A Thin Place.

“A Thin Place” was a Celtic pre-Christian term for a place where the gap between this world and the Other is at its thinnest. I was fortunate enough to discover one of those places and to linger for a little while in its embrace.

The first indication that this might be such a site are the remains of an Abbey. Destroyed as so many were by Henry VIII; now all that remains is a forlorn but graceful arch reaching its cupped hands silently into the sky as if in prayer.

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There would have been an assembly of monks working here and praying to God for five centuries until its dissolution in 1538. Yet this did not feel like a thin space.  A nearby sign points in the direction of a hermit’s cave. I walk the 170 metres in the direction it indicates and disappear into a grove of trees. Quickly the ground rises steeply upwards and there it is in front of me.

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It is a cave, hewn into the side of the rock face, still secluded and hidden amongst the grove of trees.

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The hermitage was first mentioned in the 12th century. It is believed that it was created by a baker from Derby named Cornelius. He had a vision which told him to go and live in Depedale (the old name for the nearby Dale village). When he arrived he found the place was a marsh, `exceedingly dreadful and far distant from every habitation of man’. He carved a small dwelling and altar from the sandstone rock, and lived there `by day and night, he served God in hunger and thirst and cold and nakedness’.

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The simple cave has openings for a door and windows, and a cross engraved on one wall. When I went inside I was surprised how dry and sound the cave looked. It also felt as though its occupier had just stepped outside for a few minutes and might be back shortly.

I stopped and directed a silent prayer toward the wall marked with the cross, which also looked surprisingly fresh, as though it had been only recently created.  Then a few minutes of silent reflection before I stepped back out into the summer sunshine. As I did so, something vigorously stirred the fallen leaves at my feet. It was as though a voice had said, “Welcome stranger, I bless you for your prayer.” Perhaps it was just a breeze, you might say? Well, perhaps it was,  though I do not recall seeing the leaves of the surrounding trees moving. And the feeling that accompanied the rustle of the leaves – a feeling of  – otherness. Perhaps that too was simply my imagination.

Or perhaps not, because such things happen in a thin place.

 

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