Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Too Many Church Fundraising Speeches!

On Saturday, July 21st, we did the second of the day trips through northern Wales with the Celtic Christianity group. I enjoyed the first stop of the day a lot, but, aside from the chance to see some more of the countryside, the rest of the day seemed largely a waste to me.

The first stop we made was at Valle Crucis Abbey, which is in the mountains near Llangollen and was founded by Cistercian monks in the 13th century and then expanded a century or so later. It was the second wealthiest monastery in Wales during its height. It had been raining as we drove there and most everything was extremely muddy, but even so you could get a sense of how quiet and peaceful the surroundings must have been for the sheep farmer monks who lived there. Nearby, as we drove out, we passed Eliseg’s Pillar, which is a shaft-stump of what’s left of a 9th century cross and is one of the earliest pieces of the puzzle over how and when crosses were used in northern Wales.

From Valle Crucis we drove to the tiny sheep farming village of Bryn Eglwys to see St. Tysilio’s Church, which has a connection with the Yale family and has received a lot of the funds to keep it up from that family. I was at a loss for why we were seeing the church. While it originally probably dated from the 6th century, Margaret Harvey, the former rector, spent much more time telling us about the Yales than about any connection it might have with Celtic Christianity. The ony thing that I found redeeming about the time there was that she actually mentioned the congregation and what they were doing as well as all the funds being spent on renovations and repairs.

After we left St. Tysilio’s, our bus raced Margaret to Corwen, a small market town, where we had lunch at Coleg y Groes, a renovated 12th century retreat house that she and Heather Fenton, the current rector of St. Tysilio’s, run. There Dale and I were supposed to meet with Lyn Bechtel, the Drew professor who was to work with us on our Celtic Christianity research, but she never showed.

During the afternoon we went to see more old churches and heard more stories about how funds were being used to restore them. First we hiked through a field to see Llangar Church, a tiny medieval building with 15th century wall paintings, a 17th century painting of a skull that greets you when you first step through the narthex door, and box pews. Once a month there’s a small church service there, but otherwise no one except the occasional tourist uses the building.

Then we went to see Rhug Chapel, which had been a private chapel built
in the 17th century by a colonel (who may have been important, but his name meant nothing to me) and William Morgan, the bishop who first translated the Bible into Welsh. At this point, as our tour guide started on his spiel yet again of how funds were raised to repair this chapel, I decided to go for a walk out in the raining but beautiful garden rather than listening to what was being said.

At the end of the day, we spent about 45 minutes in the town of Llangollen. It was still raining fairly hard, so we went spent the time walking in and out of stores in the town. The town had a Fringe Festival—a smaller scale of the Edinburgh one?—going on, so, although we were in between the afternoon and evening performance times, there were lots of people on the streets.

On the bus ride back to St. Deiniol’s, I kept wondering what connection the people planning the trip saw between what we saw in most of the churches and Celtic Christianity, since most were built after the time when Celtic Christianity was at its height. Between that and the Drew professor not even bothering to show up, my frustration with the course was pretty great.

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