Sacred Places 2: BRADWELL
Pilgrimage approaching the chapel
Sky touches ground
Land touches sea
Eternity touches time
Heaven touches earth
and you, Lord, touch me
Surrounded by –
The birds of the air
The plants of the ground
The people of the world
The fish of the sea
The angels of heaven
The saints of history and you, Lord
I bring to you the Community of Creation of which I am a part.
Sandwiches - check; flask - check; map - check; puncture kit - if I must! Mobile phone - you’re joking - probably not even coins for a phone box! As a teenager, I regularly cycled around Essex, visiting villages and churches. Out past Fiddlers’ Hamlet and Mount End, on via Collier’s Hatch and Toot Hill to Greensted - a first stop at the ancient Saxon church with its wooden nave, where the body of the martyred King Edmund rested. On two occasions I stayed with my Godparents, which brought the magnificent “Wool Churches” of Suffolk into range - Lavenham and Long Melford; Kersey and Stoke by Nayland; all wonderful places with inspiring church buildings.
However, the east of Essex was out of range until I progressed to 4 wheels, with an engine under the bonnet and fuel in the tank! Since then, I have ventured eastwards several times, out on to the Dengie peninsula where the flat landscape and marshlands help create huge skies. When the land runs out, the sea and Blackwater estuary dominate. I look across to Mersea Island and wave to my cousin!
This place “on the edge” is where Cedd landed in 653, having sailed down the coast from Lindisfarne, to bring Christianity to the East Saxons. Here he established a small monastery, initially timber built. Within a few years, a small church was built, using bricks recycled from the abandoned Roman fort of Othona. The nave still stands, a chapel in splendid isolation half a mile from the nearest road, dedicated to St. Peter-on-the-wall. For some of the intervening centuries, this building has been used as a barn, but was restored and re-dedicated in the 1920s.
It is the venue for Diocesan Pilgrimages and Youth events, when crowds gather for a summer picnic on the surrounding grass; to hear speakers and bands. But I return to experience this special chapel on the edge just with family or friends, to enjoy the peace and serenity. The enjoyment is enhanced when heavy clouds are rolling off the North Sea and across the marshes, with the sea birds wheeling and shrieking overhead.
I enter and I’m immediately struck by the lack of decoration; the simplicity. I sit before the altar in the quiet solitude and connect with God. The altar is inlaid with stones from Iona, Lindisfarne and Lastingham, marking the progression of northern missionary endeavour. (Lastingham, “on the edge” of the North Yorkshire Moors, was another monastery founded by St. Cedd, where he died in 664 after acting as interpreter at the Synod of Whitby).
Pilgrimage within the Chapel
Lord, my heart becomes still
Like this chapel
Built so long ago
By your servant Cedd.
Like him, may I learn –
Trust in your loving care
Zeal in sharing your gospel
Courage in confronting evil
Obedience in living your way
Wisdom in overcoming barriers
Devotion in heartfelt prayer.
Thank you for his founding of this meeting place with you.
Like him, may I always be ready to move on, living my life for you.
Above the altar hangs a crucifix in the “Byzantine” style, somewhat reminiscent of the crucifix originally in the church of San Damiano in Assisi and now in the church of Santa Chiara. It was before this crucifix that St. Francis had a vision of Christ speaking to him, telling him to “go and repair my church”. At the top of the crucifix are the hands of God reaching down. At the foot is St. Cedd kneeling in prayer.
Pilgrimage leaving the Chapel
May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sunshine be warm upon your face
May the rain fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again, may God hide you in the hollow of his hand.