What's Behind My Move To The White House?

On March 19 I move into the White House. I do not aspire to President Obama's abode - though let it be said that the USA made a conscious choice to build a more modest house than the palaces of its former colonial masters. No, I move into White House, Fenkle Street, Holy Island, Berwick-upon-Tweed TD15 2SR. This is two doors down from The Island Store, and has a garden view to the sea and castle. My present abode becomes The Community House, Office and Studies Centre.

Seeking to shed any grand pretensions to a Washington style of White House, I wondered whether Ishould change the house name, until I was reminded that early Celtic Christians built White Houses of a more modest kind. Around 400 AD Ninian established a White House at Candida Casa, which is why that place, in Galloway, Scotland, is now known as Whithorn. Although the little travelled Anglo-Saxon historian Bede did not know this, Ninian imported from Martin of Tours' community in Gaul, not just masons, but both Christian brothers and the names of Martin's houses. Candida Casa, White Hut, is simply a translation of Bright White Hut (Leuko-Teiac), the name of the bothy on Bishop Hilary's farm near Liguge, where Martin first organised his family of Christians. According to Archibald Scott, in his classic work 'The Pictish Nation: its people and its church' (T.N. Foulis, 1918 - out of print but in our Lindisfarne Library) Ninian's house was unlikely to have been as grand as later writers made out. It was more likely to have been like the later White Houses that were modelled from it, a modest house suited for prayer and sacraments at small gatherings. This view is supported by the references to this White House when Paulinus of York and Alcuin gave help to preserve it. These White Houses are found associated with Celtic Churches from Dornoch in the north of Pictland to Ty Gwyn ar Dav among Britons in Wales. It is believed that Ninian established places like these White Houses in these shires: Ayr, Glasgow, Forfar, Aberdeen, Invernesss, Sutherland right up to the Orkney Islands. Ninian divided much of Pictland into districts, or parishes, at the hub of which was often one of these White Houses. The names of many of the successors he appointed are known. These formed one family, or dispersed community, who looked to The White House in Galloway as their mother house.

Wouldn't it be great if my White House could be a fresh little expression of that tradition?

Posted at 11:16am on 6th March 2009
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