Sunday, 3 February 2013

Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things.

Yesterday morning we packed a picnic while pondering whether it would be a good idea as intermittent showers (or miniature deluges) sped across the skies and soaked the green outside our house - but a picnic can be eaten in the car so we packed up and headed across to St David's; me, husband, daughter and dog.  I'd suggested taking the short, narrow lane down to St Non's Bay as although I've walked that stretch of coast before, I'd never stepped off the coastpath to explore the sacred spring (or holy well) or ruins of the chapel.

There was no rain on arrival, the sky was blue and the clouds were dispersing  We squeezed together to enjoy the picnic in the car before heading down towards the well and the chapel ruins.  There's a small shrine with a statue of the Virgin Mary situated just to the north of the well  and water flows as a stream from underneath.  When we visited there was also a picture of the Pope propped on the ground beneath the shrine, I'm assuming it's the current one and R wanted to know who the strange man in the picture was!  The problem with trying to explain a picture of the Pope to a four year old is it ends up being more than you anticipate.  "He's the head of the Catholic Church" inevitably leads to the question of what is the Catholic Church, basic explanations regarding a section of Christianity/group of Christians leads to questions about who Christians are, further explanations relating to belief in God are then met with "What God?".  Ah, good question, uhhhh - we'll leave that one for her to work out for herself when she's older.  My husband just laughed  and declared her a natural born Atheist ;) 

Shrine to the Virgin Mary
The spring itself exudes a sense of peace - it's sheltered below the lie of the land and catches the sun; add the sound of flowing water and you have the perfect place to be caught in a moment of meditative reflection.  The story goes that when St Non gave birth at this spot (to the baby who would grow up to be St David) the spring water suddenly started flowing from the ground.  It's very much a place to pause and reflect - although with R, husband and dog charging off through the kissing gate into the adjacent field where the chapel ruins stand, pausing and reflecting was carried out in a very short space of time.  I would like to go back some time by myself, to spend a bit more time in that quiet place - and although it is said to be one of the most sacred wells in Wales, I suspect the spring was a sacred place long before the Christian Church dedicated it to St Non.

There's not much left of the Chapel - it passed out of use after the Reformation and over time fell into ruin.  Regardless, R enjoyed exploring it.  The slab in the corner (in the photo) is inscribed with a cross within a circle - St Non's Cross - it was originally found in the same field as where the chapel stands but may not originally have been part of the site.  It's about 12-1300 years old!
Ruins of St Non's Chapel
Scattered around the field where the ruins stand are a number of small standing stones (most, less than three feet high).  Most of the information I've found suggests it may or may not be a stone circle, but probably indicates bronze age habitation.  I'm inclined to lean towards the idea that it *is* the remains of a circle as looking at them from above the field (where we parked the car) they form a rough circle, with a slightly larger stone further north reminiscent of the position of the outliers at Gors Fawr Stone circle near Mynachlogddu in the Preselis (I'll have to write about them sometime!).  It's suggested that the position of the outliers (which are north-east of the circle there) is possibly connected to the midsummer sunrise - maybe the original layout of the stones at St Non's means the same.  It's another reason it feels like the area was sacred long before the Church found it - after all, it's well accepted that churches were often built within areas already considered sacred.   
R Checks out one of the standing stones - seeming less than impressed.

Beyond the field we wandered the coast path for half a mile or so - the rain of the past few days making it a little treacherous in places but mud is half the fun.....

Even when you're a grown-up! .......

And although explaining geology and geography and coastal processes to R was possibly a bit beyond her age.....
Coastal erosion in action - check out that arch ;)...
....And that stack formation ;)

You don't need to understand it to be able to appreciate the scenery.........

Nothing beats Pembrokeshire on a sunny day - though I may be biased!
After our muddy trek along the cliffs and back to the car we headed for home - with a brief stop in St David's to visit the Cathedral.  It's another favourite place of mine.  It nestles in a shallow valley, so unlike many other Cathedrals which seek to claim a high spot.  And although I've visited many that have been awe-inspiring in their architecture, and the skill that went into their construction (Wells and Salisbury Cathedral are two that spring to mind) St David's Cathedral is comforting in it's simplicity and feels more connected with the landscape around it.  For me it reflects it's construction in faith - the more impressive Cathedrals often seem to be more about power and suppressing those at the bottom; combined with something a little more presumptuous that seems to compete with the God it's built for.

St David's Cathedral
We thought to spend a little time hunting inside for the hidden green man in the arches above - I've seen him before but had forgotten where.  Sadly, on this occasion the only green men we found were the ornamental ones for sale in the Cathedral shop and as R was growing tired by this point we thought it time to head home.

R's too tired to walk ;)
One thing did strike me as we ambled among the vaulted ceilings - there was a display near one of the internal chapels relating to repairs carried out, and written within the display were the words I've used to title this blog entry: Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things.  They refer to the last words of St David's and I think, for me they epitomise the best way to live (regardless of how you might define 'faith' - even if it has no spiritual or religious meaning we all have faith in something).  Yesterday was a day  of joy, and today carried on the theme with walks down to the river and splashing in muddy puddles.  And the little things?  I guess that's the day to day bits that might make another person smile - and it's not just the doing, it's the noticing the little things too :)

Noticing the beginnings of spring.

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