Exploring the unspoilt Llyn Peninsula in North Wales this month on a beautiful Welsh sunny day, it was a delight to come across St Maelrhys Church. Signposted from what was hardly a main road itself, it lies off a narrow lane with a welcome area to pull off the road but otherwise surrounded by fields and sky and sea. As a bonus once inside the small church, which is not much more than a nave and a tiny lobby, there was an open door to the left leading to a narrow staircase and on the door a notice: Welcome to the RS Thomas loft. Up the stairs was a small room with a window looking west, a small library of books relating to the poet, some photographs of the family, and even a CD player with a recording of RS Thomas himself reciting his poems.
One or two poems were printed on small yellow cards, encouraging you to use them for quiet contemplation but also to take away. Back in Ascott for the Mid-month Meditation we used one of them to frame our half-hour of quiet in our own serene and ancient building.
But the silence in the mind
is when we live best, within
listening distance of the silence
we call God. This is the deep
calling to deep of the psalm-
writer, the bottomless ocean
we launch the armada of
our thoughts on, never arriving.
It is a presence, then,
whose margins are our margins;
that calls us out over our
own fathoms. What to do
but draw a little nearer to
such ubiquity by remaining still?
RS Thomas spent his last two decades of ministry in this part of Wales, with the main church at Aberdaron, almost on the tip of the Llyn Peninsula and within reach of Bardsey Island. Jim Cotter (‘Priest and wordsmith’) later served here and his tombstone is in the churchyard at St Maelrhys.
St Maelrhys is a simple structure with box pews on one side of the aisle and ordinary benches on the other. There are no windows except the clear glass of the east end which looks straight out on the surrounding landscape, rather like our own Shorthampton church in the Evenlode valley. The photo (below, left) of this window is taken from the pulpit – whence RS Thomas might have sought inspiration before turning to face his congregation.
These and other photos with greater resolution are available here.
August 7th 2016