Fifty Holy Wells, #8
Wish I could say that reading this made me happy this morning, but that is not the case.
It is hard watching so much that I love punched down into ruin, and stupidly enough, too, without even looking at this old well, which has its pendants in France, too.
I think that free, running water may depend to a certain extent on having debris cleared away from it at least occasionally, if not regularly. May.
Last night in a movie theater, I realized for the second time recently that the + sign in Canal + is actually a cross which has been shortened. That... did not make me happy, either.
That said, sometimes I have to pinch myself to remember that the Church, as institution, was into telling people exactly what to think on a grand scale. It eases my nostalgia for things that I never knew...
In "evangelising for the Church" and "evangelising against the Church", you can still see both "evangelising" and "Church"...
I realized with awe the other day that negation is not a symmetrical operation to a positive declaration. The implications of this phrase are incredibly complex, though somewhat abstract for most people.
Looking (more) forward to the next well...
Thank you Paul. I love reading these pieces every Sunday.
One question: do you have any idea (other than the numinous one hinted at in your description) why the waters have stopped running?
I also fell to wondering whether a campaign to reconstitute these wells (perhaps 'reconsecrate' would be better) would be worthwhile; reinvigorate the old tradition of doing the rounds etc.
It might be a small, spiritual line in he sand at a time when the dominance of The Machine seems near total.
Or perhaps we have to accept that what's past is past and that we need new consecrations for the times to come.
The last line here makes me think of Shelley's poem "Ozymandias":
"I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—'Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'"
So for the moment the well is a wreck, but in the end, what is really going to be the wreck?
Ivy is quick and brambles quicker. The trees will come. I guess you might date it to when the road was modernised and its foundations and drainage altered the lie of the land. One can guess the brambles and trees will come for the road in due time.
Names last longer, tears and love even longer - memory return fresh to the land.
“But the power is fading now. This well is dry. And I wonder what came first: the end of the flowing waters, or the end of the visits from the people. Which is cause, and which effect?”
Hi Paul, here’s a thought on this early Maine morning…Holy Water can only flow if it’s not obstructed. Flowing water is a gift (we did not manufacture it) and like a gift is meant to be given and received freely, not coerced and controlled. This makes me think of the monologue in Andrei Tarkovsky’s‘s film Sacrifice. “My mothers garden”. Interesting as I’m watching a very similar situation unfold here. The flowing water has left because of control and the people are now leaving. But the flowing water is infinite and I trust when we are ready to receive the gift again the water will flow.
It seems to me these places actually benefit from their being in some greater or lesser state of ruin, rather than being kept tidily and efficiently dispensing eye-cures and such like strip mall vending machines.
Couple of years back I had chance to see the suburban shopping mall of my late teens while visiting upstate New York for the first time in nearly 40 years. It was there I'd found my first job, and first girlfriends, and got up to all the typical day-glo stupidities of American teens in the early eighties. And this once mighty flagship of American consumerism was now an abandoned ruin. Looking through the dusty doors I could see the boarded-up windows and collapsed ceiling tiles. The once teeming parking lot was empty and everywhere cracked by spunky weeds enthusiastically pushing through the pavement.
And I was simultaneously gut-punched by a wave of nostalgia, of being in the presence of the ghosts of my youth, thousands of memories of faces and holidays and summer nights long gone, but also a thrilling sense that I had at last found /proof/ that none of this horrific culture would endure. I actually cried but I was overjoyed.
This self-important place had once been filled with grubby regional managers, security guards, disappointing schedules posted for barely-paid part-time employees. And now it was dead and rapidly decaying, along with the last remnants of the countless petty commercial tyrannies it used to visit on so many. This entire culture is junk in the waiting. Seeing that felt like triumph.
So many beautiful metaphors! This is a wonderful thing to do process and think about and discuss with people that we love.
A brilliant essay Paul.
I also look forward to these each Sunday. Thank you.
I think the drop in the number of saints is related to the difference between sainthood by acclamation- the local people intimately know an elder, a hermit, who dispenses holy advice, healing, lives a sacrificial life vs. religious orders lobbying for their star members. It isn’t that the latter aren’t saintly, but the small saints carrying huge crosses and following Christ ever so closely get overlooked. The western church forgot in some ways what a Christian life looked like, and fewer were attracted to it.
But Irish saints abroad were a blessing to millions of Catholics.
Beautiful, Paul. That line about nature herself playing the role of iconoclast struck me especially. In our forest chapel, the original icons of Christ and Mary I put there a couple of years ago have been sun bleached into basically nothing by now (of course). Of course, you can get UV-resistant coated stuff, etc etc, but I don't take that as the primary lesson. I don't know what I *do* take as the primary lesson, but it seems like one's there.
Perhaps the water and people stopped fairly simultaneously: the major road junction making the flow of people to a private place of worship slow down and at the same time affecting the hydrology of the location.
I'm on the opposite side of the religious journey to you, having been brought up and educated in the roman catholic faith, fully via school and mass until I was 12, then just going through the motions until I had enough courage at the age of 17 to tell my father I wasn't going to mass on a Sunday any more. Throughout my young life, I was always amazed at the hypocrisy and conflict I saw around me all sanctioned by the church who apparently spoke in the name of our god, who gave us the commandments, yet they continually flouted them. I never fully believed that a man-like presence brought us into the world, nor that the sacraments we took part in were recreations of the original events - surely consuming the body and blood of Christ would be cannibalism, wouldn't it? Even as a child I assumed that this was a story to help us deal with the immensity of the universe and to calm our fears about where we were before we were born and what would happen to us after our physical energy expired and we died, and to keep society in some form of regulated behaviour, hence the commandments. As there are many different creation stories, all with similar objectives when it boils down to it, at the age of 64 I have come to the calm conclusion that, yes, a vast power brought our planet and us into being and that we are part of a virtuous cycle of birth, life and death feeding planet and all living beings. However, any organised religion has no further place in my life - I feel it's just a different version of the Machine.
All that said, I still find churches calm and pleasant places to be, the architecture and masonic skill needed to build them is incredibly inspiring. The roadside places you frequently write/speak of also crop up in Brittany,, a land of legend similar to Ireland, and I've often wondered why these specific sites were chosen to erect such statuary. I would be interested to learn more of the schism between east and west though - could you suggest some not too academic reading?
How appropriate to read this at the overcast dawn of my melancholy Sunday. This is very stirring, actually, as I set about tackling the third day of a bad cold, lots of phlegmatic histrionics, with aches of head and joints. Suits the weather and your essay. Staying home from the Divine Liturgy, I hope to rouse myself to pray the Hours and Typika, rather than sit like a stooge watching the Liturgy online. Even the small effort required to do the Typika is something of a podvig for us moderns, and it seems the most appropriate way to honor the Lord’s Day during my ailment. My own rag for St Colman, St Nilus the Myrrhgusher of Mount Athos (whom we celebrate today on the New Calendar), and of course the Lord’s Resurrection. That’s my Wild Christianity for the morning!
For any who might be interested, here is a link to a Life of St Nilus:
I didn't realize what you meant by eyewell until now. Have a story for you, back in the late 80's my Dad had some type of eye problem, he couldnt drive or work. Had one surgery but no results, Dr said he would become blind eventually. He was sitting in Church one Sunday and he said his vision just "opened up" and he could see clear. Went to his Dr and he said he had never seen a reversal like that. He had no eye problems the remainder of his life.
Very powerful. I had an unsettling premonition while reading this that in my children’s and grandchildren’s lifetime, this is what Christianity will become: abandoned relics of the past. But the ending gave me a jolt of hope. Lovely and bracing.
Have you come across Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Vanishing Cornwall’ Paul? She talks also the holy wells and pilgrim paths fast disappearing (now maybe gone altogether) with awe and aching loss though without thinking directly about the Saints and how and Who inspired them and their followers.
I love your articles and ruminating. Thank you Paul
I know this is not about your post today but I was listening to your speech in Wisconsin. I am not a peasant and far from it but I did. ask my oldest if he wanted eggs and I walked out to the chicken coop and got him a fresh free ranged egg. There is something to eating locally and seasonally. Even the eggs yolks change
Have you written further about the schism? Or have suggestions for a balanced reading on this?