“That what each of us must do is cleave to what we find most beautiful in the human heritage - and pass it on ... And that to pass these precious fragments on is our mission...”

Michael Ventura, 'The Age of Endarkenment' *

It might have been a figment of my imagination, and it might not.

But, I can tell you, that from the very moment I saw it happen, I knew that my days work would be blessed with its happening.

And it was.

For the rest of my time inside St. Mary of the Angels at Brownshill in Gloucestershire, the light play orchestrated my every move.

Every image I took that day was imbued with what had happened earlier, at first light, outside the west facade.

Sometimes these singular events defy description.

It was just a fleeting second, a short-lived phosphorescence, as the night passed its baton onto day.

Within a blink it had gone - but the impression stayed upon my retina for a few seconds more, and what had happened took me back to the ancient crypt at Hexham Abbey- where, in an attempt at capturing a sanctuary for the dead, I came across a shrine to the living: an organic bioluminescent galaxy.

What I’d witnessed at St. Mary’s had something of the Hexham ilk, but it was more of a separation: a flickering delamination, revealing a lichenous world hidden in plain sight.

It was, in essence, a luminous abstraction of organic forms from the structural backdrop of the church.

The moment was too short-lived to capture with my camera, so, in the spirit of Ventura, I set to work with pen in hand to pass on a fragment of what I had seen:

St. Mary of the Angels Lichenograph

Increasingly, more and more buildings like St. Mary's (which is under the stewardship of the Friends of Friendless Churches) are becoming redundant, but surely, what I had experienced at Brownshill confounds conventional notions of redundancy?

As well as conduits to the past, as well as containers of memory, these places are holy hosts to a mosaic of living organisms - a symbiosis that can take decades, or longer, to establish.

Not only that.

Every time I visit a building like this I'm gifted with new ways of seeing, which opens up new possibilities for engaging with our worldly experience.

These buildings are invested not only with meaning, but also with purpose; a purpose that might pass beneath the radar of our cost-benefit oriented minds.

My experience at St. Mary's is living proof that our world isn’t quite as wrapped up in black and white as we might think - it’s comfortingly fuzzy at the edges, and somewhere within that fuzziness - a new kind of holiness resides that could help shape our future lives.

“... there are places and things which make our thinking possible, and leave our thinking changed.”

Hugh Conway Morris, ‘The Architecture of the Poetic Universe’

St. Mary of the Angels

is under the care of The Friends of Friendless Churches. You can help places like this by supporting them as a volunteer or member. See here for more details.

St. Mary of the Angels

is under the care of The Friends of Friendless Churches. You can help places like this by supporting them as a volunteer or member. See here for more details.

Andy Marshall

is an architectural and interiors photographer based in the UK.

Churchyard lichens

Follow this link to the British Lichen Society page on the importance of churchyard lichens

Link to: The Hidden Vault

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