Albion, ancient sites, Don and Wen

Westbury-sub-Mendip

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We had taken the advice of our hostess for the Glastonbury talks and headed off in the general direction of lunch. The route she had recommended took us through some beautiful villages, along roads I had driven a couple of years previously with a dear friend when we had shared a couple of days in the town together and made memories of laughter after a particularly good evening in an Italian restaurant there. She was very much in my thoughts as I drove, being ill, and yet there was something ‘right’ about retracing our footsteps in this way… something that seemed to lessen the four hundred miles distance currently between us.

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We stopped in the village of Westbury-sub-Mendip to admire the ancient village cross and, almost inevitably the local church drew us in. St Lawrence is one of ‘our’ saints… the beheaded saints that opened such a symbolic can of worms when we began writing The Initiate. We, like most people, associated the martyrdom of the saint with a gridiron, but apparently the legend may come down to a mistranscribed ‘p’ in passus est… I rather like Lawrence though, for his feisty attitude when asked to produce the greatest treasures of the Church and obeyed by calling all the poor people in his care. As Lawrence is also intimately associated with the Grail legends in Catholicism, churches dedicated to him are usually worth a look, and this proved no exception.

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There was, just for starters, a yew tree beside the path that is said to date back to the Saxon period, making it well over a thousand years old and, of course, right in the timeframe we are currently studying with the Doomsday series. The village itself is ancient and its human history can be traced back over half a million years through flint implements found in a cave revealed by a rockfall. The church itself dates back to the late eleventh century and a Norman arch still remains, but the churchyard held older, pagan burials and may have been in use for very much longer than we know.

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Much of the church as it now stands is medieval, restored in Victorian times and as always there is a fascinating melding of ages to be seen; the evolution of worship in a small, rural village that reflects the lives of its people from a time when the church really was the centre of the community. Twenty two 13th to 15th century corbels in the form of carved heads support the roof and an elaborate stone reredos frames the altar, while tall lancets of stained glass cast rainbows in the cool interior.

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The Bible lay open on the lectern and, as always these days, I looked to see what passage was displayed. There is almost always a synchronicity to these verses somehow and I am reminded that, although strictly speaking it could not have been condoned as a Christian practice, the Bible not looking kindly upon divination, yet the use of the Bible for bibliomancy was once prevalent and the Sortes Sanctorum not uncommon. While logic dictates that we humans have such creative minds we could make anything ‘fit’ at a pinch, the first passage upon which the eye alights seems to illuminate or elucidate… or sometimes corroborate whatever it is we are working on or with at the time. As with many things we have learned to simply accept, it doesn’t really matter about the hows and whys… what matters is what we can learn and carry away with us. Oddly this time, a pen had marked the verses in Corinthians and the eye went straight to the alien mark, giving us something to ponder as we went on our way.

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