A Dorset Weekend With The Silent Eye – Part Three

This is part three of my account of a recent weekend in Dorset with The Silent Eye. Click here for Part 1 & Part 2.

After lunch, we were to visit seven churches in the course of the afternoon, starting with Cerne Abbas. This, despite the fact we only had a few hours to accomplish it, seemed completely reasonable. Time was already starting to play tricks on me, stretching and slowing, and the afternoon was to prove even more challenging in that regard…

We started in the lovely parish church at the centre of Cerne Abbas, adorned with carving both outside and in. it was a pleasant church, one that hummed with activity and felt much more alive than the strangely vacant church at Cadbury the evening before.

There was a man painting icons at a table and several of our group spent time in conversation with him. I wandered the aisles, photographing the remnants of medieval wall paintings, the carved screen and ornate pulpit, and a shape painted on the wall near the altar. Known as a Consecration Cross, the shape probably predates Christianity, and was to figure prominently as the day progressed.

Once everyone had had a look around, we met in the small garden to one side of the church, sitting within an enclosure created by espaliered fruit trees. There was a brief discussion about the places we were going to visit, and then we were each invited to choose a coin and a piece of paper. My coin was Aries, and on the piece of paper I chose was the Sun….

…It was time to start the dance…

I hopped in the car with Sue and Stuart, who, very kindly, had ferried me around all weekend, and we hit the road. And this is where things got a bit strange. Sue has written up all the churches we visited in great detail here (Churches one, two, three, four, five and six) if you’re interested. I do remember visiting them all – the problem, however, was keeping them straight in my head. The landscape seemed to flow around me, the curving roads between high hedges feeling like a labyrinth as we arrived at first one lych gate, then another, driving past ancient cottages and old stone walls, tantalising glimpses of hills  appearing before the road twisted again, exposing another view. There were roses and tiny lilies, green grass and tilting tombstones, each telling a story of their own. Even now, it’s tough for me to comprehend how it was we managed to visit all seven churches before dinner time, and my impressions of each are images of light and colour and stained glass and stone…

… a flash of orange light through a high window, gilding each one of us in turn… a strange figure, older than the building it adorned, echoes of a distant past… a church set in a meadow next to an ancient country house, deconsecrated yet still, in its own way, holding power… another church set on the side of a hill, which had a cool clear feeling, like the far more ancient stone altars we’d seen in Scotland the year before… strangely phallic carvings flanked by curving shapes seen on an ancient tithe box… the jewel-like gleam of stained glass… swallows darting inside a stone vestibule… carved wood and stone… a hillside rising, rich with flowers and green grass… a dance of planets, fire and water, sun and moon… the feeling that we were in a place far older, with roots that ran far deeper, than the churches that stood there…

That night, at dinner, there wasn’t much conversation, all of us needing time, it seemed, to process the day. We did discuss the churches, and it was then that confusion set in, for me at least.

‘But wasn’t that the third church we went to?’

‘The fifth.’

‘Really?’ Mind spinning, trying to remember.

‘Earth energy does that to people.’

‘It does?’

I looked around at the table. Two of our companions had left already, pleading exhaustion. The others, while still smiling, were quiet, and we were all waiting for dinner to arrive. The churches spun in my head, as though on a wheel. Or a cross, perhaps – the consecration cross, which we’d ended up seeing in several of the churches we visited, as well as a six-pointed star carving, each with a centre point. And we’d visited seven churches…

I gave up trying to figure it out and ate my meal, marvelling quietly once more at how time seems to become elastic on these weekends, every moment filled with meaning, something to be savoured and considered later.

Now, when I look back at that afternoon, my impression is one of breathlessness. Not because I felt rushed, or was running a lot – rather, I was breathless from being caught in a force larger than I was. There were some lovely moments of clarity, many to do with water, as though taking a moment to look in a font or stream helped me to refocus. And I took hardly any photos, which is strange – certainly almost none of the church buildings themselves. Rather, I focused on details and oddities, as though I was only able to take everything in as fragments. It was wonderful, in the best sense of the word.

But the place we were to visit the next day would dwarf any other we had already seen, in just about every way possible…


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13 thoughts on “A Dorset Weekend With The Silent Eye – Part Three

    1. Thanks Sue – time has flown, and I’m sorry it’s taking me so long to get these out! However, more things are coming up with reflection, so maybe that’s a good thing? And yes, time does do some very strange things, certainly when I seem to be with you, anyway 😉 x

  1. Although we did cover an impressive amount of ground on Saturday afternoon, Helen, we were not quite that impressive. The first church and the allocation of ‘roles’ took place just before lunch… 😉

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