Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Spirit of Mystery - thoughts on reading Gerald of Wales

"In the south of Munster, near Cork there is a certain island which has within it a church of St Michael revered for its true holiness from ancient times. There is a certain stone there outside of, but almost touching, the door of the church on the right hand side. In a hollow of the upper part of this stone there is found every morning through the merits of the saints of the place as much wine as is necessary for the celebration of as many masses as there are priests to say Mass on that day there."

Or so Gerald of Wales tells us (among other tales of lions loving women, cows that were partly stags and oddly behaved Irish cocks). Sadly all these wonders have gone - we are incredulous these days and take against tales of wonder and magic. Yet in these tales there is a certain truth being told - in Gerald's case the truth of God's salvation as evidenced through the miracles of the saints. We should not dismiss such truth because it no longer accords with our knowledge. We know that Aurelius Ambrosianus didn't get Merlin to magic the "Giant's Dance" from Kildare to Salisbury Plain - there to form a memorial to:

"...a great crime committed when the flower of Britain's manhood was cut to pieces by the concealed daggers of the Saxons who, coming in the guise of peace with the weapons of treachery, killed the youth of the kingdom that had been so carelessly guarded."

Or do we. Is there not in our mind a place where it's possible that Merlin performed just such a deed, where stones outside churches miraculously produce wine each day and a land where the saints are "vindictive in nature". I'm sure there is - it's the part of the mind we're told to put away as grown ups. As Paul told us, we put away such childish fancies.

But I know you still love the spirit of mystery.

*For those who care about such matters, the church in the picture isn't the one in the tale but the church at Harty Ferry on the Isle of Sheppey - another place of mystery and wonder.

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