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Reflections on Healing from Bardsey Island.

Extract from chapter 1….. 


‘Pilgrimage’ has meant many things to different generations and in different traditions. Around the fourth century, Christians took up with the idea of taking long and arduous journeys to visit sites connected with the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Then, in the centuries that followed, we know that some brave Christians sailed across perilous seas to spread the faith around the British Isles.

By medieval times many places associated with those early evangelists had become ‘pilgrim’ destinations in the popular religion of those days. More recently, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there has been a fresh explosion of interest both in travelling to the Holy Land and to well-known places of historic interest closer to home.

What pilgrimage has come to mean for me will become clear in the pages of this book. The word ‘pilgrimage’ is often used to mean a spiritual journey, and it has certainly meant having extended periods for thinking, praying, talking to God and listening to him, and that has turned out to be quite an adventure.

The root of the name ‘Bardsey’ is traced back to the period of Viking raids. This peaceful island, Ynys Enlli in the native Welsh tongue, nestles in the swell of the Irish Sea, a few miles off the northwest tip of Wales.

When the Christians arrived and took over the island, St Cadfan and his companions built a monastery there in AD 546, which fell into ruins a long time ago. Over the centuries since then, Bardsey became a kind of Iona in Wales. About half a mile wide and three times as long, the island has always been recognised as a healthy place.

Gerald de Barri, born of mixed Welsh and Norman blood, chaplain to King Henry II of England, was a great twelfth century cleric, traveller and writer and, under the name of Giraldus Cambrensis, the ancient Welsh traveller and historian declared, having been there, that no one on the island of Bardsey died of anything other than old age.

That would be quite an interesting claim in the twenty-first century, but an earth shattering claim during his long ago lifetime! In those days, people died of everything that was going: childbirth, children’s illnesses, untreated wounds from the generally high level of social and military violence, and all manner of unknown and untreatable sickness that brought death much earlier than it usually comes to us today.

But, apparently, not on Bardsey Island! For someone in those far off times to have suggested that people on Bardsey were only dying from old age would have been quite a statement. This happy state he attributed to prayer. Certainly, many pilgrims have prayed there, and have enjoyed all that island has to offer.

For quite a few centuries, Bardsey Island has been a haven for both nature lovers and anyone else looking for solitude. It is now a national nature reserve, and many folk make the boat journey across the water to the island each summer to spend time with Manx shearwaters, cormorants, shags and oystercatchers, and the grey seals that come to sing and to swim off the mostly rocky shore -and some visitors, like myself, go to spend time in prayer.

Hurtling out across the white tops of the waves towards Bardsey, spray flying, is an exciting time for the modern day pilgrim. It is a very different journey than it must have been in the days of coracles and other basic medieval craft! The boatman opens the throttle and the engines roar. The stern sits down in the water and the bow lifts enthusiastically for the island.

This pilgrim heart leaps over the waves, too. In front of me are days and days of sea breezes and sunshine and early mornings, birdsong and afternoon naps, corporate worship – both in the chapel and in the farmhouse kitchen after the evening meal. On top of that, there are hours alone in awareness of God’s presence, to think and to ponder and to wonder at him. This book is the result…….