Pilgrimpace's Blog


penrhys and st sannan

On Friday, the Feast of the Assumption, I went to Newport in South Wales to see my friend Joe.  Joe does similar ministry to me, and a continuing source of wisdom and encouragement.  Our visits always involve a good lunch in the pub and plenty of laughter.  On Friday, we got a pilgrimage in too, as Joe took me to special and nourishing places.

We drove up the Valleys to Penrhys.  This is a very remarkable place of pilgrimage.  On top of the hills separating two of the valleys is a 1950’s statue of Our Lady of Penrhys:

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It replaces the medieval one burnt in the Reformation.  Next to it is the Penrhys Estate, which was until recently some of the most difficult social housing in Wales.  There is something deep in these two things being placed together.  You can read Rowan Williams poem about this here.

Before a lot of the estate was demolished recently, there was some very impressive Church presence there.  Rowan Williams reflects on it here:

I think here of the extraordinary experiment of the Revd John Morgans of the United Reformed Church on the Penrhys estate in South Wales. Deliberately moving into a community with no established church life of any kind, remote from the traditional buildings and habits, John and his wife Norah built up a regular pattern of worship in the heart of the estate, converting two middle-sized council houses into a church centre with a café and a second-hand clothes shop. The practical usefulness of this to the community meant that people sensed an ‘open door’ – and when they came to drink coffee or to shop, they often dropped in to the prayer space. Increasingly there was collaboration with community services, including the development of a clinic. The Church’s visibility worked in support of the visibility of other community resources. This was a community where an open door could be seen. – See more at: http://rowanwilliams.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/2487/archbishops-address-to-the-general-assembly-of-the-church-of-scotland#sthash.8RLuXzD8.dpuf

I find the congruence of council estate, visionary tough work, and restored medieval shrine enormously moving.  It suggests such a lot about the Ways of Love.

On the hillside below the statue is the Holy Well.

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The water is said to be good for arthritis and for eye problems.  This seemed to me to be a good place to pray for vision.

On the way home – not directly, and not least because deep conversations when driving are not always best for finding the way, – we stopped at St Sannan’s Well.  This was very different:

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In this place of utter peace we blessed ourselves with the water and prayed in silence for a short time.

I returned home deeply refreshed.

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pilgrimage and urban mission

For your pilgering interest” was the title of the email – and it was from Joe – of course it was interesting.  It contained a link to this article about the Shrine of Our Lady of Penrhys.  Fascinating and profoundly hopeful, particularly how the regeneration of the Penrhys estate has been so deeply linked with the ancient shrine and modern statue at the top of the hill.  Pilgrimage and urban ministry put together, something that I will be reflecting on in the future.

Then a follow up email “If you insist on walking there,” (I’m not sure if I had, but..) “look at this” The Cistercian Way.  I am already dreaming dreams.  Some of this (and perhaps also the Shropshire Abbey Way I found in the summer) will be walked in the next year.  Happy trails!

Our Lady of Penrhys