Completing the circuit! Holy Places of the North.
Ah! Holy places, Holy images, Holy noises, Holy smells, Holy holes and Holy tombs; I have come to realise that I am not alone in my fascination with all things physically connected with holiness and especially mankind’s gifts of richness to faith in Christ. This focused fascination has enabled me to recall the sights, scents, sounds, beauty and emotions from open places, buildings, glass, ikons, incense, candles and water which have had God’s blessing and human love and be felt by some to be spiritually and physically rewarding.
Holy things allow us to examine and expand the personal relationship we have with God. Yes, I know that this is a bold statement, but even the most hardened and accomplished heretical blasphemer will recognise that God is God to most: even the unbeliever will have difficulty in describing Holy monuments as mere follies. Buildings may crumble, ikons damaged, people killed for their faith but through all of this Holiness shines through: Holiness in itself can not be destroyed.
In our everyday life we often need inspiration and Father John Musther, Orthodox priest in Cumbria has certainly taken inspiration to a new level. He has physically travelled the length and breadth of the United Kingdom which has been blessed through the ages with Holiness, in search of Holy Wells and Sacred places. He has – with some help – documented some of the best known and also some which even locals know little about and produced a beautiful book entitled:
I have witnessed this septuagenarian Priest and his Matushka, Jenny, clambering in and out of a hired boat on a rough day, bashing through tick-laden bracken, midge-ridden heather, disappearing momentarily from sight – only to reappear beaming with the satisfaction worthy of a desert father on a patronal feast day.
They have researched every iota of information about Holy Wells: the places where the faithful in a Christian environment were able to “take the water” to sustain life, to bless families and promote healthy livestock. These sources of goodness have been familiar places for the faithful to seek help and succour in times of illness, despair and anxiety. Fundamentally more important is that Fr John and Jenny have petitioned our Holy Saints in each of these Holy Places thus keeping alive the Holy traditions of the church and blessing those who follow their spiritual example and by re-establishing the connection: completing the circuit!
Here, in Moidart and Ardnamurchan we have wonderful examples, two of which I will describe now. The Holy Island of Saint Finnan is an example of the sacrifice early hermits made to pray for the world. Saint Finnan, a bishop of Columba (who may have plagiarised the Psalter which Finnan had compiled) lived for a long time – we understand – on this island in Loch Shiel. It has become a sanctuary for those who focus on peace and tranquillity – often regardless of its Holy values which nonetheless shine through any other legitimate reason for visiting.
The other example is equally tangible: heading west along the Ardnamurchan peninsula and shortly after the Glenmore Centre is a tight left hand bend and then a steep hill. Blink and you miss it: so park at the top of the hill at Ardslignish and trot back down the hill to a clear spring of excellent tasting water which is Saint Columba’s Well. There will be a small cup or jar from which you can partake of a drink and this is maintained by the guys who work for Marine Harvest who care about the history, spirituality, tradition and environment in which they live and work. Many healings and miracles have been attributed to this Holy spring which started its life at Saint Columba’s command.
Fr John has gathered vast amounts of information necessary for this book. He has paired up with Phil Cope – an expert photographer who has captured the very essence of each location….and this in itself must have been a geographical nightmare, given our latitude’s intention to keep us dank and alert to the swarming, biting beasties. In doing so he gives to us the benefit of his mastery in framing the mood, love and richness of each Holy place; and at the same time cataloguing the enlightening reality of “then” and “now”.
“We give to God of our riches, because we in ourselves are very poor!” (Abbess Thekla)
A truly magnificent tome indeed.
Fr Christopher 28th March 2018