Sacred places

Nick and Ani 071All my life I have visited sacred sites when I could, and I have been lucky enough to visit many. Whether ancient church, temple, stone circle or legendary landscape, there is something about these sites that touches a place deep within. Perhaps it is a sense of kinship with those who built them, perhaps a sense of shared reverence for that greater Something touched unseen beyond the veil.

It has never mattered to me how that divinity was approached or what form it took, only that it was perceived, recognised by the heart and present in the lives of the builders. They, and I, share perhaps, a common sentiment, expressed in my favourite Hindu prayer, “Thou art without form, but I worship thee in these forms”. In these often strange, yet somehow familiar, edifices and landscapes we can glimpse the very real place that divinity took in the lives of our forefathers.

Theories on the technologies and purpose of these places abound.  Yet have you ever stopped to consider the amount of sheer hard work that went into their building? Silbury Hill, for instance. It has been estimated that it would have taken 500 people, working every day for 10 years to construct the hill from 500,000 tonnes of chalk and earth. Stonehenge with its small forest of stone, in excess of 1200 tons… and the bluestones transported all the way from Wales.

x ray 133I have driven from Presceli where the bluestones were quarried to Salisbury Plain. Even in a fast car on a clear road you are looking at a four hour drive. And four and a half thousand years ago there were no nice smooth roads. I worked in transport for a long time with cranes and often had to organise the transport and installation of large sculptures. Even with modern technology it is no easy task. Can you imagine what was involved in terms of sheer effort for our ancestors to move these great stones so far?

Wonderful churches and cathedrals sit in the midst of our towns, passed daily with barely a glance by many of us, yet these edifices are a testimony to ingenuity, innovation and craftsmanship, lifetimes of artistry and work. Here at least we can understand in modern terms how an artist would work for a living, yet those who built the ancient places … what drove them to do so? Would they not have been better occupied pursuing the necessities of survival?

stonehenge 012

They appear not to have thought so. Someone must have fed them, cared for their children, their parents and for them, so in the harsh and uncertain environment in which they lived, not only the workers themselves were involved in the effort, but whole communities must have supported it and taken part, each sacrificing time and sharing resources to maintain the workforce.

These ancient places, sacred to their builders, speak of humanity. Perhaps the planners, the decision makers, saw power in the building… that too is a human trait… yet to be able to envision such great works, to organise and coordinate, to maintain a workforce and create these wonders of which we see but the remnants, would have taken powerful leadership. It is not as if the tribes were equipped with the weaponry to enforce and impose these projects so many thousands of years ago.

Nick and Ani 086So what drove them? We cannot know for certain, of course, with the ancient places. No record exists except the enigmatic traces on the landscape. Yet the human heart and mind has not changed so very much perhaps that we cannot divine a recognisable thread.

With the great cathedrals, of course, the wealth and power of the church was displayed. Religion dominated every aspect of life and was a very real force for peasant and noble alike. They took it seriously, awed, fearful of judgement perhaps, loving too and worshipping from the heart. In medieval times the physical and political power of wealth and weaponry could have imposed, the organised power of a multinational religion would have been able to ensure that such works were completed. Yet they could not have imposed the obvious and loving dedication of the artists and artisans who created the beauty that survives.

di Taunton 048Amid the simplicity of domestic architecture and the poverty of the cities, amid the homes we would see as hovels, the cathedrals were built, reaching high to the heavens, magnificent structures of lace carved in stone, towering above the surrounding rooftops to the glory of their God.

I can only think that the ancient places too were built for much the same reasons.

Was it simply an effort to propitiate the gods and ensure survival? Yet if so, would the tribes not have been more profitably occupied in smaller works and greater effort hunting, farming and working in known ways to survive? I think there was more to it than that. These places, when we stand among their traces, are so vast, entire landscapes shaped and altered by human effort, sweat and blood, that the only reason I can feel is awe at their perception of something greater and their efforts to somehow reach out to it and bring it into their own life and land.

moors sm031When I stand in the nave of a tiny chapel, a lonely temple on the moors  or amid the splendour of a cathedral, when my bare feet walk the grass between the stones and landscapes carved by human hands, I marvel at their skill and dedication. Yet beyond and beneath the awe at the human achievement is a sense of companionship on a sacred quest, a journey of the soul towards a Light perceived, however dimly, that pervades and illuminates the world and each of us. It matters not how that Light is seen, what Name we use or the stories we have woven in our attempts at understanding. It matters only that It is, and that seeing It, we look for It within. The sacred landscape that is our self is enough.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She has written a number of books, both alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com
This entry was posted in Photography, Sacred sites, Spirituality and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Sacred places

  1. Denis1950 says:

    Such a wonderful thought provoking post Sue. The ancient indigenous art sites I have seen here in our state, ( many thousands of years old) always reach out to the mind with intensity.

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  2. Lovely post Sue, and your photographs. I remember a visit to Stonehenge years ago before they sectioned it off and touching the stones, which were surprisingly warm. MOH often took us on little field trips to places of interest, from old canal locks to mining sites.

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  3. Marcia says:

    Beautifully said, Sue, and your final sentence sums it up to perfection. Lovely post to start my day. And beautiful, haunting photos to go along with it. Thank you.

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  4. Mary Smith says:

    Beautiful post, Sue.

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  5. I love this post so much. ❤ Beautifully written. So true. I love ALL OF THE WORDS!

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  6. scskillman says:

    I share your feeling of awe at ancient sacred sites, Sue. I’ve written several posts about spiritual locations such as Stonehenge on scskillmandot com under the category Sacred Spaces. You have beautifully expressed your sense of the numinous in these places. Thank you for a lovely post.

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  7. besonian says:

    As always Sue, beautifully written. But to me, the most beautiful, simple yet profound thought is expressed in these seven words – “…when my bare feet walk the grass…”

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  8. Helen Jones says:

    I wish there was a ‘Love’ button for this post, Sue – it’s so beautifully expressed 🙂

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  9. Jennie says:

    Bravo, Sue! You understand and embrace this on many levels, each of which are equally important. This is one great post!

    Like

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