Yesterday we were reminded of Sister Frances Teresa’s pilgrimage to the Island where Saint Francis once spent Lent. Here is a link to the ultimate Pilgrims’ Way for Christians, the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, where the Franciscan friars have opened new wings of their museum at the Monastery of the Flagellation, or scourging. The Friars hope this can lead to more dialogue between people of all religions in the Holy Land and around the world.
Let us pray for Peace in the Holy Land and between religions throughout the world. Of course we can pray the Stations of the Cross for those intentions either in church or at home. We will share fifteen Stations in the last fortnight of Lent.
Crucifix at Winchester Cathedral, England.
Saint Francis remained alone: and sith there was no dwelling-place whereto he might betake him, he entered into a close thicket which many a thorny bush and shrub had fashioned like a cave or little hut: and in this place he gave himself up to prayer and contemplation of the things of heaven. And there abode he all the Lent, nor eating nor drinking aught save half of one of those small loaves, even as was found by his devoted follower on Holy Thursday, what time that he came back to him; who found of the two loaves one still entire, but of the other, half.
So men believe that Saint Francis took no food from reverence for the fast of Christ the blessed one, who fasted forty days and forty nights without partaking any earthly food ; but
in this manner with that half a loaf chased far the venom of vain glory from him, and after the pattern of Christ kept fast for forty days and forty nights.
Thereafter in that place where Saint Francis had wrought such wondrous abstinence, through his merits did God work many miracles; for the which cause did men begin to build houses there and dwell therein; and in brief space uprose a hamlet fair and great and therewithal a House for the brothers, the which is named the House of the Island; and even to this day the men and women of that hamlet have great reverence and devotion for the place where Saint Francis kept the aforesaid Lent.
Move forward a few Centuries, and you can visit the island on pilgrimage. This is what Sister Frances Teresa wrote for us about her visit to the Island: ‘When Francis was there for Lent it may have been a lot tougher. The tradition is that he went on Shrove Tuesday with two loaves and returned on Maundy Thursday with one and a half. I had eaten mine by 2pm!!’
So we left Aberdaron. May we, like R.S. Thomas, look into the water (in this case a holy well) and
‘… Ignoring my image I peer down
to the quiet roots of it, where
the coins lie, the tarnished offerings
of the people to the pure spirit
that lives there, that has lived there
always, giving itself up
to the thirsty, withholding
itself from the superstition
of others, who ask for more.’
R.S. Thomas, ‘Ffynnon Fair’ in R.S. Thomas,R.S. Thomas, ‘Ffynnon Fair’ in R.S. Thomas, ‘Collected Poems, 1945 – 1990’, London, Orion, 2000. ‘Collected Poems, 1945 – 1990’, London, Orion, 2000.
Even a walk of twenty paces is a pilgrimage in Aberdaron! We may dismiss the Adam and Eve stories, but we do so all too lightly, for we come from the earth, to dust e shall return, but as Archbishop Arthur Hughes said: From dust, through grace, to glory1
We continue reading the guide to Saint Hywyn’s Church. It is sobering to sit in Canterbury and read that this church dates from the first half of the sixth century. Pope Gregory only sent Augustine to Kent in 597!
This is the back cover of the Aberdaron leaflet we looked at yesterday. I guess they knew, when they put it together, that people would read the back before opening it.
The evening I posted this, we had family around looking at the flames of our front room fire; earlier in the day Abel had me stop by the river for a few moments of staring.
A time to be thankful.
I had to go to the far end of Wales to learn that the English word ‘saunter’ comes from the French for the Holy Land.
In Mediæval times most would have gone on foot and by sea: to Jerusalem or to Bardsey, the island off the coast where many Welsh saints lived or came to be buried; sauntering, in the modern understanding, implies an expansive, carefree, relaxed gait, a readiness to stop and stare, as the Welsh poet W.H. Davies reminds us, and a readiness to greet other people.
Your holiday for this summer may be at the planning stage, where will you go, who will be in your party, what will you get up to? Wherever you go, make time for sauntering!
And wherever you go today, make time for sauntering! And be ready to greet other people – and their dogs and cats!
More posts from Aberdaron to follow: the parish invite readers to copy this leaflet freely, so we will share it page by page and urge you to make the pilgrimage to Aberdaron, in person as well as by proxy, and possibly travel on to Bardsey, weather permitting.
Laurie Lee once wrote of craftsmanship that handmade objects keep us human; the Liturgy enshrines a similar thought when, following an ancient Jewish prayer, it describes the bread and wine as ‘work of human hands’. ‘We are a starved society,’ says Lee, ‘living in the midst of plenty. Our possessions are many, our serenities few.’
Lee would have recognised that feeling of serenity about the Church at Aberdaron, a lightening of the shoulders on crossing the threshold. Put that down to imagination if you will, but I was happy to accept the gift.
As in most churches there were beautiful handmade objects around: the very building itself, the doors, the clear glass windows, banners, icons; and much more. Take a pilgrimage to the edge of Wales to see for yourself.
I was glad to find in the church shop this jug, decorated with fish, made by a local potter, at a far from expensive price. Giving it to my mother, I know it will not become a possession so much as something to be shared – something that will let her share the pilgrimage, for she loves Wales and RS Thomas; her treasure for a while that may be given to a grandchild who comes and admires it.
Janet found there these little fish which now swim beneath our bathroom mirror. ‘Fishers of men’? Bait for memory, reflection, and prayer.
A few days after our return from Wales, we met a friend after Mass. He described how he comes to Church most days: I pray and rest, pray and rest, pray and rest.
No need to cross two Kingdoms to do that! But he follows the advice we were given yesterday:
Let’s be still, our silence marked by the waves, the birds, the feet walking by. And not worry about ‘distractions’!
And here’s support for our friend’s prayer and rest policy from Pope Francis. The i news paper (2/11/17) reports him as saying prayer should make Christians feel like going to sleep in their father’s arms. He even admits to going to sleep when praying, as St Therese did.
But does he also drop off during long sermons?
We can travel, indeed we have travelled, to places of pilgrimage within the United Kingdom and beyond. I won’t say East, West, home’s best. I would return to Aberdaron, St Maurice, Rome, and many places that I love, yet we have our Cathedral which has many corners that sometimes catch the eye. And just a few minutes’ walk from home.
This Cross is on the altar in the dark Saint Nicholas’ Chapel – his feast is today, December 6th.
Patron of children, the original and best Father Christmas; he makes his annual procession through Canterbury each Advent, allowing frazzled shoppers the chance to make their day a pilgrimage.
Let’s celebrate his generous and imaginative care of his flock, but remember that he drew his inspiration from the one whose Cross is represented here.
Saint Nicholas, pray for children.
Saint Nicholas. pray for parents and grandparents, who have to improvise all the time. May we share your wise approach to child care!
And Let’s pray for a former priest at St Thomas’ Canterbury, Bishop Nicholas Hudson, auxiliary in Westminster.