Monday Meditation: St Luke’s Village Church, Hodnet

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St Luke’s Church is next door to the beautiful Hodnet Hall Gardens, sitting just beside the entrance. This small, intimate church was open for visitors when we were at the gardens in the summer and is well worth a look if you like historic buildings and richly-coloured stained glass windows.

This Grade 1 listed building is Norman in origin and listed in the Doomesday Book. Much of the original Norman nave still exists. It has the only octagonal tower in Shropshire, with octagonal wooden clocks on each side. I had never seen a tower like it. I warmed to this unusual church instantly before venturing inside the porch, its open door inviting us in.

The stained glass windows were beautiful. One is in memory of Mary Heber, an ancestor of the current family in residence, and the other tells the story of The Holy Grail.  It was really difficult to find the right angle to do justice to the vivid colours and images, the sun was streaming through windows and washing out some of the colour. We were the only ones there and took our time, not feeling in anyway rushed by person or event.

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The aisles and chapels are tiled in various colours and intricate patterns. They are in wonderful condition. I spent a lot of time just sitting, contemplating, taking everything in, all the magnificent beauty and craftmanship.

 

 

IMG_3995The families who have owned the Hall have been – and still are – long-time patrons of this church, supporting its upkeep. Many of them are buried there or memorialised within the church. There are some very elaborate marble memorials on the walls and in the family chapel. Unfortunately, my camera battery died and I didn’t realise it had given up on the marble sarcophagus in the family chapel.

I’ve never seen pews like these before, they were all across the front of the congregation, no doubt there for the great and the good! I found them incredibly uncomfortable, forcing me to sit up rather than lean into them.

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I don’t know exactly what it was about this church, but it had a very welcoming feel to it. It’s quite small which makes it more intimate, less intimidating, for all its imposing stone and sense of history. There was a sense of continuity through the family names that you get in small villages, and lots of notices addressed to visitors and parishioners inviting them to look around, providing information and histories, a visitors’ book, but also framed photographs of the current incumbents and articles about local people and activities.

A lovely touch was the invitation to request a prayer for, or thoughts be sent to, someone who needed it, whatever the circumstances, no names necessary, and there were candles and matches if you also wanted to light one on their behalf. No charge. I requested a mention for our dear friend, Terry at Spearfruit.

(Please Note: I wrote this post some time before Terry passed away and I hope it doesn’t cause distress to anyone close to him. He was very much on my mind at the time of our visit).

One project I particularly warmed to was some research conducted by the local Scouts group into the names on the War Memorial in the church yard. This research was left out for all to see and filled in the details behind the names, turning them into real people not just ciphers. The project was at the back of the church for anyone to leaf through, with an invitation to contact the authors if any information is incorrect or if the reader had more up to date details to include.

There was a small piano alongside the ancient organ, and really old prayer books, Bibles, registers in full view, not locked away or removed for fear of vandalism, as in many churches these days. This added to the welcoming atmosphere of this beautiful church.

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I was reluctant to leave, but we had been out all afternoon and now it was approaching evening and the gardens where we had parked the car would soon be closing. If you click on the link in my first paragraph, you can read about this magnificent estate, one of the most stunning and unspoiled places I’ve visited.

A final look up towards the church from the entrance to the Hall:

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

 

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Monday Meditation: We Finally Discover Shifnal Millenium Sensory Garden

When I wrote this post, I didn’t realise that it would be Invisible Disabilities Week when it was published; as someone who has spent her entire adulthood with an invisible disability, I am pleased to highlight a community sensory garden we discovered on one of our many meandering drives this summer.

29398928_UnknownSome time ago, I wrote about unplanned detours while travelling through our local Bermuda triangle (see below for links). On our first detour, I had noticed some public gardens. I thought we could take my elderly mother and I wanted to check it out to see if it was easily accessible, as I hadn’t been able to see an entrance. I didn’t know the name so hadn’t attempted to look it up. I knew it was near the railway bridge and a little terrace of cottages, how hard could it be? No matter how many times we tried to retrace our steps on the way to other nearby destinations, we could not find it.

This time, however, we made a special trip to find it once and for all. Having Googled ‘public gardens, Shifnal’, I came up with Shifnal Millenium Sensory Garden. We looked at the map, noted the street and off we went. I wasn’t at all sure this was it, but thought it was worth checking out anyway.

 True to form, despite having directions, we went around in circles several times before spotting it. We had been looking for gates and a car park, but there aren’t either. You have to park on the street, which is not ideal when the gardens are structured for people with mobility issues, sight or hearing impairment. It’s a busy road and there are few spaces, with no drop down pavement. However, it was a weekday when we visited, and therefore quiet, so we had no problem parking.

29399792_UnknownThe gardens are a community initiative, locally funded and run, quite small but having the appearance of being much bigger as they merge seamlessly into the vast grounds surrounding St Andrew’s church, which comprises lawns, the cemetery and woodland. In fact, the church had provided some land for these award-winning  gardens.

The old church surrounded by tall trees makes a stunning backdrop when you first enter the gardens:

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Inside the entrance, there is a sensory map:

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It was late summer when we visited and a warm but cloudy day, so the gardens are not really shown to their best advantage in the photos. There were mainly large, showy, bright yellow, pink and red begonias in raised beds and hydrangeas in shrubby areas, other wilder and darker wooded glens, tall grasses and ferns. The geraniums had finished flowering, unfortunately. The pathways were either grassed, pressed pea gravel, or block paving, easily accessible for wheelchairs or people with walkers or sticks. Occasionally you come across a sculpture.

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There is a peaceful air about the grounds; there are benches where you can sit and listen to birdsong or watch well-fed, healthy-looking squirrels migrating from the churchyard, digging up acorn stashes or chasing each other around trees.

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The church grounds are vast, with silver birch trees, oak and yew, Scots pine, hollies and conifers. Some of the older areas of the cemetery are overgrown and unkempt, a haven for wildlife, while other parts of the grounds are immaculate and surround a beautiful Anglo-Saxon church, which unfortunately was locked when we were there so we couldn’t take a look inside.

We intend to return next summer to take a proper look inside this ancient village church, but for now here are photos of the exterior:

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We spent a long time here, until late in the afternoon, each with our own thoughts, meandering about the old graves, around the church, under the trees or just sitting watching the squirrels. We could hear a lot of birds, the trees were so tall though that we couldn’t see most of them, but it was lovely to sit with eyes closed listening to such a melodious soundtrack in this woodland oasis just yards away from a busy road.

Monday Meditation: Stunning Stained Glass in a World-Reknowned Medieval Shrewsbury Church

Monday Meditation – A Stroll Around Hodnet Hall Gardens

An Impromptu Mother’s Day Adventure or How We Survived the Vortex that is Our Local Bermuda Triangle …

Ducks, Daves and Detours

 Copyright:  Chris McGowan

Feeling Overwhelmed: World Mental Health Day

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This wasn’t planned. I just this second decided to write it after reading first Carol’s post about memories of her mum and then Gary’s post of his latest ‘sighting’ of Terry.* It won’t be long, I just thought I should put my hand up and say ‘Me too!’ (I lied about the ‘long’ bit, sorry).

So many of us suffer in silence when we feel overwhelmed. We try to cope, to carry on with our daily lives and not worry anyone else. I used to keep everything inside. I never talked about anything. It just built up and built up until I suffered a physical and nervous breakdown, my first aged 17, my second aged 19, my third aged 25 and on through adulthood. Once I had children, I learned to hide it better. When Dad died suddenly, I took up red wine! But I eventually recognised that it wouldn’t solve anything. When I was bedridden for 5 years, my children had gone to university and my husband worked long shifts, I was at my lowest and started writing poetry to stop me writing suicide notes. As I matured, I learned to recognise the signs and adopt strategies to get me through them. I took up creative activities, used aromatherapy, meditation and so on.

I haven’t had depressive episodes for a long time. Changing diet, positive thinking, keeping a gratitude journal and acquiring a couple of grandchildren led to improvements in health and a life to look forward to. There have been very low times when family concerns have caused almost unbearable stress and worry, but I got through them.

Recently, though, I have felt a head of steam building. My elderly mum needs a lot of attention – from a distance, this is extremely difficult – and we have taken on a lot of extra responsibilities which often require a lot of butting of heads against brick walls. At the other end, family members are struggling to cope with the fall-out from a rare condition, which also affects us inasmuch as we can do so little as so little can be done, and we have to stand on the sidelines and watch those close to us stretch themselves to the limit on a daily basis.

The upshot of all this is that on Saturday I found myself sitting in our local twelfth-century church with tears rolling down my cheeks. I have lived here 30 years and never been in this church. I had been to a nearby shop and on coming out, had turned towards home but something made me look behind and I saw the church tower. I have often meant to go in to have a look round. It was Saturday afternoon and I expected to see the trappings of a wedding going on, but it was quiet. I started to walk towards it, the main doors were wide open. I hesitantly stepped in the porchway expecting to see a congregation but again, it was quiet. I could see a couple of women attending to the flowers, so I stepped inside.

As soon as I did, my shoulders relaxed. Facing me was a notice inviting people to have a prayer said for someone who needed it. I am not religious. I just love old churches. I love the tanquility, the architecture and sense of history, and of all the people who have been there before. I like the peace to sit and contemplate. However, I stepped forward and wrote a card out for the young person and her children, struggling with the disease. I placed it on the table at the front of the church, sat down and let the tears flow quietly.

A flower lady came over and asked if I’d like her to sit with me. I thanked her and explained that I hadn’t realised how overwhelmed I was feeling or that I was going to cry and I just wanted to sit for a while and contemplate. She passed the message on to the others and they let me be. After a while, one of them saw me looking about me and asked if I’d like a guide on the history of the church. I said yes, thank you. It was absolutely the right thing for her to do. It got me out of my head. I walked around and took it all in.

Later, in the early evening, after 3 long calls and 2 messages from Mum I couldn’t sit still. I needed to go outside. I needed to talk to Dad.

I visited his tree in the local cemetery just down the road. When I had finished, I was just saying thank you when a squirrel ran by, a few yards in front of me. I stood and watched for a minute. Tears filled my eyes. I looked down and there was a white feather and a smile grew on my face.

The moral of this story is, talk to someone; whether it be a flower lady in a church you don’t attend, a long-dead parent or even a tree, share what’s going on. Find somewhere where you can be quiet, somewhere away from the causes of your stress, your worries, for just a few minutes. Take slow breaths. Then look outward, take notice. When things build up, we can spend too much time in our heads. I like to watch the birds in our garden, talk to the neighbourhood cats while I have the doors open and I paint or make cards. At other times, only loud music accompanied by raucous singing will do! And occasionally I rage against the world.

Just let it out.

Thanks, Dad x

*Voices From The Margins – Remembering

Another ‘Terry’ Encounter

Feeling Overwhelmed? You’ve Got Your Back!

Mind.org.uk – the mental health charity

The Samaritans – they have a telephone helpline for anyone to call when in emotional distress

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: Stunning Stained Glass in a World-Reknowned Medieval Shrewsbury Church

As some of you will know, I recently had a birthday outing to Shrewsbury (see Vegan Birthday Burgers at O’Joy Wellness Bistro, Shrewsbury – Review). When we had finished lunch, we were so stuffed and had been sitting so long, we needed air and exercise. The skies were heavy and grey, it didn’t look too promising. However, close by the bistro in the town centre stand three medieval churches. We randomly chose to take a look at the redundant Anglican Church of St Mary The Virgin, not knowing anything about it, but once inside it took my breath away. It has the most stunning stained glass windows I have ever seen, which are apparently world-reknowned: it is said that there is no other collection like it.

The Norman Gothic style church dates from Saxon times and has additions dating from the twelfth century onwards. At over 500 years old, the spire atop the tower is reputedly the third tallest in the country, in fact it is so high I couldn’t get it all in the one shot. Unfortunately, the weather was really taking a turn for the worst, the light was awful for taking photographs. I had also forgotten to take my camera so these were taken with my iPhone.

 

I’ve borrowed a photo from Wikipaedia of the exterior and spire to illustrate its entirety:

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These beautiful wooden doors welcome you into the most overwhelmingly imposing building, with sweeping stone arches, a huge ancient carved stone pulpit, a dark wooden organ gallery.

However, you are immediately drawn to the enormous and detailed panels of brightly-hued stained glass in the famous fourteenth century ‘Jesse’ window*, with its panels of portraits of Old Testament Kings and Prophets, as well as a medieval cartoon strip of the life of St Bernard. Much of the glass was originally used for a Franciscan church, then moved to nearby St Chads after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry Vlll.  It was rescued after the church went up in flames and reused to dramatic effect here. The rest of the glass came from various parts of Europe.

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The photos really don’t do it justice, the light streaming through the intensely-coloured glass left me lost for words. I couldn’t get the right angle to include it all in the best light. The Trinity Chapel on the right, first created in the 1300s, also has brilliantly-lit stained glass panels. These are bolder and more dramatic.

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The aisles and chapels have beautiful Victorian tiled floors and the ceilings have intricate fifteenth century oak carvings of animals, angels and birds, that are so high up you have to use the handheld mirrors provided to view their reflection.

 

I found the whole experience humbling. It was awe-inspiring. I am not a religious person, I just love historic buildings including churches and this was one of the most affecting that I’ve visited. I constantly marvel at the craftmanship, creativity, ingenuity and sheer hard work that went in to building these churches, often not just over decades but centuries too. They survive fire, flood, hell and damnation – in the form of Henry Vlll’s distruction of these fine buildings – and are still here for us to enjoy and to sit in peaceful contemplation. I feel the presence of all those who have gathered here before me, and it is an opportunity to feel close to my dad and my brother who both passed away at this time of year.**

This church is now under the care of The Churches Conservation Trust.

Visiting old churches and ruins is my favourite thing to do, Shrewsbury and the surrounding area is awash with them – there will be further posts I’m sure – and all in all I had a very enjoyable day. The weather even held off until we made it back to the car – just – before the deluge arrived!

* A ‘Jesse’ window refers to an artistic rendering of the biblical family tree starting with Jesse of Bethlehem, father of King David.

To read about other historical visits, please see:

A Nursery, a Ruin and a Baby Cow

Wroxeter – A Roman City on A Beautiful Summer’s Day.

William Penny Brookes, Father of The Modern Olympics!

Magnificent Trees, Olympic Medallists, A Czar & Some Sheep!

For more photos of buildings in a Shrewsbury:

Some Fine Tudor Buildings – And Albert’s Shed!

**To read about my dad, please see:

You Were So Much More Than Your Job: A Tribute to My Dad For Father’s Day

Two poems:

My Dad Walked Straight and Tall Like A Soldier

Hand in Hand: A Poem for Father’s Day

and my brother:

Sweetpeas For Dave

Thank you!

Copyright: Chris McGowan