Not far from my house there is a crumbled priory. It was first established in the twelfth century by the hermit Godric of Finchale and then became a Benedictine priory from Durham Cathedral in the thirteenth century.
I love visits to Finchale (it’s pronounced Finckle by the way). I love standing on ground that has been walked on for a thousand years. Of course much of the British ground has been walked on for this long, but it somehow doesn’t hold the same mystery in places where steam rollers have left behind a concrete jungle.
As I walk between the half-hearted walls, I love to watch shadows of the ancient people pacing back and forth. Going silently into prayers with the sun bathing the cold stone in gentle light. Eating simple friendly meals around a large wooden table. Tending chickens, catching fish and milling the corn or wheat. Reading their copy of the Bible and working out who God is.
For me there is something deep and special about places like these. I feel like these are places where history meets me. I know I look back with an idealised view of a serene harmony with nature and a place filled with spirituality that in reality was probably full of pain, sickness and cold, extreme hard work and a battle with the north of England’s hostility. But I can’t help feel like there’s something beyond me, something I can’t quite see or explain but I know is there. People say they can feel something ‘out there’ don’t they? Sometimes it’s during times of difficulty or extreme stress. Or maybe on seeing the wonders of creation. I feel like I might know who God is in places like Finchale Priory.
It makes me wonder.
I wonder what life was like when there was no communication faster than the fastest runner. I wonder what life was like with nothing but the surroundings, some other like-minded people and the Bible for company. I wonder what the monks were like. I wonder what they wanted out of life. I wonder what kind of person I would be if I had lived then.