Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Accordions for Islay Children Appeal: III - a short history lesson that has nothing to do with accordions!

As the two posts below have told, simply by putting out an appeal on Twitter, Christine was able to find 5 of the 6 accordions the children of Islay need in less than a week!

This really does illustrate very clearly the tremendous power of the social networking media. We couldn't be more delighted that, through Twitter, we found out about such a 'close-to-our-hearts' initiative, and were able to do something to help.

The prospect of having such an excellent excuse for visiting Islay as soon as possible is one we find incredibly exciting!

And there is another, non-musical (and even non-whisky-related!), reason to celebrate this small new link between the islands of Islay and Mersea. It has its roots in the early history of the Celtic church.

Just a short sail across the Blackwater estuary from Mersea Island lies St Peter's Chapel, Bradwell-on-Sea - arguably the oldest church in England. It stands on the spot where St Cedd landed by boat in 654 on a mission to bring the Christian message to what is now Essex.

And it's through St Cedd that we have a direct link back to Islay.

In 563, St Patrick, having established many monasteries in Ireland, sent his priest Columba to the west coast of Scotland, to found a monastery. Columba's journey took him through Islay, and thence to Iona.

Later, one of St Columba’s monks from Iona, Aidan, was sent, at the invitation of King Oswald of Northumbria, to set up a similar monastery at Lindisfarne on the north-east coast of the mainland.

It was in the monastery school at Lindisfarne that Cedd and his brothers Caelin, Cynebil and Chad learnt to read and write in Latin and become missionaries. The four brothers were all ordained as priests and two of them, Cedd and Chad, later became bishops.

Cedd's first mission was to Mercia, at the request of that region's king. Following his success in converting the Mercian people to Christianity, he was ordered to take the Gospel south to the East Saxons. So in 653 Cedd sailed down the east coast of England from Lindisfarne and landed at Bradwell, where he found the ruins of an old deserted Roman fort of Othona. There he built a small wooden chapel, which was soon replaced, using stone and bricks from the existing ruins, by a tall church some 50 ft long.

Isolated in a flat landscape, overlooking sea and marshland, far from human habitation even now, how immeasurably bleak Bradwell must have seemed to the seventh-century bishop from Northumbria when he arrived after his arduous journey by sea in an open boat.

(If you click on the pic above, you'll see the chapel dead centre on the horizon.)

You can see some of the Roman tiles incorporated into the walls (above). And (I think) a portion of the Roman fort in woods nearby (below).

Cedd's mission to the East Saxons was considered so successful that the same year he was recalled to Lindisfarne, made Bishop of the East Saxons, and established a further monastery, in Lastingham, where he caught the plague and died in 664.

In its heyday, St Peter's would have functioned not only as a church and a religious community but also as a hospital, library, school and farm, as well as a base for further missions. From there Cedd established other Christian centres at Mersea, Tilbury, Prittlewell and Upminster. The church continued as a place of worship for over 600 years, but eventually - perhaps owing to the remoteness of its location - passed out of use and was employed instead as a grain store, a shelter for cattle and even a hideout for smugglers and their spoils. (In the picture at the top of this post you can see where large holes were once knocked into the side walls when it was put to agricultural use.)

In 1920 the building was rediscovered. Excavations began, and it was soon realised that this was an ancient sacred place. St Peter's Chapel was restored as a place of worship in 1920.

I didn't get any shots of the interior on my last visit (it's dark inside and I didn't want to disturb other visitors by using flash) but you can see some here.

The simple modern altar (which can be see bottom left here) was consecrated in 1985 jointly by the Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford and the Catholic Bishop of Brentwood. Its supporting pillar contains three stones - one given by each of the three other places central to St Cedd's ministry: Lindisfarne, Iona and Lastingham.

For more info, the official St Peter's website is here. There's also an aerial view here; details of archaeological finds on the site here; and panoramas of the location and the chapel's interior here.

Here's Mersea Island, on the horizon, as seen from the Bradwell shore.

So there you have it.

WE find all this stuff interesting - hope some others out there do to! 

The next blog post on this accordions blog will contain at least one reference to accordions.


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