Hello, thank you for popping in. Our schools have broken up for the summer and we are easing into a different rhythm for the next six weeks. If you read my last post about our weekend away on Anglesey you may remember that I said I would be back soon to tell you about a special place we visited there, and here I am. It's quite long and photo-heavy so you might want to make yourself comfortable and pour a cup of tea before you sit down to read it.
Do you know what "thin places" are? It's a Celtic Christian term used to describe places where the boundary between heaven and earth feels especially thin. Writing in the New York Times a few years ago, Eric Weiner described them like this:
"The distance between heaven and earth collapses and we're able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent, or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever."
The Infinite Whatever. I like that. I think the Infinite Whatever is very close at Llanbadrig.
The northernmost point of Wales is a small, uninhabited island called Middle Mouse which likes about a kilometre off the north coast of Anglesey. It's called Middle Mouse because its shape allegedly resembles that of a mouse, but I think that's a bit tenuous (there is also an East Mouse and a West Mouse). What do you think? Perhaps a mouse of the small, pink, sugared variety, with it's head towards the left? -
However, the island's Welsh name is Ynys Badrig: Patrick's Isle. Legend has it that St Patrick was sailing to Ireland when a fierce storm drove his ship onto this island and wrecked it, stranding him there. Somehow, he made his way to land and found a cave (now called Ogof Badrig) with a freshwater spring (Ffynnon Badrig). With shelter and fresh water he was able to recover from his ordeal and before continuing his journey, he founded a church on the clifftop to thank God for saving his life. This was about 440 CE and so Patrick's Space, Llanbadrig, is the earliest Christian site in Wales.
I planned to visit Llanbadrig when we came here in February. I had done my research, written notes and directions and arrived full of excitement and expectation. The current building, built in the twelfth century, substantially rebuilt in the fourteenth and refurbished in the nineteenth, has a very special interior which I was keen to see. It was a grey, windy day, so windy that I had great difficulty opening the car door! Eventually, I struggled out of the car and, fighting the wind, walked to the gateway.
I scurried down the path to the church door, keen to find refuge from the weather...and found that it was locked! Some printed information sheets were available for 50p each but I didn't take one because they didn't tell me anything about the church which I hadn't already discovered during my previsit internet research and I thought 50p was a bit steep. However, they did reveal that the church is only open 10:00-12:00 and 14:00-16:00 from May to September. This made me Very Cross: I had read numerous websites in preparation for our visit and nowhere had I read that the church is only open during these very limited hours, only 612 of them out of the whole year. NOWHERE. I put my redundant notes back in my bag, turned away from the church and decided to have a grumpy stomp around the churchyard - a careful, grumpy stomp because the land here is unstable and I didn't want it to collapse beneath me.
The Best Beloved is used to me wandering off around churches and he had disappeared with his camera to take photographs so I was, effectively, alone in this bleak, windswept, rather desolate place on the clifftop with its stone memorials to the dead and as I wandered, I became increasingly aware of a strange, hostile feeling. All my senses were on high alert. I have never felt like it before, in fact I am very much of the Scooby Doo school: it's never a spectre, it's always a man in a mask. (I once had a job which regularly involved sleeping in a room which other staff members believed to be haunted and they were surprised that I had never met with the, ahem, "resident", but I always responded that I wasn't open to it.) However, alone out there on the edge of Wales, the ancient land beneath me 600 million years old, the wind howling around me, I really did think that anything was possible. I called out to the Best Beloved and when he didn't reply, I honestly believed, for a second or so, that he might have been "taken" and I began to panic, so much so that I had to get out and back to the car as fast as I could. I truly felt that the veil between this world and another was very thin in that churchyard.
Of course, he was absolutely fine and reappeared shortly afterwards, explaining that he couldn't hear me calling him because the wind was so noisy. We resolved to return to Llanbadrig in fine weather...which is exactly what we did on the birthiversary.
The contrast could not have been starker: framed by blue sea and bathed in sunshine, the first sound we noticed was the grasshoppers, doing their best to drown out the heavy buzzing of bees. There was an abundance of butterflies flitting between the wild flowers and the scene was picture-postcard perfect. This time I felt slowly overcome by a feeling of absolute peace. Perhaps it was the Infinite Whatever?
Do you remember those opening times? 10:00-12:00 and 14:00-16:00? It's just as well we had arrived in the afternoon because the notice on the door said 11:00-13:00 and 14:00-16:00 and in fact, it gave the names of the stewards who would be there during each session. Guess what? There was no name in the space by the morning session, nor in the spaces by several other morning sessions. We had narrowly avoided a futile visit. I understand that these stewards are volunteers and certainly, Gaynor was lovely and very helpful, but I do think that a destination of such significance should be open during all of its advertised hours, especially on Saturdays in the summer. I have since discovered that a colleague of mine has visited four times and has never found it open!
So what, you may ask, is so special about the interior of this church? The refurbishment in 1884 was paid for by the church's patron, Lord Stanley of Alderley, a devout Muslim who had converted to Islam in the 1860s. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and the tune which Lord Stanley called was that the interior decoration of the church should reflect his faith. The result is extraordinary: the stained glass windows are decorated with geometric designs, the sanctuary walls are lined with blue glass tiles made by Powells of Whitefriars in London and there is a blue and gold mosaic of The Good Shepherd. In the most holy part of this Christian church, Islam and Christianity are working together and in these violent times, that is what I think the Infinite Whatever was telling me.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit Llanbadrig, grab it with both hands but don't be surprised if the church is closed. If you go on a warm, sunny day you could enjoy the spectacular views, find some peace and you might even see a porpoise. But don't go on a bleak, windy day unless you are made of sterner stuff than I am. The veil is thin here.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x