I wonder what you see, what you think of when you see a rundown old building?
When you see them on here you could perhaps be forgiven for thinking, “Oh good Lord he is sharing more of his pictures with us, does he not realize they are boring to us?” Certainly that is one of my fears but I would hope that you will bear with me and that they aren’t too boring for you.
I hope that you will come with me as I share my visit (and some of the pictures that I took) with you and I hope you will reflect with me, think with me.
So what is it that you see, what you think, when you see a rundown old building?
This particular run down old building is ‘Hore Abbey’ near the Rock of Cashel, in Cashel, County Tipperary here in Ireland. (Incidentally the Rock of Cashel is the large impressive building on the hilltop seen in the background of this picture)
Certainly that is true for me, and as I enter a place like this I do so with a sense of wonderment and awe and indeed with reverence.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am a very firm believer that the people and not the building are the church. Just as I am a believer that it would have been the monks – both the original Benedictine monks and latterly the Cistercian monks from Mellifont Abbey – and not the building itself which made the Abbey what it was. But the building did without doubt play and still does play a part.
As I stand before the old bricks, the decayed and derelict walls, the impressive facades, I cannot help but wonder at the commitment and dedication that went into crafting and building them and to think of all the history that went on within those walls.
What it must have been like to live in the 13th Century when it was first built? What must it of been like in all the years since?
It’s incredible to think about isn’t it? How many lives have been touched, influenced, changed, blessed by it’s being there and by the monks serving within?
I try to picture the walkways and corridors, the transepts and chancelleries, the infirmary (if indeed they had one which I am sure they would have had at some point or other give the history), the monks’ living quarters.
Like a small child sitting on the lap of an elderly grandmother, reaching out and gently, sensitively, inquisitively, slowly running his fingers down the lines of his beloved grandmother’s face I yearn to understand what they have seen and what put them there?
I look out across the long grass past the small headstones. I cannot help but think how, just like those wonderful lines on the face of my dear ageing grandmother when I was a child, the long, unkempt nature of the grass and the small, humble presence of those headstones, seem totally in place and appropriate.
I step back and look at the outer wall from a different perspective and I wonder. Why is that long arched window seemingly partly bricked up? And why from the top downwards and not the bottom upwards? It seems somehow odd, unusual, illogical? The Aspergian part of my mental health kicks my mind into intrigue and fascination.
Perhaps getting closer will give me a clue? I notice the different rectangular and square cutouts in the surrounding brickwork. The damage to the arched frame of what I am sure was once a beautifully colourful window.
Perhaps if I go inside and look out rather than in I will find my answers?
Again I reach out and touch it. Feel it’s texture, trace it’s lines and it’s form.
I look up once more. More arches, more magnificence, more bricking-up, more decay. And now my heart, which has been trying to be heard since frist I stepped foot in this place, has joined my mind and the questions that echoed in the silence of this tomb return once more.
And my head and my heart part company once more. The heart wanting to explore more fully the faith of the place. To explore the symbolism of it’s current condition to that of my own faith. But my head is contemplating the more recent addition of that unusual architecture.
And as usual whenever my heart and my mind are at odds with each other I look around, find a new perspective. My eyes turn back towards those magnificent but partly bricked up arched windows and yet it is not them that I focus on but the small stone altar seated at the foot of them.
I walk to it, around it. I place my hands upon it. Let my fingertips fall into the worn down cracks upon it. Due to it’s purpose and it’s constant use over the years whatever natural texture, whatever natural lines and cracks that once were there and not longer present no longer so numerous.
The cold, hard, feel of it seems to belie, to contradict all of the loving dedication once performed on it. By it even. And yet it’s rigidity and strength are somehow softened by the relative smoothness of it’s surface.
And once more my heart and mind join and once more a journey of reflective memories begins. This time it is not my grandmothr that I think of, but of my father.
This time it is not those aged, experience-drawn, lines etched on their gentle faces that come to mind. No it is the cold, hard, steeliness of my father’s hands. That same cold hard steeliness hidden behind the smoothness of those occasional moments of tenderness which flood my thoughts.
Again I look away. To my left and to a small somehow ornate and yet concrete cubby hole incorporated into the cold hard brickwork next to the altar. What did they used to keep there? The chalice? The elements of the sacraments?
Such soft, bitter-sweet, grace-filled, loving, tenderness held within a hard, cold, concrete shell. Is that in some ways not a mirror, a reflection, of what this place actually was?
Is this a reflection of how I see my father? “Soft, bitter-sweet, grace-filled, loving, tenderness held within a hard, cold, concrete shell”?
Is this how some people somehow see God?
Weather beaten. Yes that is certainly true. Although it is possible that there were also one or two attacks, possibly sieges along the way.
Faith. It’s a funny thing isn’t it?
I wonder how many folk have a faith which is, like this building, old and decayed? Which is relatively disused as a result of the storms and attacks – possibly even sieges – that they have faced within their lifetime?
I turn and look around once more. Once more at all the rooms, the small alters, the tiny symbols and signs and the little annexes that surround me. I see the decay and the destruction that has happened over the years and I cannot help but think of all the faith that was demonstrated, lived, expressed, enjoyed, shared, inspired and developed there.
As I look once more at the broken walls around me, this time much smaller, much lower, my mind returns to my mental health and to my faith. The two are both uniquely separate and yet uniquely linked.
One does not come from the other and yet in my case, for much of the time, neither one can be experienced without the influence of the other.
And as I continue along my journey around this 13th Century Abbey I suddenly come to higher walls, perhaps resulting from the addition of the tower that was a later addition. (Somewhere around the 15th Century)
Quizzically there within all the almost entirely open-access nature of this wonderful old building was a gate – a locked gate.
Again my heart calls to my mind. Is not our faith like this sometimes? Do we not lock parts of ourselves away? Parts which if only others knew were there, they too could quite easily access?
And what of God? Doesn’t he already know that those parts are there? Secretly hidden? Protectively locked and yet in many ways still so readily accessible?
What is to stop me from leaping the wall or the gate? What is to stop God from leaping the walls or gates of those parts of our lives which we try to hide from him?
The answer to both questions are the same – Respect.
I would no more jump the walls or the gate of that protected area than God would invade those parts of my life which I have not yet offered to Him.
Of course were I to be that interested, to feel it that important to gain access to that area I could find someone and ask for it to be opened to me. Likewise, when God as our heavenly Father feels it is right to enter those areas, those parts of our lives which we are holding from Him, He too identifies His desire for us to open and surrender access to Him.
I love this abbey. I love this place. This peace, this seat of reflection. I turn and look around once more.
Meditation which now, some 8 centuries after it’s construction, some 7 or 8 centuries of meditation later, may well be different but yet is just as sincere.
The Narrow and Wide Gates
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.
The walk I walk in life as a result of my faith may be narrow and indeed the alternative routes are numerous and wide. Likewise, the road ahead, as a result of many things not least of all my mental health, may be rocky and uneven but it leads home to our Father in heaven.
I have been so blessed by my visit here today, and indeed so blessed as a result of Tony’s commitment and love and his being willing to ‘get me out of the house’ and around to all these wonderful places.
But more than that I have been blessed by the thoughts, and reflections it has afforded me.
The architecture and the history are both fascinating and the atmosphere of the place so welcoming.
But I see not an old building – defeated, decrepid and decayed, I see years of commitment, dedication and service and I see faith – faith which weathers the storms and the attacks.
Yes, my view of this place may be different, monumentally different, but I thank God that it is.