Saturday, 8 December 2012
The Saxon Chapel in the Marshes: A Midwinter Visit to St Peter-on-the-Wall
This weekend, as the Christmas shopping crowds flocked to the local towns, I disappeared off in the opposite direction to the remote salt marshes of the Essex coast. There, I visited St Peter-on-the-Wall; a small, Saxon chapel standing at the very end of long path (or pilgrimage route). It's a simple, unadorned place; there's little inside except for a stone altar, wooden benches set on the flagstones and several, burning candles. On this winter's afternoon, there is a silence inside the chapel, and little noise outside, except for a light whisper of wind and the distant cries of birds. A visit here is the perfect antidote to the madness of Christmas shopping.
St Peter-on-the-Wall is St Cedd's chapel. St Cedd arrived here in 653 from Lindisfarne, and the following year built his cathedral on the site of the (abandoned) Roman fort of Othona. St Cedd also founded a Celtic style Christian community and there is still a Christian community (the Othona Community) nearby today.
The history of St Peter-on-the-wall after the early years is largely unknown, but by the early modern era it was no longer used as a chapel. Instead, it was used as a farmer's grain store and cattle shed and it wasn't to be restored until the twentieth century.
Each year, in the summer, there is a pilgrimage to the chapel. As I walked along the long path to the chapel I had the sense of reaching the edge of somewhere. Beyond the chapel, there is the salt marsh; a nature reserve for birds and plants that stretches out to the River Blackwater, and the sea.
I can't put off Christmas shopping any longer, so I have to return back. But I now feel more able to cope with the crowds after being in such a spiritual, peaceful place.