St Albans… ‘render unto Caesar’

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A few years ago, we set out early for a visit to St Albans. The beautiful sky soon clouded over, though, leaving us with a chill and persistent rain. We’d been meaning to visit the town for a long time, knowing that the history and stories associated with the place tied in heavily with many areas of our adventures… not least because of St Alban himself.

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Recorded as the first British Christian martyr, the saint was beheaded for his faith in Roman Verulamium, now the town of St Albans. There are many versions of his story and as we had not really researched them before we left, we had only the briefest of outlines. I remembered vaguely that he was a cephalophore, one whose voice had continued after his beheading… and that a spring had welled from the ground where his head had rolled; a common motif in the stories of the saints that seems to tie them to tales older than Christianity.

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Our problem with St Albans had been the Romans. There are some wonderful relics of Verulamium preserved there; indeed, Roman stone was used to build much of the later town and the Abbey… but the Romans have not really impinged upon on our adventures. They came, they saw, they conquered… and then they went home.

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It is true that their influence on British culture and history, both secular and religious, has been profound, but so far we have not felt the call to look at the interlopers in any great detail, so St Albans had been put on a simmering back burner for quite some time. But the saint’s name had kept on cropping up on our travels and we were having lunch just a few miles away… and, Romans or not, we had pretty much run out of excuses. But we would only have time for the Abbey… Rome would have to wait.

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We wandered through the town, passing beneath the fifteenth-century clock tower and through the undeniably pretty streets with the jostling facades of centuries vying for attention. The rain was not easing, the day had not lost its chill, but a hot Cornish pasty that constituted second breakfast helped relieve the gloom as we headed towards the Abbey.

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Haiku were posted at strategic points along the way, by writers from Parkinson’s UK, and as we entered the old Vintry Garden where medieval monks had once been interred, the recent excess of rain was immortalised in verse.

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It was from here we had the first real sight of the Abbey. It is a beautiful old building, but seemed rather ‘clean’ in some indefinable way. Lacking the usual plethora of medieval carvings and weathered stone from this vantage point, it did little to ignite our enthusiasm.

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Just a few feet further on, though, the history of the Abbey began to come into view. The unmistakable colour of Roman stone and tiles recycled from the ruins of Verulamium mix with the flint which is the only real source of durable local stone. The nave is the longest in England, the tower above the Crossing has stood at the centre of the church for a thousand years and is the only such tower to remain standing in Britain from that time.

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Although the town has been a centre of Christian worship and pilgrimage for over seventeen hundred years, the current Abbey church, unusual in that it is both Cathedral and serving Parish church, is a mere baby at a mere thousand years old. The hands of many men have worked on this building in the intervening centuries, including those of our old friend George Gilbert Scott and his son George Oldrid Scott. You get to recognise their touch, though here it is overlaid with the artistic disagreements of the Victorian era.

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It is the older history that attracts us though and although the rose window is the work of the Victorian architect Grimthorpe, beneath it the arched windows lined with the red of Roman bricks speak of an earlier time when the church was not an architectural battleground.

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Dragons watched from the western towers as we walked around to the front of the church in search of the visitor’s entrance. By a side door, a vestmented cleric waited in silence with a black-clad gentleman… the parish church would shortly be in service for a funeral and the east end of the Abbey closed to gawping tourists and researchers with cameras to serve its true purpose within the community.

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As we entered the great portal, flanked by the symbols of the evangelists, I think we already knew we would have to come back and see what we would not have time to see on this visit. And when we finally made it through the doors, there was no question at all…

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She Watched… ~ Balroop Singh #writephoto

When morning mist allured us
And we sprinted to meet each other
To play summer games
When we were in no mood
To admire the pink sky
And sit for a while.

Continue reading at Emotional Shadows

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I Have Risen…


‘I have gathered myself together,

Like the beautiful Hawk of Gold.


Continue reading at The Silent Eye

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Soft Morning Mist ~ Anita Dawes #writephoto

Stand still awhile on this empty moorland

Let the silence wash away yesterday

Feel the pull, as if walking backwards

To an old time, an old world

Continue reading at Anita Dawes and Jaye Marie

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The predator within

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“Don’t worry…” “It’s probably nothing…” “I’m probably just being daft but…” How often do we hear words like these, keeping a bright smile firmly glued to immobile faces as fear strides in and starts clawing at our entrails? We recognise fear at those moments, we know its name. It is uncompromising, blatant, uncaring of our fragile mask of polite pretence. We want to act, do something… yet nine times out of ten we are shackled by circumstance, powerless to do anything at all except sit and wait, hoping, praying that the fear is groundless.

There are the fears we call worry that stalk us, like feline predators, silent and sure footed, circling ever closer while we are frozen, eyes locked on those of the beast, waiting for attrition to render us helpless, prey to our own imaginings and anticipation.

Sometimes it feels like we are being slowly gnawed, nibbled away from the ground up while we are chained in a dungeon of other fears… all our attention on the teeth that bite, not seeing that the chains we believe hold us are illusions, wisps of smoke born of unnamed terrors we refuse to look at.

Fear, in all its guises, is a dreadful thing to feel.

Of course, it has its uses. Fear was a very early part of our evolution and served to keep us alive in a hostile world. It still does… though we may not be running from a sabre-toothed tiger, we are beset by physical dangers we barely even notice, being so conditioned to care by our fears at an early age. We don’t consciously fear crossing a quiet, village road… but we still check for the truck that could squash us.

Continue reading at The Silent Eye

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Wistful ~ Lady Lee #writephoto

Another day, another hope
That this thing shall pass and we cope
We stay at home and wash our hands
Hoping to contain the virus
Doesn’t choose and has no bias
Against all odds, we fight with plans

Continue reading at Lady Lee Manila

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Life #midnighthaiku

Inner life unfolds

Breaking free of all constraint

Reaching for the light

The Acer is my son’s pride and joy. Since the last leaf of autumn fell, he has checked the sapling every day, watching anxiously to see if it would survive being transplanted into his garden. When the storms hit, he held the fallen fence clear of the little tree, battered by wind and rain, until help arrived. It has been sheltered, fed and watered assiduously since the first buds began to appear on its fragile stems.

As spring,  once more brings visible life to the garden, in spite of rain, wind and grey skies, the little tree is repaying his care, unfolding a delicate crimson tracery and a promise of beauty.

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On the road still Afghanistan Adventures #28 ~Mary Smith

Reblogged from MarySmith’sPlace:

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It was still dark when I heard the urgent whisper, ‘Sister, sister, it is time to go.’ I crawled out of my warm nest, pulling my chaddar on straight. Khudadad had already rolled up his bedding. Under his impatient gaze I fumbled clumsily trying to roll my sleeping bag to a size small enough to squeeze back into its ridiculously tiny nylon bag. Finally he took over and somehow stuffed it in, picked up our bags and headed for the door. ‘Come. Sayed is waiting.’

‘But, I have to go outside first,’ I whispered.

‘Now?’ Khudadad’s voice rose to a hysterical pitch, provoking mutters and grumbles from the sleeping bodies scattered about the room. ‘Sayed will be angry if we are late. We will stop soon.’

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Wistful ~ Kim Blades #writephoto

I live with shadows

tossed and misting

in the grey, empty landscape

of my life’s dreams,

Continue reading at Kim Blades

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Living Lore reblog: Faeries in the Arthurian Landscape by Neil Rushton

Reblogged from deadbutdreaming:

The faeries who appear in the Arthurian mythos are a distinctive breed; ontologically different from the entities that most often surface in folklore. They usually have specific roles to fulfil, catering to the literate classes who were consuming the stories. But the genesis of the faeries in the Arthurian landscape is deeply rooted in an embedded folk belief-system, developed from a Celtic oral tradition, which informs many of the motifs within the legends. This article is a brief overview of a very complex subject, serving as an introduction for any readers who may be inclined to delve deeper. A version of the article appeared originally on the Ancient Origins Premium website.

The Development of the Arthurian Mythos

When Geoffrey of Monmouth produced his Historia Regum Britannia and Vita Merlini between 1135 and 1150, he became the central transmitter of the Arthurian mythos; from a largely oral testimony to a written body of legend that has continued to develop to this day. Geoffrey may have had access to some of the early sources, which suggest Arthur could have been a 5th/6th-century British chieftain, such as St Gildas’ De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (6th century) and Nennius’ Historia Brittonum (9th century), and possibly other lost literary sources. But it seems clear that much of his Historia and the Vita Merlini used an orally transmitted folklore to construct the ontology of the inhabitants of his Arthurian stories.

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