Monday, August 13, 2007

Barges, Waterfalls, and Hares

Our last organized trip as part of the Celtic Christianity course ended up being to Llarhaeadr-ym-Mochnant and then Pennant Melangell. It had been an extremely rainy night and so one or two other places that had been planned were cancelled, but from my perspective this much simpler trip turned out to be better than the one planned.

We began by going to see the Poncyslite Aqueduct and the canal barges (some of which we’d passed on Saturday) that travel over it and through the neighboring valleys. Kathy walked across from one end to the other while I part way across and then down to the Dee River to see the actual bridge construction. The early 19th century aqueduct is made up of 19 arches that cover more than 1000 feet of space from one valley’s banks to the other. Walking cross it has great views.

From there we went to Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant. The purpose of the trip was to see the Church of St. Dogfan, where William Morgan (the first person to translate the Bible into Welsh) worshipped. Except for a cross that has been dug up and now is in one corner of the church—the remains of a monastery that was once on the site?—I didn’t find the place so exciting. After the basic lecture, while the rest of our group looked at the sanctuary in more detail, Kathy, Graham and I walked through the town in the direction of the Pistyll Rhaeadr, Wale’s highest waterfall. We couldn’t get to the waterfall itself, which was about 3 to 4 miles away, but we got to see the village, which was charming. (Several of the scenes from the movie The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain were filmed in Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant.) Everywhere on our walk, there were beautiful flowers—wild flowers in the fields and by the brook and gardens outside the homes.

Next we took a long ride away from any villages along deserted (barely) one lane roads to Pennant Melangell, the church dedicated to St. Melangell, a 7th or 8th century saint who is known as the patron saint of hares. The church is in the middle of nowhere—a nowhere with gorgeous views of mountains all around it—in a valley that’s often described as a thin place because heaven and earth appear very close there. In the 12th century a shrine was build on the site (and perhaps a convent?) and people often made pilgimages to visit it. During the Reformation, however, the shrine was torn down. In the 20th century, archaeology turned up several remains from the building—including a rood screen that depicts the story of St. Melangell and the hares. Since then hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent by the Anglican Church of Wales to restore it, though the building still reeks of mold and made me very dizzy. We had a very brief worship service in the sanctuary. Luckily we spent more of the time in the nearby building that was originally designed as a cancer help center and now serves as a free mental health counseling center (though how anyone would get there on a regular basis given how far it is from even the tiniest of villages is beyond me). By lunchtime the sun was shining and so we ate outside with pheasants walking around in the nearby fields and great views of flowers, mountains, and sheep. And in the yard between the center and the sanctuary were these four amazingly yew trees, which many think may be 2000 years old.

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