Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Catholic sites, oh dear!

Today, my friend, Dave, sent the following to me in response to my last post: "Dinas Bran an "iron-age fort?" Someone is being kind to strangers and/or sparing themselves the questions of the uninitiated. The wiki says that the Welsh translates as "city of crows." Well, yes, perhaps at some point that became the case. But I suspect an earlier translation would have been "power place of the god Raven," yet even that trips over the modern boundary that disconnects the spiritual from the ordinary. Places of power were not chosen haphazardly, but came from the priestly/poetic experience of a place (pardon the clumsy words, but hopefully you get my drift). I would imagine climbing to the top might put you in a very intense state indeed. No surprise, then, that the feudal lords of a later period, attempting to control a peasantry still spiritually connected - and smarting because of it - would want to build their castle there. (And, of course, it commands the countryside.)"

Fabulous photo by Jerry Meshulam
of some of our group writing at Dinas Bran

Indeed, Dave, we did have discussions about this in reference to many of the places we saw that had been Christianized to remove the "taint" of Druidry/bardic tradition and anything else incompatible with  the patriarchal church. The book I'm reading now (and mentioned earlier), Finding Merlin, is very much about this process - though the author makes some leaps regarding details that are difficult to prove. I think that everyone who climbed Dinas Bran was moved by being there, particularly Rebecca, who feels its power very deeply - she really did not want to come down! And the Finding Merlin book devotes a lot of time to studying the names of people and places and suggesting that translations are often misleading - warped by Christianity's need to eliminate the power of the traditions that preceded it. And, oh, I wish I'd been confident of the ability of my knees to take the walk down! Thank you, Dave, for helping me bring this forth on the blog. 

Crutches left behind at St. Winefride's Well

St. Winefride's Well is most likely one of those sites which held spiritual and healing importance before its current incarnation. Winefride lived and was gruesomely killed, then resurrected in the 7th century (the century of Merlin and King Arthur) - a time when the ancient ways and Christianity were often in bloody conflict for domination in what is now the British Isles. She was decapitated for wanting to become a nun and her head rolled downhill and the well sprang up where her head came to rest. It was reattached with the help of St. Beuno, her uncle. That's one version, anyway.

St. Winefride

The use of the water here for curative purposes began in the 12th century. People still come to the site for healing. Three things are said to be required for healing: repeating the request three times; believing; and God's belief that the healing is for the good of the person's soul. So, if you aren't healed, it's not proof that this doesn't work, but most likely, that God doesn't think it's good for you, since it's less likely you screwed up the first two instructions.

The bathing pool

As someone who was raised by a feminist, I was exposed quite early to the bloody and patriarchal history of the Catholic Church and freely admit that colors almost all my reactions to it. But I am interested in all of it from an historical perspective.

Graffiti from an earlier century

Though I got into my usual photo taking mode - what's beautiful, what's strange, what reflects something I don't see at home - I must admit that this place felt creepy to me. But obviously, taking photos of Catholic cathedrals doesn't bother me, so why should this?


We had the option to write there and I knew that it would be difficult to write anything that was not angry - and I'd already written a few of those during the course of the workshop. But I did find a lot of subjects for my camera!

Being carried to the well

On the other hand, there were members of the group for whom this site was very important and they were moved to write. We heard some of this writing and it was quite powerful and affecting. I was quite glad that we went - for the simple experience I got out of it because I'd never been to a holy well - and for those for whom it had so much meaning.


It's difficult to see in the photograph, but this is where the water is entering the pool - it's bubbling up.


And I had a nice talk with the man in the gift shop (a true believer!), who is a member of the champion male voice choir. We had considered hearing a choir practice, but he said they take the month of August off. Again according to the guidebook, the choirs arose during the temperance movement of the mid-19th century (my great-grandmother ended up in the women's suffrage movement after attending temperance meetings at that time). 

The church at the well

They were very important in coal-mining towns and began to disappear with the decline of those communities. But they are back with a vengeance and there's actually a reality TV show about them. The man in the gift shop was a very proud performer.

Sinking graves

Dog at the well

Now for something much more mundane. I was sitting outside the gift shop near a young man and his dog. He was waiting for his mother. When she came out, she stopped to talk to me and tell me how wonderful my really ordinary corduroy shirt was. She exclaimed several times about what wonderful clothes Americans have and really urged her son to agree. The poor guy finally had to give in and agree that my shirt was quite extraordinary, much to his discomfort. I never did figure out what the big deal was - it wasn't so much better than what she was wearing. It did seem that she was quite delighted to find herself talking with an American.

St. Beuno's

Yep, same St. Beuno who reattached Winefride's head. During the course of the workshop, we read poetry by the Welsh Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins. He wrote poetry when he was young, but when he converted to Catholicism, he burned most of his poems.

Bust of Hopkins

He went on to study at St. Beuno's, a Jesuit monastery that is now a retreat center. He had not written a poem in seven years when he was asked to write a poem about the wreck of a ship. We were given the opportunity to write in the room where he resumed his poetry writing.

Maureen led the writing group that day

I really love some of Hopkins' poems - his prosody experiments - sprung rhythms (you'll have to take a course from Terry to learn all about this!) that resulted from his ecstatic experiences in the beautiful Welsh countryside. 

Looking over us

Others completely frustrate me because they are so religious - I don't believe in god in any form and resent attributing this beauty to "him."

The window to the room where we wrote

Here's one of his more famous poems - about a falcon - and an excellent example of that ecstasy - interspersed with photos of details at St. Beuno's.

Boot scraper by the front door

The Windhover

Caught this morning morning's minion, king-
   dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
   Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
   As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
   Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Egg cartons by the kitchen door

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
   Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

Meerkats in the front hedge

   No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
   Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Gnome in the garden

If you have trouble with the poem, just read it out loud. It makes all the difference - the feel of it in your mouth. I've used "wimpled" in a poem - inspired by this. Hopkins had trouble reconciling this very physical, ecstatic poetry with his existence as a Jesuit priest and most of his poetry was published after his death.

Butterflies everywhere

St. Beuno's had beautiful gardens and it was absolutely filled with butterflies and bees. They know what they're doing there!

Reflection of St. Beuno's in the lily pond

In the far distance were windmills out in Liverpool Bay (the windmills are a hot button issue I found out while talking with the peaceniks at the Eisteddfod), but my telephoto caught them looking very surreal.

Wind power

And it was Else's birthday, so we celebrated at dinner.

Else on her birthday

Rebecca, Terry, Jodi, and Jerry

Else, Jerry (blocking Phyllis), Maureen, me, Rebecca and Terry

And just to make sure you have (almost) everyone straight, here's a photo Jodi took of all of us (except her) lined up in the audience at the Eisteddfod.

Rebecca, Terry, me, Else, Phyllis and Jerry not paying attention, and Maureen

And we have only one full day left in Wales.

St. Beuno's library

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