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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, September 14, 2002
    A place where cultures meld
    On a pilgrimage today; to Pennant Melangell, meeting up with other members of the Iona Community North-West England & Wales family group, at a place some of us already know and love, new to others. A peaceful place; and today a place of great light and warmth as the skies cleared and the sun poured into the steep and narrow Powys valley where centuries ago an Irish princess set up a holy house and a tradition of compassionate care which continues to this day.

    Melangell is famed for once sheltering a frightened hare from pursuing huntsmen in the folds of her skirt; and the creatures of the ground and sky still seem to be aware that that wooded place is one of safety and welcome for them: it teems with creaturely life. And a cottage near the restored church is a Cancer care centre, where sufferers and others come for counselling, respite, and retreat.

    We sat and drank tea and ate Welsh cakes, walked towards the waterfall at the valley head, and said prayers around the saint's shrine. And after the others had gone back up the narrow lane I stayed on awhile to enjoy the stillness and the sunshine.

    Like many such seemingly 'peripheral' places Pennant Melangell is actually a lively centre, where people of all backgrounds and states of heart and mind, gather and exchange. Where cultures meld: the Welsh saint's story illustrates this; as does an icon I bought in the shop there. Created by a member of the Orthodox Community at Blaenau Ffestiniog, the icon is a version of Christ Pantocrator where the bible in his left hand contains text written in Welsh, in translation: ... love one another as I have loved you ...

    And to complete the day's cultural crossover activity, I visited a favourite North Wales bookshop, Awen Meirion Cyf, on Bala High Street, and returned home with a new Cowbois t-shirt bought there. Cowbois design 'leisure wear for Celtic Gauchos'; I love their sassy statements even though I don't have the language to appreciate some of them. But I like to wear on my chest my semi-romantic idea that somewhere down the line I'm Welsh; so today's purchase carries the logo: Celtic Allstars - Art Must Become the Banner of the Proletariat. I love how that sounds even though I haven't yet unravelled what, if anything, it means.