My friend and writing partner is here for the weekend. We will be working on the workshop and will probably not get to play out this time much… which is a shame. If that makes us sound like a pair of children, well, that’s about right. The excitement we feel with every ancient site we visit is pretty much that of children on Christmas morning. Our focus shifts with every book we write as we are led to explore different aspects of our history, folklore and mythology, but the excitement is always the same whether it is a stone circle, a Saxon cross or a tiny place of worship.
This area is so blessed with well-preserved medieval churches, spanning the history of a thousand years and more, that we simply decide a starting point and see what we can find. There is that almost breathless moment when we try the door, some are locked and bring disappointment, some stand open for all and contain treasures of art, history and the people who have left their mark, humble or noble, on the landscape here.
The artwork of the wall paintings we discover is breathtaking. Though inevitably damaged by the passing centuries, the ochre has survived and stories now unfamiliar to us are written in images for the eyes to read as they have been read, in many cases, for the past 800 years.
Stone carries carvings of dragons and green men, local dignitaries dead half a thousand years and more are caricatured or extolled by the artists hand. There are creatures grotesque or beautiful, mythical and simply full of humour… jokes we no longer know preserved in stone laugh back at us over the centuries. Pilgrims crosses and children’s games are carved into doorways or beside the pews, very human traces that have survived untold years to speak to the human eyes that see them today.
There is a real sense of kinship that erases the passage of millennia when you stand beside a church, watching today’s bride smile in beauty beside a door built on the recumbent stones of a stone circle, now part of the foundations of a place that bears the traces of Roman brick in its medieval walls, lit by the glowing jewels of Victorian stained glass. Or in the minimalist interiors almost unchanged for six hundred years of a rural chapel in the fields.
The hopes and fears, the loves and losses, the faith and seeking of the heart, the yearning towards something higher, all are written in traces we can touch still today and feel echoed within our own hearts and lives.
As the two of us explore in wonder, laughing like the children of the universe we are and should be, time disappears. Reading aloud the ancient texts of a story two thousand years old, on sites sacred for more than twice that little amount of time both our presence and the permanence we cherish are thrown into relief and we can see ourselves as but small links in the chain of moments that stretch the length of history. Break one and the chain is incomplete. Every link, no matter how small, is vital.