that; only that the three of them returned to France within two years. Stephen, later known in the family as ‘The Englishman’, went to work in the family’s bakery business and, subsequently, ran a successful Tabac near Calais.

Elizabeth, my paternal grandmother, never saw him, again… Was there bad feeling, that the Bolton family had lost their eldest son to a French girl? Maria, Stephen’s mother, was said to be a strong personality, even refusing to have her photograph taken because it might ‘steal her soul’. Perhaps she and Adrienne, Stephen’s new wife, fought. More likely is that her lack of spoken English may have created great hardship and homesickness for her – especially with a young child. My aunt Mary, Stephen’s niece and still alive in her nineties, remembers Adrienne ‘being very quiet; she just sat there and said nothing…’

Adrienne in the family Tabac and coffee shop

Whatever the reason, on returning to Calais, the family links seem to have fallen away… and were lost, eventually, to the knowledge of their English cousins and their children. They stayed that way for nearly a hundred years.

As a teenager, I remember my grandmother telling me the story of her eldest brother, and crying at the sadness of never having seen him again after his return to France. Other than the ancestral records and the fact that I, too, am called Stephen, I have little presence in her, or great uncle’s Stephen’s story… but the memory of her tears is very real and painful, and gives me a point of historical reality that suddenly becomes very raw, like a wound that needs healing.

Perhaps this is why we are here… on this day; to make good that gap in love. And, as Stuart would say, names are important; and mine is Stephen.

Stephen and Adrienne’s four children. The boy is Etienne – French for Stephen

In the car, we review what we know: Stephen and Adrienne had four children. Etienne (Stephen in French) was their third, and is still alive, though in his nineties. His wife is Mado (Madeleine) who began her earnest search for their long-lost English family over a decade ago. It was Mado’s message that Bernie, my wife, found on the Ancestry website while she was conducting a parallel search.

One of their children is Christophe, who is a Green politician in Calais. His daughter is Juliette, the Erasmus Language Scholar, studying at Bangor University, who waits for us in Bangor, near the red tower.

We arrive with five minutes to spare. We walk from the car park in near silence. The events of the morning have been overwhelming on so many levels. I feel as though a great weight rests on our shoulders as we complete the physical act of climbing the hill to the Red Tower. I speak a little French, though it is rusty. Perhaps I need not worry; she is a languages scholar, after all…

Juliette has finished her coffee. She sits on a bench by the Red Tower, rising to her feet and smiling, as we approach…

 

‘We found him, Grandma, and this woman is his great-granddaughter…’

Epilogue

I could have written: ‘we discovered that a long-lost branch of the family was alive and well in France. A younger member of that family is studying in Bangor, Wales. We happened to be on a short break, nearby, that weekend, so we arranged to meet up with her.’

But where would the fun have been in that? Moreover, where would the truth have been in that?

Any spiritual path, including that of the Silent Eye, requires that we examine the whole of our life, in detail, as it happens. We observe and let unfold; we do not judge – we simply let happen so that it may reveal its real nature.

This has been the story of that day’s unfolding. Everything in the three parts of this story is the truth, told as it happened.

Juliette and her grandmother, Mado – the originator of the French side of the search

Other parts of this series of posts

Part One; Part Two

…………..

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost, supervised correspondence courses. His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©️Stephen Tanham

 

 

A game of three halves (2)

 

It is, still, all of it, only one day…

Though now the winds that buffeted the bed-and-breakfast farmhouse have abated. I look at my watch. We have two hours to go before we need to leave to drive across Anglesey to meet a young woman named Juliette, who holds the key to this entire story. She will be waiting, at noon, by the red tower in the centre of Bangor – the nearest town on the other side of the beautiful but deadly Menai Straits.

We have time, we decide. Time to visit the isolated and mysterious St Patrick’s Church on the rugged cliffs to the east of Cemaes Bay. Prior to this trip, we hadn’t heard of it. Now, after hearing local accounts of its history, we can’t wait to visit…

After a couple of false starts, we correctly interpret the hand-drawn map, donated at breakfast, and make our way from the main Holyhead road along the mile of narrow and twisting country lane to find the archway to the church ahead of us.

Not far away, but long ago, he is standing a little way ahead; looking down at the crashing waves and bringing his gaze from the dark rock of Middle Mouse island towards the cliffs beneath his feet.

It is 1864 and he has used his wealth to fund the restoration of the little church behind him.

He gazes down at the waves… How long had Bishop Patrick clung to the inhospitable granite of the tiny island of Middle Mouse, as the wreckage of his ship washed past him? Did he wait till first light, before tying what was left of his heavy and saturated woollen robe across his back and entering the sea, again, to swim the half kilometer to the cave he could now see; a cave that would offer a fresh-water spring and let him tend his wounds, a cave that would become his home until the miracle of his survival became known to the local people, who would build him a church on the headland – the first Christian church in these parts.

Badrig – St Patrick

Adbul Rahman looks down one last time at the savagery of the waves breaking below. He shakes his head at what early religious pioneers of all faiths had to go through. His own sacrifice is small by comparison; and carried out under the cloak of wealth. But, in his own way, he has sought out worthy causes, to show that his heart is still within Britain, though his faith has changed. Now a devout muslim, and the first such in the British House of Lords, Adbul Rahman, formerly Henry Edward John Stanley, Third Baron of Alderley, has just overseen the full restoration of St Patrick’s first church in Wales.

The feeling is a good one. He, Adbul Rahman, has made a contribution to the sincere worship of God, paying respect, as is the custom in his new faith of Islam, to those of other faiths. The completion of the church at Llanbadrig has been timely; his sister has just given birth. The infant’s name is Bertrand Russell. It sounds like a good name -a portent, perhaps of the child’s future…

Entering the tiny church, he is greeted by the ancient cross, the one bearing the two-overlapped fishes – said to be the original Christian cross design. Beneath the cross is a crude carving, chiseled, with patience and dedication, on the ancient granite pillar whose origin or possible previous use is unknown. It is a palm tree. No one knows what it means, or why it is juxtaposed with the crossed fishes…

On the far eastern wall, behind the simple, but beautiful altar, the wall tiles are of an Islamic pattern, though fired in England. It has been his one overt imposition on the design of the restored site, though several more are hidden – for those who have knowledge of eastern symbolism – in the design of the church.

It is 1919. Stephen Duffy fingers the document in his pocket for the umpteenth time, realising that his constant fretting with it is wearing the paper away. He pulls his fingers from his jacket’s inside pocket, glancing, nervously across at his youngest sister, Elizabeth, who knows him so well that she has spotted his fretful behaviour. From the look in her eyes, she senses that something dreadful is going to happen, despite the smiles of her beloved brother and his new French wife.

Stephen Duffy and his French wife, Adrienne

A soldier in the Royal Engineers, he has come through the first World War unharmed – a miracle in itself. But his wife, Adrienne, cannot settle in the working class darkness of post-war Bolton, and needs to return to her home town of Calais, where her relatives have created a new job in the family’s bakery business. Stephen is a baker by trade and will be very welcome in the family’s boulangerie, The couple’s newborn first child, Madeleine is assured of a warm, family welcome. Three more children will follow, including Etienne, Juliette’s grandfather. Etienne is French for Stephen.

Stephen Duffy, of Bolton, Lancashire, and his wife Adrienne are leaving for France. The document in the breast pocket is the ticket for the ferry. Elizabeth Duffy, my paternal grandmother, looks at him across the table where Sunday lunch has been, and senses, correctly, that despite his surviving the horrors of the war, she will never see her elder brother, again.

Juliette Duffy is twenty years old. She is combing her hair and looking at her reflection in the small room’s mirror. She knows she looks like her devoted grandmother Mado. Mado – the preferred short-form from her given name of Madelaine – has been a detailed researcher of the family tree – particularly the lost English connection, for decades. Juliette knows that there is a mystery back there, back then, as to why the two families lost contact… but fate has cast her, an Erasmus Scholar of languages, studying at Bangor University, in an unlikely role.

Seven years ago, Mado placed a request on the Ancestry website asking for help from anyone who could help reunite the two sides of the family by giving details of its lost English connection. Two weeks ago, that notice was finally seen by a woman in England who knew of the Duffys; indeed had married the grandson of one…

Juliette puts on her coat and leaves the student block. She will be early. She will have a coffee and think what she might say to these two middle-aged relatives on behalf of her grandmother, who is frantic with anticipation across the channel in Calais…

(Continued in Part Three)

Other parts in this series:

Part One;

(Continued in Part Three)

………….

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost, supervised correspondence courses. His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©️Stephen Tanham

 

Going west – A field of peace

Wales 186

We gathered by Whitesands beach, just outside St David’s in Pembrokeshire… a small group of people from all walks of life, putting aside the cares and pressures of the daily grind to explore the sacred landscape of Wales. A time out of time. A weekend is too short to see enough of anywhere…and an area such as this, so rich in natural beauty, history and legend deserves all the time you can give. We had only the weekend, but our guide and Companion had carefully planned the days to share as much as she could of a place that is very dear to her heart.

Wales 170

For myself, the time in such a landscape was much needed. It had been a busy several weeks. Ever since the April workshop in Derbyshire it seemed as if I had been on my feet or cursing them, especially after the incident with the spider bites. With an unexpectedly rapid house move thrown in for good measure, I was wound up tight and the healing of stone, sun and sea was a balm that I craved.

Wales 151

Few places could have been better than where we began the weekend. A curve of pale sand nestles between limestone cliffs and is bounded by the bluest sea and a profusion of wildflowers. Carn Llidi rises against the azure sky; its name may mean either the ‘Cairn of Wrath’ or the ‘Cairn of the Gates’. The former may refer to the storms that can batter this headland, but I prefer the idea of the Gates. Walking in its shadow we began a journey through the ancient past.

Wales 161

The first living field of wildflowers that we crossed hides a secret. This place was once the site of a chapel dedicated to St Patrick, as it is told that it was from here at Porth Mawr that the saint took ship for Ireland some fifteen hundred years ago after being granted a vision. The chapel was already in ruins four hundred years ago and only a small mound now marks where it once stood.

Wales 158

Many stories are told of the place… how the patron saint of Wales, St David, studied with St Paulinus at the monastery…now a white farmhouse called Ty Gwyn (which means ‘White House’) that lies just above the beach. St Non, David’s mother, is thought to have lived there too when it was still a religious community and may have been educated by Maucan, who, in his turn, had learned at the feet of St Patrick. Pilgrims gathered here before crossing the bay to the great cathedral of St David’s… and I have to wonder whether the ‘white’ of the names refers to the pale sand…or to some inner ‘whiteness’, the purity of a place that has long been held sacred.

Wales 160

Beneath the flowers is a burial ground. Storms have exposed the remains of the people who lived here centuries ago, some of whom may have known St Patrick himself. Archaeologists have moved to protect and preserve the site and around fifty skeletons were excavated during a recent dig…just a small part of the community that was  buried here over several hundred years. The burials were unusual for their time as many people were laid in stone-lined cysts. One held a small, standing stone cross, the first ever found in Britain in a long cyst grave.

Wales 159

More poignant though are the graves of the children; buried amid such beauty, their parents laid them to rest with layers of quartz crystal and shells. Were they simply gifts, given in love to go with them on their soul’s journey? Or was there some deeper mystery that we have forgotten? We may never know. Much is lost beneath the sands…

Wales 157

This is a place of peace and beauty in summer… a harsh and storm-torn land in winter, yet through it all, it survives, ever changing, its beauty reborn with the touch of the sun. It has been here longer than mankind, yet our story is deeply etched on the land. Beneath the waves and visible at the lowest tides is an ancient forest where hunters sought the auroch, deer and bear. A community that spanned the centuries sleeps beneath the flowers, and in the concrete car park, modern history is remembered with a plaque and a propeller, commemorating a Marauder that crashed there, killing its four-man crew at the end of WWII.

Wales 300

This place of peace was home to Halifax bombers, several of which were lost in combat… yet it has also been a place of saints. Even so, the hand of Man, with all his contrasts and conflicts seems but a little thing beside the beauty of Creation, yet perhaps it is because of such small contrasts that we are able to appreciate the greater whole. We see best where there is both light and dark.

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It is a rare thing to see our own days through the eyes of others, but, with the Whispers in the West weekend, some of us get to do just that. Both Steve and Stuart have already written about the weekend and seeing the landscape and sites through their eyes, I have been able to relive what was, for me, a beautiful weekend all over again…yet differently, through the unique vision and understanding of my friends.  Within the Silent Eye, we share a common vision, yet our perspectives and areas of interest are not always the same and it is in the coming together of these three different approaches that we are able to give something greater than the sum of its parts to the School.

Steve’s posts on the weekend: Whispers in the West Part One Two Three and Four

and Stuart’s interpretation: A Preponderance of Stone…, II and III

Wales 149