Holy Places: New Opportunities

The warden of our Open Gate Retreat House on Holy Island, Graham Booth, felt an overwhelming urge to pray, at 11.0 am, for the centre of the Society of Our Lady of the Isles on the remote Scottish island of Fetlar. Later he rang a contact there. At 11.0 am, he was informed, the Bishop of Aberdeen began a meeting of their trustees. They decided to put all their properties up for sale. These include the old chapel and accommodation units at Aithness, Fetlar, the Ness (Mother Mary Agnes' original croft and chapel) and St. Sunniva Skete, a separate dwelling with a chapel near the ferry. Full details of these properties can be obtained from Dowle, Smith and Rutherford (Lerwick, Shetland) www.d-s-r.co.uk. Mother Mary Agnes has written several inspiring books about her call to Fetlar. How good it would be if Christians from Norway or UK purchased these in order to continue a living community of prayer there.

Why Norway? Norway ruled these islands for hundreds of years. I write this blog on St. Sunniva's Day. This Irish princess, after whom the Fetlar Skete was named, established a hermitage in Norway. A local king tried to rape the sisters. They fled to a cave and prayed. A rock collapse saved them from rape but took them to glory. That site, Selje, is reviving as a pilgrim destination.

The Scottish Pilgrim Routes Forum invited me to give input at their next meeting,. Since the opening of St. Cuthbert's Way, the 63 mile walk between Melrose and Lindisfarne, which was in part a tourist construct, the number of pilgrims has greatly increased. The only real connection with Cuthbert is Lindisfarne and St. Cuthbert's Cave. The monastery where Cuthbert trained was at Old Melrose, a few miles from the present Melrose, at a U-turn in the River Tweed. There the present owner has opened up a barn as a tea room, made a monks trail from this to the river, near to the original site, and invited the local school to create an Interpretation Centre. Today a pilgrimage leader told me how their pilgrim group stopped there to pray. They cited a folk tale that St. Boisil (the prior) and St. Cuthbert prayed for the River to turn back - hence the U-turn. Whatever we think of the theology of the pilgrims, they prayed that the river would stand still for a moment. They claim that the current stilled for half a minute. An Afro-American pastor burst into tears. 'Now I know God exists independently of my poetry' she sobbed. I hope that St. Cuthbert's Way may evolve. Perhaps it could start at Old Melrose, or turn back the Scottish side of the river Tweed and include a stop at Norham, where St. Aidan's first wooden church was re-erected.

Russ Parker has led a retreat on Blessings this week. He told me about St. Fillan's Holy Pool, near Tyndrum in Stirling, Scotland. This is a natural, deep pool at a sharp bend in the River Fillan. The pool was once divided by a stone dyke into male and female sides. It has a tradition for healing. People carved stones in the shape of parts of the human body, they lay their hands on them for healing of a named person. Russ makes a point of taking pilgrims to this place and praying for healing. I'll do this the next time I get a few days holiday in August. But now I'm off to Clan Gathering to do workshops with Scott Brennan at Largs (July 11- 16). Pray that this may be a spiritual dynamo for Scotland.

Posted at 03:20am on 10th July 2015
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