Krishna Consciousness & Ecological Awareness


A forgotten landscape: rehallowing our sacred sites
February 12, 2008, 6:00 am
Filed under: Land Conservation

The Sacred Land project was begun in 1997 to rehallow sites of spiritual significance throughout Britain. Though it was initially only intended to run for three years, its phenomenal success has led to it continuing indefinitely. The project’s artist, Rebecca Hind (pictured above), lives in Dorchester on Thames and the Door’s editor Rebecca Paveley spoke to her about her work, and the sacred sites all around us in the diocese.

By Rebecca Paveley, The Diocese of Oxford Reporter

‘If we know something of the landscape’s past it might mean we have more respect for its future,’ says Rebecca Hind.

Rebecca, who has spent her life painting watercolours, is the artist for the Sacred Land project, which aims to bring back to use sacred sites throughout Britain. These sacred sites may be pilgrimage walks, gardens, buildings or wells: the only criteria being that they were once revered by people, but are now all but forgotten.
The Sacred Land project is funded by the World Wildlife Fund and it was set up by the former Archbishop of Canterbury with the aim of reviving and creating sacred sites in Britain and overseas. Everyone, they say, lives within ten miles of a sacred site.

It involves Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and secular communities in creating and renewing inner city and community gardens, conserving holy wells, renewing pilgrimage trails and celebrating sacred places with art and poetry.

Sacred Land has set up a garden on the Holy island of Lindisfarne which replicates the garden which existed 1300 years ago when the monks were creating the Lindisfarne gospel; in Wales, it has created a pilgrimage route connecting all 18 Cistercian Abbeys; and on the Welsh Borders it is working with the local community to get the sacred site of the Lady Mary Well officially recognised, after it was destroyed by a local farmer in the 1990s.

Though there are no projects underway in our diocese, we have many sacred sites that have been painted by Rebecca. These include Wittenham Clumps, which is on the ‘pilgrimage route’ to Dorchester Abbey, the Abbey itself, Rycote chapel near Thame, Christ Church Cathedral and the pre-Christian site of the White Horse at Uffington. She has also painted the Rollright Stones and the Dyke Hills, which are also pre-Christian sites.

Rebecca says: ‘Many places have become overgrown and their spiritual significance has been forgotten.

‘I know of sites in the Diocese that have been virtually forgotten but could be reclaimed.

‘In Kingston Road in Oxford there was a sacred well, in the grounds of what was a natural health clinic. We know that it was there and that it had been a revered place. There is also a well in Binsey church, but nothing has been made of it.

‘And in Brightwell cum Sotwell for example there must have been wells that have been revered in the past, but we don’t know anything about them, or even where they are.’

Sacred Land does not impose ideas for projects on the local community, but works through local people. It is up to locals to decide they want to regenerate a site. The intention is to motivate people to think about the landscape that surrounds them.

‘Opening up’ could mean anything from having just a day a year to allow people to visit to full time open access to the sacred site.

Rebecca says: ‘Perhaps for example local people remember that there used to be a healing well there, but it has gone stagnant and they tell the project about it and we think of ways of bringing it back into use. The intention is to allow local people to recognise the spirituality of their landscape.’

Spiritual heritage

Her paintings are intended to remind people about the heritage of the area in which they live. ‘It reminds people that they are part of a landscape that has a cultural, spiritual and religious heritage.

‘It is easy to overlook the use a landscape was put to in the past. The Sacred Land project is about reconnecting with the past but more importantly looking at how we use the landscape today.

Rycote Chapel, near Thame, Oxon‘If we know something of the landscape’s past it might mean we have more respect for its future.’
A committed Christian, Rebecca believes rediscovering pre-Christian sacred sites is important.

‘Pre-Christian sites show that people were searching for something, seeking guidance, aware of a creator.’

But she doesn’t believe that every sacred site should necessarily be rehallowed.

‘It is a good idea only if people in the area want it done, perhaps because local people could benefit spiritually or by doing something, it would just improve the look of a place.’

If you would like to get in touch with Sacred Land about a potential project, they can be contacted via their website at www.arcworld.org, and click on Sacred Land under ‘projects’. They list helpful advice about starting up a sacred land project of your own.

Rebecca is to hold an exhibition of her works at Christ Church Cathedral in October, called ‘Spirit of Place’.

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