Monday, September 24, 2012

Hexham, Northumbria, England - Monday, September 24, 2012

I m closer to figuring out why i am here. It is rainy and cold and blustery and it is supposed to remain this way for 3-4 days. Had Sharyn and I walked the length of the wall, tolday would have been the first day of at best long, hard trudge, at worst, misery.

I wasa still determined to walk today, so I put on layers and loaded up my lunch (leftover salami and brie on a crusty roll with 2 plums). I decided not to use the gps (the call gps "the tom tom" here) because the lovely young woman at the Corbridge Roman Town gave me a simple map that I reasoned surely I could follow. Wrong. The mistake came somewhere and I ended up in Hexham, not on Military Road (where Hadrian's Wall lies). Because I had a ticket for an a capella concert tonight in Hexham (part of the Hexham Abbey Arts Festival), I decided as long as I wasa here, I might as well figure out where the Abbey was and where I could park tonight.

I headed into the city center in the Audi. Mind you, I am still fearful each time I make a turn in the car. Behold, right beside me.....a sports store! I am searching for a Newcastle soccer jersey for Sam. I figure out how to park, going back and forth about 18 times in a parallel spot. I make my way to the store.

Sadness. No jersey. Not only are there no jeseys, but I am told by the very kind owner, that I am not going to find a Newcastle jersey except for at the stadium. "Why?" I ask. It turns out the guy who owns the team, owns the t-shirt manufacurer and the sports store in newastle, which is in a very busy part of town. The store owner advises me not to drive there (maybe he saw me park?) He suggests ordering it off the internet. Too bad, Sammy. On a better note, the store owner shows me I am very close to the Abbey and where I can park this evening.

It is raining harder now. I decide to walk to the Abbey to see for myself where it is. And...because I am there now, I go in. I take a "Welcome to Hexham Abbey" brochure and go in.

It is an old, warm, dry, lovely place. Immediately to the right is "St. Etheldreda's Chapel". Note to self: look him/her up. Then St. Acca's cross-shaft. Need to look up both St. Acca and cross-shaft, as well.

There are a effegies of knights and ladies.

I come to St. Wilifrid's Chapel (again, look this up) where a sign says, "St. Wilifrid's chapel is set aside for quiet prayer." I go in. To the right is an icon of St. Wilifrid. He holds his right hand out and has his thumb and ring finger together, his hand outstretched. In front, there is a stained glass window of a bishop (probably Wilifrid, I presume?) with three young angels under his feet. The angels in the middle and on the right are in color. The one on the left is grey. Interesting. Why? Damaged? Never colored? Strange and out of place, it seems. What does it mean? To my immediate left is a niche with some sort of strange little statue on the left, a large candle on the right and a bunch of rocks that look very intentionally placed. Not the kind of stone the Abbey is made of, but smooth, egg sized stones of various shades of grey and differing textures. These stones make me know I am meant to be here. So I quiet myself and settle in.

Why am I here? In the quiet, stillness of this small space of this chapel within the huge space of this Abbey in Northumbria in England. (I like to say Northumbria because it sounds so Narnia). Wait for it......"I brought you hhere for freedom. Do not be restrained." This comes into my head. I am skeptical enought to think that I made that up in the quiet of prayer. I also know myself enough to know that I wouldn't have chosen the word "restrained" to describe myself. I don't think of myself as a particularly restrained person. Generally, I feel I can do and say what I please in a fairly unrestrained way. I came to Northumbria, by myself, I might remind God. Restrained? OK, I think it through. "What restrains me," I ask myself. Strangely enough, a list begins to form: obligation, guilt, moods, t-do-lists, money, the rain, my body, this sports bra, my need for productivity.

There is a piano being tuned in the Abbey and I hear a ping, ping, ping, like Nora the Cat on the YouTube videos. "Slow down with the drizzly rain. I brought you here for freedome. Do not be restrained. Listen to the piano being tuned." Ping, ping, ping.

At some point I leave the chapel. The piano continues to be tuned and I can see the tuner now.

I come upon the crypts of two women. There is a carving below the crypt that reads: From the 1514 Book of Hours, often used at funerals.
God be in my head, and in my understanding;
God be in my eyes, and in my looking;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
God be in my heart, and in my thinking;
God be at my end, and at my departing.


I move on and look at the huge stone baptimal font with a pointy wooden steeple above it. There are stairs in the floor and a sign that reads, "Entrance to St. Wilifrid's famous 7th century crypt. Please see website for tour times." Odd and creepy to my Protestant bones how important all these old bones are to people even today. Same as yesterday at Durham where the old kings head and the bones of St. Cuthbert can be found in the cathedral. Can these bones live. Maybe, but only if they bring new life to people today.

Near the bones, I see something new. Modern. Art. I pick up a pamphlet because I so love pamphlets: "New Beginnings" Art Exhibition in Hexham Abbey featuring 19 local artists: masks, watercolor, fiber, canvas. Some are hung between windows by wire, some are propped up on wood on top of radiators. All are interpretations of creation or new life. We could do this at Palms Presbyterian. This is doable. One of the pieces catches my eye. It is a rectangular labyrinth with spectacular, interesting starts at the center. I notice there is writing in the bottom left corner of the labyrinth. The words weave themselves through the labyrinth: The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started. The last inlaid on labyrinth of earth yet to discover is that which was the beginning." - Carolyn Hawkes. (I need to look her up, also. I pick up her card:

Other artists to explore:
Karen Vickers - no web address.

I notice the piano tuner has finished his work. I pull on my raincoast and head outdoors.


Epilogue to the Abbey Visit: I stayed the entire day in Hexham, poking in lots of Thrift Stores and other shops, sipping tea and writing.

When I showed up for the concert, I remembered that my seat assignment was on the front row. I was a few minutes early and noone was on my row. I went back to St. Wilifrid's Chapel and I made a cairn out of some of the stones and moved the others around. I went to the front row and sat down as some others were now seated there. Before the concert and during the beginning of intermission, I visited with the woman next to me. She explained who St. Wilifrid was (indeed, the bishop). I told her I was going to Lindisfarne and she took me to show me a picture of St. Cuthbert (of Lindisfarne) carrying the head of King Oswald. (another stange story, for another time) At the end of intermission, she told me that she was an artist and her work was displayed over in the art show. "Which ones are yours?" I asked? "The labyrinths." she answered. She is Carolyn Hawkes, whom I had written about earlier in the day. Hmmmm.....

No comments:

Post a Comment