A St. Aidan story: Building Begins
After the forty days, it was time to build. The earth bank was made, to show clearly the holy place. It enclosed not just the church but the whole site. Not only would prayer be offered to God. They would offer their labour, their sweat and their tears. They would offer prayer, but in much the same way they would offer the tilling of the ground, the milking of cows, the catching of fish and the teaching of young men. All work was sacred, for all was done in god’s presence and to His glory. The sawing of wood and the fixing of timbers were as much acts of worship as kneeling before the altar. There was no false division into sacred and secular. Hands that were already toughened became calloused with so much hard labour, but it gave them so much joy. The work-worn hands were the same hands that raised the chalice in the Eucharist. . . .
. . . The church building was a simple affair made from oak planks and beams brought in from the mainland. The roof was thatched with bents, wiry grasses from the sand dunes. Following the tradition of Columba, they built their church of oak rather than stone. Perhaps it was to express that we have no abiding city, that building on earth is not eternal. . .
Reconstruction drawing of an early monastery (Image Philip Armstrong ©Northern Ireland Environment Agency)
Photo from http://irisharchaeology.ie/2013/04/dublins-oldest-road/
Huts were soon built as cells. Upright poles of birch were driven into the ground less than two feet apart, and a second line was built in parallel about foot away from the first, to form the outline of the walling. Pliable Hazel and willow branches were woven into hurdles, and tied to the inner and outer poles. Once this was done, panniers of earth were poured into the gap to make a solid infilling. The inner and outer walls were smeared with clay, or daub. During the waving of the saplings the brethren would pray quietly. Often not a word would be heard for hours, each meditating and weaving into his life the power and the presence of God. How often, again and again, this weaving pattern appeared in Celtic art. It was the basis of their house building, of their clothes, and of their prayers. Heaven and earth, God and each person are interwoven. God made it so, that we are woven together with Him and with each other. God and each individual are interdependent, remove one piece and all are affected. If one piece is missing the whole structure suffers. Often, whilst weaving hurdles, the brethren chanted, a music not so much concerned with words but vibrant with memories of hymns and psalms. The sound of their chanting was very like the rising and falling sound of the sea. They all knew what depths were in this sound, though to a stranger it might have sounded just like the hum of bees. . .
Once the cells were built, the brothers were ready to take on the first pupils. As there were twelve brothers, there would be twelve pupils to start with. Each pupil would have a teacher, an anamchara, that is one who shared his cell. Not all teaching would be done one-to-one but each needed a personal guide and soul mate. The foundations had been laid, now the work Oswald had called them to do could begin.
This extract is taken from 'Flame of the Heart' by David Adam and reproduced by kind permission of SPCK. You can find this book at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Flame-Heart-St-Aidan-Today/dp/0281050333