… not that one
Just before my new ministry at Newbury Baptist Church begins, I have been spending a few days in the Black Mountains, outside Abergavenny. It is place of majestic views and moody magnificence.
Everywhere the evidence of a rich spiritual heritage is to be seen too – often with big churches sitting opposite each other across a main road. In Blaenavon I visited St Peter’s church – lovingly tended by its congregation and with a church member on site to greet visitors like me. He pointed out evidence of the town’s iron-making past, such as the plaque below illustrating Jesus’ well-side encounter:
Yesterday, I never made it as far as church. I stopped, instead, at a bend in the road where a little spring tumbles down the mountainside. A simple Christian soul, Issui, had stopped here some 1500 years ago. He established a hermit’s cell on the mountainside, and would welcome travellers to share the shelter and the fresh water with him as they passed by. One of them took exception to Issui’s attempts to share not only his lodging but the Gospel with him – and murdered his host. Issui was remembered as a saint, a church was built further up the mountain in his name, and a well at the bend in the spring where he once lived.
Today, the well is still believed to have healing properties, and many visit it. All around the simple well-head there are offerings of the kind you may not see in church: brightly coloured scraps of material, a cuddly heart, coins pressed into the trees and the badge below:
Interestingly, ‘fod’ means simply ‘that’ in Welsh, which is more than a little enigmatic. Why do people feel more comfortable expressing spirituality in physical ways here, in this wooded glen, than they might in church? What draws people to these ancient sites of worship when they fight shy of contemporary church? Few of the offerings here were faded, and the steps down to the well bore many muddy footprints made before mine early on a Bank Holiday Monday. This is a place of contemporary, and not just ancient, spirituality. What lessons are there to be learnt, I wonder?