(NOTE: It had been my intention to write contributions to this blog much more frequently than I have been able to. The place where we have been staying in Edinburgh has had an interruption to their internet service so I've been restricted to using a Starbucks in order to get internet access. Sorry. Consequently, you may get several postings close together.)
When I first announced that I was going to be posting about our experiences in Scotland with both the St. Paul's Choir and their singing daily services at St. Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh, as well as an extended tour by experienced pilgrimage leader The Rev. Peter Sills, I gave the series the title, "Sacred Spaces in Scotland." A friend of mine read that and asked me which "sacred spaces" I had in mind. He has been to Scotland more times than anyone I personally know and has a deep affection for the country.
Those who have followed my teachings, which I base on my evolving and growing understanding of the teachings of Jesus, know how I have emphasized non-duality and inclusivity. It is unfortunate that we label some things - and people! - as sacred and some as not. The poet Wendell Berry has said, "All the earth is sacred. We have just desecrated some of it." I fear we have done this to a growing portion of not only the earth but also the earth's inhabitants.
One such example would be the journey our small group made to Rosslyn Chapel just outside of Edinburgh. Many people are likely familiar with this historical place because it figured prominently in the ending of a very popular book, "The Da Vinci Code."
Construction on this place of worship was begun in 1446. William St. Clair founded the Chapel to "spread intellectual and spiritual knowledge." And, it needs to be added, that according to the records, "to ensure his place in heaven." The original scheme for the "chapel" was much larger than is seen today. In our world of "haste and waste" it is hard for us to conceive of something like this undertaking. The chapel was conceived and work was commenced. Likely what is now the village of Roslin grew up to house the large number of craftsmen who helped build the Chapel over a 40 year period. At the end of that time St. Clair died and construction stopped.
This may have been just as well because in this part of the world wars and "reformations" caused places of worship to be subject to misuse, abuse, desecration and destruction.
In my reading about the history of Scotland it seems that Oliver Cromwell, who won an effort to "reform" the church, is disliked equally by those who considered themselves loyal to the Roman Church, the Church of England, the Reformed Church and what became The Presbyterian. The only ones who remained fans of Cromwell were run out of Scotland and fled to the colonies. They weren't very welcome there either.
They were forced into the area of Appalachia where many became farmers. One way they showed their loyalty to King George was by wearing red kerchiefs around their necks. This is were we get the term "red neck." At any rate, Cromwell's armies sacked the Rosslyn Castle in 1650.
It is safe to say that in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales the cathedrals did not fare as well as in the clearly Roman Catholic countries of France,Italy and Spain. Nonetheless, when I walk into one of these spaces one of the things that leaps into my mind is the wonderment, "Where did this come from? This is pure spiritual unconsciousness made manifest." And, further, what must it be like to begin work of such artistic creativity knowing that very likely the artist would not live long enough to see the completed edifice.
The chapel is filled with carved iconography in stone. All along the walls, ceiling, columns and archways are carvings designed to instruct. Some of them are serious, some poignant, and, some, downright funny. Workmen strove for perfection down to the most minute detail even on small carvings that are virtually hidden from easy viewing.
Even though there is no true distinction, except our labeling, between "sacred" and "secular," there is something moving about standing in a place of prayer and worship that is over 550 years old. Perhaps we could learn to take from such a place a growing willingness and ability to see the sacred nature of every place and every person.