It was eleven o’clock by the time we emerged, a little dazed, out into the sunshine. The ground was still frozen and shaded patches of frost lingered. Otherwise, you would have thought it was spring. We strolled through the burial grounds of the precinct, pausing to look at the remains of St Rule’s little church with its incongruous tower that still rises high above the town. The Abbey is built on what seems to be a small promontory of rock that rises above the twin beaches.
There were birds everywhere. Mainly seagulls of course, but robins, oystercatchers and thrushes too… We had seen an incredible variety of birds on the trip so far… and so many hawks of all kinds and none seemed to be in a hurry to fly away. A few of the seagulls evidently wanted to be immortalised on film… some of them appeared intent on showing me their best side and I had a veritable photoshoot going on with them at one point as we meandered through the graves, ancient and modern.
It felt as if we were slipping between the wings of time, as age upon age drew us deeper into the past. St Rule’s predates the Abbey; the church with its tower was built around AD1130, probably for the new Augustinian canons. Beyond the precinct walls, a small plateau holds the remains of an even earlier religious settlement, where the Culdees lived in devout community.
The Culdees lived the ascetic and eremitical life of monks, though it appears they took no monastic vows. Their communities were at the heart of the Ionian Christianity of the Celtic Church that was to be subsumed by Rome in the twelfth century. Wherever we have found traces of the Culdees, we have also found a spirit of deep peace and reverence for the land.
The Culdee communities seem, in some intangible way, even now to celebrate the beauty and majesty of Creation. Looking out over the remnants of their home to the sea I was reminded of a few lines from the Lorica of St Patrick and wondered if this reflected something deep within the nature-based Christianity that we had lost with the shift in power towards Rome.
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