Thursday, June 25, 2015

St.Ninian, Whithorn and the Ruthwell Cross

When Ted (Ted Heasley RIP) and I visited the Isle of Whithorn back in 2000 AD the Cairn of Witness was new. We liked the idea but we hadn't known about it, otherwise we would have brought a piece of East Anglian flint to place on the pile!
In 20015 it was still on my to do list.

So last month when I returned, a piece of Norfolk flint was added and I had a minute or two remembering Ted.

Back then we were on our way to Headford in County Galway  - a pilgrimage made in honour of St. Fursey - it all seemed cut and dried. But now scholars find it hard to agree on where St. Fursey had his monastic formation. It may have been just a short hop across the Irish Sea in Ulster.

Ted and I had called in at Whithorn where we visited the site of St. Ninian's , Candida Casa (White Shining perhaps? House ) the pilgrimage chapel at the Isle of Whithorn and Ninian's Cave. In my mind it had been a detour but now I see differently.

Most of what we know about Ninian is from the Ven. Bede who probably gave him a good press because that part of Scotland was, in his day, part of the Kingdom Northumberland.  Scholars struggle to link Ninian with saints found in Irish sources.  Its possible that Bede's Ninian, around whom a hagiography was written in the Middle Ages, is none other than Finnian of Moville. Finnian it is who taught St. Columba. In which case, Whithorn before Iona works really well.

From the mouth of Ninian's cave one can view both the Isle of Man and the Lake District. From Kyle of Galloway the Ulster coast is clear. So whatever success the scholars achieve or fail to achieve this whole area full of echoes of the Christian past. Patrick, Ninian/Finnian, Columba and Fursey (perhaps?) .  The archaeology confirms a  sea route, what amounts to a 5th century motorway, linking Gaul, Cornwall, Wales, western Britain and the Irish east coast.

So perhaps it is not so far fetched to imagine Fursey and his companions passing through Whithorn on their way to evangelise Norfolk. Did their path lead cross country to  the Northumberland coast and then down by boats to Norfolk? Oswald became king in in 634 so he may have provided safe passage! Or did they come via Irish monasteries on the European Continent? St. Felix who began the evangelisation of East Anglia had come from Francia!

Whatever, it was good to reach out my hand and touch a 5th memorial stone in the Whithorn Museum and to wonder at the 7th century Ruthwell Cross. There's something very tangible about stones.

Don't let anyone sell the Ruthwell Cross to you as Celtic. Ruthwell may, in deed, be in Scotland today then it was in the Anglian Kingdom Of Northhumberland.

I'm sure if we had a bit more useful stone we'd have lots of these crosses in Norfolk. As it is we have flint!

I placed a piece of flint on the Cairn of Witness both a marker of an act of witness completed and a pledge for more to come.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

I particularly like this photo taken in the Spring of 2008 in Cyprus.
It illustrates the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4.31) and the Allegory of the Vine (John 15).
The brilliant yellow of the mustard flower is every where in the spring - 
on field edges, in gardens, on little bits of waste land
in Cyprus and Galilee.

The mustard seed does not grow into a great tree where the birds of the tree make their nests. Everyone knows that! 

It is a pernicious weed that spreads everywhere!
Look in the photo at the yellow all around the edge of the vineyard where the vines are pruned and ready! 
A different sort of power and a different sort of kingdom to those of Egypt or Assyria 
(See Ezekiel 17.22 ff and 36.66ff)

Friday, June 12, 2015

St. Cuthbert - Something understood

It was too windy to go out to the Farne Islands on Wednesday last week so I walked from Bamburgh around the coast to Budle Bay then back by way of the Spindle Stone. I could not help looking back at the castle and realising how close it was to the Inner Farnes . It was then I got cross with Cuthbert! He had his hermitage on the Inner Farnes. The king lived at Bamburgh Castle. It is one thing feeling you have a vocation to be a hermit. Its another to go grand standing about it. "Look at me I'm a holy hermit living on next to nothing in the middle of the sea?"

By the time I'd walked the circuit I'd come to terms with what he had done. I realised I thought nothing in mounting the steps of a pulpit and preaching in the name of Father, Son  and Holy Spirit. Cuthbert's  enacted example was far more costly and communicated deep and uncomfortable truths that are still resonate.

Life is precarious, it mattered little if you were a fighting king or a hermit. Oswiu had come to power on the death of his brother Oswald   at the Battle of Maresfield in 642 , their father Aelfrith had also died in battle. And even though 21st century man lives much longer death cannot be avoided anymore  than a sandcastle's collapse at the advance of the in-coming tide! 

"Draw near to God and he will draw near to you..." are encouraging words but yet each of us must do so on our own. No one can do it for you. "Come apart and rest a while!"  says the Lord. "Consider the birds and the flowers of the field." And in following the path he trod we must go out into the wilderness. It is not an option to stay in the warm drinking, ale and feasting.

The next day the wind had dropped and I was able to go out and wander among nesting sea birds - Puffins, Guilemots, Razor Bill, Kittiwakes, Shags and Terns. It was wonderful

I thought there were not as many Eider Duck as last time I visited. St. Cuthbert  had banned the killing of Eider Ducks, the first species to be protected by law! As I came ashore onto the Inner Farne and the Arctic Terns started attacking my fellow visitors I formed the opinion that the terns did not appreciate being disturbed by visitors. Nor yet did Cuthbert

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Caring for God's Acre Conference

Brilliant Day

Inspirational Speakers

Great Workshops

Great Partnership between
Norfolk Wildlife Trust,
Caring for God's Acre
Diocese of Norwich

Thoughtful kind and intelligent chairing
Thanks you Canon Dr. Jeremy Haselock

Ace food
Thank you Luke (the Griddler) Blackburn

Church and Churchyard Open and welcoming                                           Thanks churchwardens Richard and Sylvia 
and Horstead PCC

Last but not least

Lets hear it for the washers up

Thanks Margaret, Sue, Jacqueline and Bridget