April 2011


A poet is someone
who can pour
light
into a cup,
then raise it
to nourish
your beautiful,
parched,
and holy heart.

Hafiz

St Melangell’s Church

There has been a Christian Church here for over 1200 years. Its setting, in a place of great beauty deep in the Berwyn Mountains, is peaceful and unspoilt. The church stands in a round churchyard, once a Bronze Age site, ringed by ancient yew trees estimated to be two thousand years old. Parts of the building date from the 12th Century though the most recent, a rebuilding of the apse on its original foundations, was completed only in 1990. The impression is still that of a simple Norman church, well loved and beautified over the years.

The church contains a fine 15th Century oak screen with carvings that tell the story of Melangell and Prince Brochwel. There are also two medieval effigies, one of which is thought to represent the saint; a Norman font, a Georgian pulpit, chandelier and commandment board, a series of stone carvings of the hare by the sculptor Meical Watts, and the mysterious Giant’s Rib.

 

The church’s greatest treasure is the 12th Century shrine of Saint Melangell. This was dismantled after the Reformation and its stones, carved with a strange blend of Romanesque and Celtic motifs, were built into the walls of the church and lych-gate. They were reassembled in the last century and have now been re-erected in the chancel. The result is an impressive monument, unique in Britain and recently described by a leading scholar as ‘of pan-European significance’. Bones said to be those of the saint have been deposited within the shrine. The church is listed Grade 1: an illustrated history and guide is available.

In 1987, the church was in such a poor state that repair was impossible and a full-scale restoration was necessary if it was to be saved. This work was begun in 1988 under the Rev’d Paul Davies and his wife Evelyn, and was completed in 1992.

There is no resident congregation here. The Parish Church is in Llangynog. St Melangell’s Church has always been a Pilgrims’ Church.

Pennant Melangell is a place beyond words and far from the rush of 21st century life; a place where God speaks in the silence and where all people have an opportunity to experience a sense of the Holy. The restored church is open daily for prayer and worship and we welcome all pilgrims and visitors and look forward to welcoming you on your pilgrimage and hope you will take away a lasting sense of the peace of Christ.

The Tanat Valley:
Cwm Pannant, Llangynog, Powys


 

Remote and isolated, deeply glaciated valley with clustered small farms with small enclosed fields on lower slopes and valley bottom, medieval church and legendary associations with St Melangell, abandoned farms.

Historic background

The area fell within the upper portion of the medieval ecclesiastical parish of Pennant Melangell, and fell administratively within the ancient commote of Mochnant Uwch Rhaeadr. The medieval church at Pennant Melangell, towards the head of the valley, is first recorded in the mid thirteenth century but is possibly on a Christian site established by about the 8th century on the basis of the legendary associations with Melangell. Archaeological excavations have shown that the church overlies a middle Bronze Age cremation cemetery, dating the period about 1200 BC, which suggests some form of continuity from or reuse of a pre-existing pagan burial ground. As yet, there is no clear evidence of whether the medieval church lay at the focus of a nucleated settlement or whether it was isolated in the landscape. The church had become an important centre for pilgrims visiting the shrine of Melangell from the 12th century, until the suppression of the cult at the time of the Reformation, in the mid 16th century.

Key historic landscape characteristics

Deep, glaciated Cwm Pennant, valley of the Afon Tanat, together with the even narrower Cwm Llêch, valley of the Afon Goch each with precipitous sides and each terminating in a waterfall, the valley floor lying between about 180-220m OD. The floor of each valley is about 300-400m across, yet up to about 300m below the tops of the surrounding hills, which has the effect of isolating them from each other and from the rest of the world. The enclosed land is predominantly either flat and poorly drained land on the valley-bottom or generally better-drained, sloping and steeply sloping land on the lower sides of the valley, the sides of the valleys tending to become steeper higher up. Rock outcrops and screes on sides of valleys, notably on Moel Dimoel. Rivers and streams embanked with pebbles, their beds often raised above the surrounding level. Present-day settlement comprises a number of medium-sized scattered working farms and other cottages, including a number of holiday homes.

Land-use now predominantly pasture, but there are numerous deep lynchets especially on the sloping fields on the sides of the valley which indicating that ploughing for arable was much more widely practiced in the past. Small fields with boundaries tending to be either up and down the slope (sometimes alongside fast-flowing streams) or set out along the contour, with some older curving and irregular boundaries indicate a sequence of early, probably medieval enclosure in some areas. Field names, patterns and 19th-century ownership patterns suggest areas of relict medieval open field in several areas, including a distinctive pattern of strip fields to the south of Pwll Iago. Elsewhere, the present-day field pattern is probably of 16th to 18th-century in date. Fields on valley sides generally have stony clearance banks up to about 1m high, with mixed-species hedges including birch, oak, maple, ash and hawthorn. Roadside hedges are low cut, other hedges generally overgrown. Many hedges were formerly laid and a few have been laid recently. Damp, low-lying reedy valley-bottom meadows characteristically with overgrown willow or alder hedges. Occasional dilapidated drystone walls along lower field boundaries or alongside roads or tracks. Traces of early boundaries made of upright slate slabs near Ty Ucha. Taller alders and alder groves lining watercourses. Small areas of semi-natural oak and birch woodland on some steeper slopes. Small conifer plantations on higher slopes, with more extensive coniferous forestry on the hilltops above. Extensive area of abandoned fields on the south-facing hillside above Llechwedd-y-garth, included in the Hafod Hir character area.

The modern winding roads follow ancient tracks running in hollow-ways here and there. Modern road bridges across rivers and culvets for streams though in some instances these appear to have more ancient abutments, the name of Pont Pren Fain indicating a former narrow wooden bridge.

Some  of you know that I am in temporary accomodation tucked in just below the Round Tower ….. for those of you who prefer pictures here is the view from my living room window:

Visitors to the College of St George will have noticed some considerable activity. This particular phase of a major refurbishment project is underway with the erection of scaffolding over the Canons’ Cloister. The scaffolding can also be seen from street level as it towers up and over parts of the North Wall. And hence my move!

Every generation has its challenges and ours is to work together in the College for the preservation and restoration of these important medieval buildings that are in urgent need of repair.

The first phase of the work will cover the external repair of the Canons’ Cloister. This will include the replacement of copper roofs with sand cast lead. There are repairs to the timbers that support the roof structure. Across the Castle walls both stone and bricks will be also repaired. In particular it is hoped that inside the Cloister the cement render will be removed and replaced with a lime based render. Windows will be repaired and the outside of all these buildings decorated.

This whole project will cost several million pounds and take place over a period of several years. It is hoped that the first phase will be completed by the summer of 2012.

In the meantime we welcome onto the site many skilled people and look forward to the steady progress of work. Patience and expectation will be our aspirations as the noise and activity continues in order to leave these buildings in good order for future generations.

In the meantime there is plenty to see from my new home – including Spring in the Moat Garden below the Round Tower

The raising of the Royal Standard for the HM  The Queens Birthday

 and the changing of the Guard past the front door during Easter Court

The trouble with you is that you are never grateful,’ was the heartfelt challenge from parent to child overheard by us all drinking coffee in a Windsor shop. As I looked out of the window I wondered how I might have responded to the accusation. Are we grateful?

How do we express gratitude? Gratitude, thankfulness, or appreciation is an acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive. We express it when we receive help from others: time listening to our concerns. We articulate it when someone shows they care; a meal shared in friendship. We see it when someone goes out of their way to demonstrate their kindness; looking after our children when we need some time.

      If the Christian life is understood as a journey then we need some core essentials in our back pack that both assist on our journey and keep us in touch with the heart of Christian living. Gratitude supports this discovery and we are brought alive as we express it in the ordinary. In all of our worship with we find space to thank God for the sheer wonder of creation and the love given to us in Jesus. We are a grateful people sustained by God and this gratitude permeates our religious texts, prayers and teachings, (see Psalm 92:1-2; Colossians 3:15-17).   God gave us a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have we used one to say “thank you?” Gratitude can defend against isolation, pride and greed, and it opens us to interconnectedness, humility and fulfilment.

God is working the salvation of the world through us.  It’s our job and gratitude is part of what we need for the task.  For every material blessing we have received, for the gift of talent or health or home or a kind and loving spirit, for the good news of the love of God in Jesus Christ…whatever it is, we were given that blessing in order that we might use it to bless others.  It’s the basic lesson we learned in school. Share.  One toy lovingly and willingly shared creates community.  One toy hoarded creates tears and temper tantrums.   

In Christian gratitude, we know God to be the selfless giver of all good things. Our common bond is one of indebtedness. Christian gratitude is a virtue that shapes our emotions and thoughts but actions and deeds as well. Gratitude can make us more whole: happier and wiser Christians. How?

Let us see how the affirmation of the centrality of gratitude relates to our living.  Here are five areas of our lives that might provide a starting point for the nurture of thankful and gracious living.

First, give thanks for the material goodness. This might mean saying a prayer (aloud or silently) before meals for your food. Our lives depend on the richness of God’s bounty and the host of people who grew, processed, distributed, prepared and served our food. In this physical nourishment we delight in the source of all life.

This goodness is reflected in the wonder and beauty of creation. I remember stepping out of a car in north east Scotland to take a closer look at the most incredible rainbow I have ever seen. It was bursting with vivid colour. In moment like these we can feel deeply connected to the goodness of our earth. Open your eyes and be ready for surprise and delight.

Second, give thanks for your relationships. Our community of faith is an important part of the influence that places and people have had on our journey of faith. Remember those people who started us on our adventure of discipleship  or the person who stayed with us when the going was tough. God has done much for us through these people. The time and care taken by the priest over a funeral. The children’s leader who helps make faith real and fun. The preacher who gave us a word at the right time. The choir that carries us deeper with their music.

All of us are the recipient of many acts of kindnesses. We should continue to express our thanks for the people closest to us, our families and friends, and even our pets. These people and the things we share are a gift from God. Sometimes it is easy to overlook and express the blessings that we share with others, especially when we often are over preoccupied with the imperfections of love and our daily capacity to make mistakes. Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. This does not mean evading the complexities of living. We  can give thanks for our relationships and we know love to be always good even when it is entwined with our humanity and fallen-ness.

Third, we live generously when we express our gratitude. When did we last say thank you?! Try saying thank you to these people this weekend. Look at the person and express your gratitude to the shop assistant, the postman but especially to your work colleagues.

Thank you notes can become a way of practising gratitude: of putting into words the truth of our belonging to one another. As we write our thanks we can be weaned away from these myth of entitlement and the arrogance and isolation of independence. Think about the small things that have made a difference and express your course of thanks.

Four: Give Thanks When Things Go Wrong. Of course if you are reading this  thinking that your life is a mess, or that things have gone wrong, love has gone sour, or you are living in emotional or physical pain then giving thanks is perhaps furthest away from your thoughts.  How can we give thanks when everything is horrible? However unfortunate these times are they are part of the complete picture of life. There is often something new to learn, a habit or attitude to change. We can see the kindness of those who listen and care in a different and more appreciative light. At these times we know ourselves to be fragile and dependent. Dependence is not the dirty word we have sometimes made of it, but merely the simple pattern and the plain truth about life especially when it is difficult.

Five: Always end the day with a positive thought! Perhaps grateful people can sleep better because they cultivate a perspective that does not allow  negativity to infect ourselves and others.

Gratitude is deeply relational, which is why developing this virtue protects us from a sense of creeping isolation. These ten steps show us that we all have something to be grateful for. Life is the precious gift we receive from the moment of our birth. There may very well be a lot going wrong in our lives. However practising gratitude can help us celebrate the worth of receiving life, love, insight and nurture in us a  feeling of deep connectedness? All we need to create a more fulfilling life by seeing what we already have. When we look carefully and acknowledge what we do have, we may surprise ourselves and find more than we expected.
We do this because it reminds us that God is God, and because it is our responsibility to thank God for the good things He has given us. It is also good for us.  It helps us to refocus our minds which are so often fixated on what we want or need, and it reminds us of the good things that are already happening, of the wonderful ways in which God already showers love and goodness on us and of the blessings that are already ours.  Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot.

 

 

Today of all days we must stand at the cross and gaze on Christ crucified with hope and trust. We must stand with Mary and John and claim the new life God offers us in Christ crucified. Looking up at him, looking into the infinite distance that death has set between us and Him, we learn that our last possibility, beyond belief, beyond hope, is the possibility of love.

 

Love alone in Christ nailed to the Cross names the nothingness that each of us must become, and in the Cross we see that love has preceded us to our final resting place. This is our only hope- that He in love and by love is named our Saviour, redeemer, friend; and his death, in love and by love, has become our salvation.

 

 

 

 

Almighty Father,
look with mercy on this your family
for which our Lord Jesus Christ was content to be betrayed
      and given up into the hands of sinners
      and to suffer death upon the cross;
who is alive and glorified with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

Christianity gives us much to think about, much to figure out, it gives us lots of thoughts and words. But above all it gives us actions to do. Jesus, who in the agony of his last night, handed himself over once and for all to us, gave us an action as his living legacy. “Do this in remembrance of me”.

So what are we doing? Paul tells us we are showing forth the Lord’s death until he comes again. What we have to do is to put the Cross at the centre of our lives. This Cross on which God revealed his passion for us. The Lamb of God keeps us company in all our lives, the ups and downs, the hopes and fears, our joy and our pains. He is with us and for us.

Our gospel is about justice and mercy. It concerns compassion, it offers us redemption from death and self-destruction. Now, this evening, we show forth the Lord’s death and we remember that this is all about atonement. We need atonement, we need redemption, and we need the blood shared for the remission of sins. All these awesome and archaic phrases we had so easily let slip to the back of our minds, suddenly come to the fore. We are told to lift up the chalice of Christ’s blood, to do this in remembrance of him.

So what are we doing? In the Eucharist we do the act of sacrifice , of offering. We take everything we are and everything we have, we take everything Christ is and everything Christ did and we hand it all over to God at the altar as one single offering. What ever our lives, whoever we are, what ever our life experience, whatever our hopes for the future, we place it into the hands and the heart of Christ, offering him at the altar in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. We hand it up to God in this eternal cross of sacrifice. We offer ourselves and our lives for him. So first, this is an offering. We offer

Do this. What are we doing? We are receiving. We receive from God his love, his mercy, his hope and his truth. We need the grace of Communion. We need to feed on Christ, drink his life into ourselves. Let him bring life to its fullness in us. Let us feed on him in our hearts. We receive him and are nourished by his meal

Do this. What are we doing? We are sharing. We are doing it together as we are told. Christ gives us the Eucharist, this Holy Communion so that we can do something to experience the mystery of his love in actuality. The reality is that we are all one, that we are interconnected, that we are members of a single body, breathing the same breath. We are not alone or separate. In a single day on the Cross, in just two nights in the tomb, and early one Sunday morning, bound us for ever in one, in himself. So in the sharing Christ holds together all those who have gone before, all one, all held together in mercy. Together, we share

Do this. We offer. We receive. We share. This is the Bread of Life. Whoever feeds on me will never die.

Amen

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