Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Cille Bharra

I have just discovered a little gem on the isle of Barra. According to Celtic hagiography Christianity first arrived in Barra in the seventh century ce with a man called Finnbar. There is an Irish Saint Finnbarr of Cork but a Scottish life says that the Barra Finnbar was the love child of a Sutherland nobleman and a young woman. When the young woman was sentenced to death the unborn child spoke from the womb and saved her life. Cille Bharra is said to be the place where Finnbar built the first church on the island. Today the ruins of an ancient church and south chapel stand in a burial ground. To the north of the ruined church stands a sixteenth century burial chapel which has recently been re-roofed.

The site has a very special feel to it and opening the small door to enter the north chapel is a revelation. Although the site is dedicated to St. Finnbar, the interior is in a real way a shrine to Bride of the Isles. Bridget crosses are scattered around and there is a charmingly folksy statue of Bride as well as a traditional straw Bridie Beag adorned with ribbons and shells and a Bridget's cross. There are more Bridget crosses strewn across the altar and to the left a charming icon of Bride drawn on slate.

Places like Cille Bharra remind us that rational linear clock time is not the only time we experience. Whenever we are absorbed in someone or something we love we leave ordinary time and enter another world. It is Bride who is the focus for this here. A burial chapel is of course a symbolic womb and tomb, a cave built by human hands. It is a gateway to a place from which all life comes and to which all life returns. It is then natural that in such a place the Goddess should be manifestly present and that Her maternal, comforting energy should come to the fore.

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