A Stormy Night at One of R.S. Thomas’s Churches

Once again, a post by Susan Fogarty.

Sue, in one of her many roles at Saint Hywyn’s Church, Aberdaron, has devised a poetry pilgrimage called “Stations,” which is informed by the “Stations of the Cross” undertaken at Easter in many churches. The congregation moves around the church, stopping to say prayers at each of the fourteen sculpted or painted images – images that tell the story of the last hours of Christ before his crucifixion.

In Saint Hywyn’s Church, as pilgrims move around, they stop at significant places (stations) to hear one of Thomas’s poems being read aloud. Each station and poem have a connection, within the words of the poem. After the reading there is a short silent meditation, before moving on to the next station.

The slight changes made in the quotations from Thomas’s poems are not identified, thereby making it possible to read Sue’s writing without interruption.

Sue’s post:

 “Here Was the Marriage of Land and Sea, from Whose Bickering the Spray Rises”

From the churchyard of St Hywyns at Aberdaron

“View on the morning of January 3rd from the churchyard at Aberdaron, North Wales. Just after sunrise, just before high tide and in high winds.” Photograph: downes24/GuardianWitness

There was certainly a great deal more than “bickering” between land and sea on the night of January 2nd of this year, around the shores of the Llŷn Peninsula.

However, within the protection of the centuries old walls of Saint Hywyn’s, there was something very different. For “Here on our knees in this stone church, that was full only of the silent congregation of shadows and the sea’s sound, it was easy to believe Thomas was right.”

On our “Stations” poetry pilgrimage, seven women, who had come from the “cities that have outgrown their promise, they were becoming pilgrims again, not only to this place, but also to the recreation of it in their own spirits”

RS Thomas St Hywyns Church interior

R.S. Thomas’ iron corona in St. Hywyn’s Church, Aberdaron, Wales

Beneath the great iron corona gifted by RS, that hangs by a long chain from the high beams, with its eight tall candles, holding the shadows to the walls, we listened to “The Empty Church.” Had “They laid this stone trap for him, enticing him with candles, as though he would come like some huge moth out of the darkness to beat there”?

And I question for myself now, am I drawn as if in an entomological trance to the candles? Will I burn myself “in the human flame, leaving my reasons torn”?

I answer this with my intuition not my intellect. Reading Thomas’s poems in ‘his’ church is not an intellectual exercise, it is a visceral experience. “This is the deep calling to deep”, when we give time and space for the silence in the mind, when we draw a little nearer to “the silence we call God.”

It dawned upon me now that this silence within, no matter what is raging outside, “has waited like this  since the stones grouped themselves about it.” It is there for us all. All that we have to do is open the door and step into it.

Poems of R. S. Thomas quoted in this post:

“Here was the marriage” – “Pen Llŷn,” Mass for Hard Times, 72.

“Here on my knees” – “The Moon in Llŷn,” Laboratories of the Spirit, 30.

“cities that have outgrown their promise” – “The Moon in Llŷn,” Laboratories of the Spirit, 30-31.

“They laid this stone trap” and “in the human flame” – “The Empty Church,” Frequencies, 35.

“This is the deep” – “But the silence in the mind,” Counterpoint, 50.

“has waited like this” – “In Church,” Pietà, 44.


5 thoughts on “A Stormy Night at One of R.S. Thomas’s Churches

  1. I like the idea of doing a short posting of some of the poems in the Stations, alongside a photo of the particular feature in the church, with my interpretation. I can’t promise to do all of them, nor when, so watch this space…..as I know you do.

    • The snow that keeps falling . . . falling . . . here, and forcing me to reschedule this and that, is teaching me patience. And RST talks a lot about waiting. So I’m more than prepared to wait patiently for your Stations . . . whenever and however many you find possible to share.

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