Britain is scattered with sacred sites from the outlying islands off North Scotland to the far south of Cornwall. Our ancestors saw something special in certain parts of the land and deemed them more sacred than others. People are still drawn back to these places today and the belief and ritual that surround them. So what places did they deem more sacred than others and why are they so special?
This time we are going to visit just four of these sites starting with one of the holy islands – Iona off the west coast of Scotland.
St Columba, the man credited with converting the Scottish Gaels to Christianity, fled or was driven out of Ireland in 563 AD. He attended the inauguration of King Aedan mac Gabhrain in 574 and for his efforts was awarded the island of Iona. A visit to Iona nowadays is all it takes to make a person understand why the place might have appealed to those early Christians. The island is undoubtedly a place of quiet peace. Whatever the weather the landscape is beautiful and restful to eye and heart. Religious belief is not required, Iona simply has the magic.
Moving on we arrive in Glastonbury, Somerset now also famous for its Summer music festival which is actually happening has I write this.
The Tor itself is captivating, rising abruptly from a level plain which in ancient times at least, was flooded by the sea. It was for this reason that followers of the Arthur legend allowed themselves to see the Tor as Avalon, the island to which the king was carried so that he might recover from wounds suffered while fighting Mordred. Other folk myths have Joseph of Arimathea arrive at Glastonbury with his nephew Jesus Christ and the Holy Grail. His staff is supposed to have taken root as the Glastonbury thorn – that flowers at Christmas time – and the grail itself is said to be buried nearby. In 1191, monks at Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have found the graves of Arthur and his queen Guinevere and the site became a place of pilgrimage for ever after.
Staying in southern England we visit Cornwall and St. Michael’s Mount which is a rocky island 5 miles south of Penzance. Surmounted by a fortress like abbey dedicated to St Michael the Archangel, this atmospheric sacred site has much in common with its namesake across the Channel, Mont- St- Michel in France.
The vision of St. Michael the Archangel at this site was one of many that were reported across southern Britain and northern France in the 4th and 5th centuries. St. Michael’s Mount is a prominent site on the major ley line known as St. Michael’s Line. Ley lines are hypothetical straight lines between ancient sites that are believed to carry special energy and power. St. Michael’s Line runs northeast across Britain from St. Michael’s Mount, through sites such as Glastonbury Tor (with its St. Michael’s Tower), Avebury, and Bury St. Edmunds.
Finally for now we visit Wales and Bardsey Island, the legendary “Island of 20,000 saints” which lies 2 miles off the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales. The Welsh name means “The Island in the Currents”, although its English name refers to the “Island of the Bards”.
The island has been an important religious site since St Cadfan built a monastery in 516 AD. In medieval times it was a major centre of pilgrimage but the monastery was dissolved and its buildings demolished by Henry VIII in 1537, although the island remains an attraction for pilgrims to this day.
Bardsey Island is now as famous for its wildlife and rugged scenery. The spirituality and sacredness of the island, its relative remoteness, and its legendary claim, amongst other locations, to be the burial site of King Arthur, have given it a special place in the cultural life of Wales, attracting artists, writers and musicians to its shores.
If you have enjoyed visiting these sacred sites please let me know and I’ll see if I can find other images from similar locations.