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Bardsey Island Observational Research Project

More Photos

Some more photos taken on Bardsey Island last month when we stayed at Carreg Bach, the tiny crog loft cottage that is the oldest of the houses on the island.

Island Cottages

This is a shot of the warden’s cottage and the adjoining house next door. In the publicly shared image, I’ve edited out the storm damage, which you can see from the original photo is quite extensive. In the winter storms, Bardsey experienced winds greater than 100 mph and several of the buildings were damaged.

Storm damage

Storm damage

Another photo shared on my Flickr collection is this photo I took of the small chapel on the island that revealed to me a slightly more unpleasant aspect to the island’s history.

Illuminated Walls

This little chapel on used to be the hermitage of an elderly nun. She lived on the island for many years with this tiny ascetic cell as her living space. Her scratchings on the walls told a sad story of devotion and deprivation hidden beneath the whitewash. The hammer on the table beside the purple-shrouded cross is placed there as an invitation to exchange Jesus’ suffering for our sins by banging in a nail. In a place that had witnessed so much suffering, this seemed to me to be too cruel a symbolism. I declined, instead placing a stone in the prayer basket hanging from the ceiling. The ghosts of the island became suddenly  too palpable and macabre. I left quickly, but it was difficult to let the feeling go and I felt that I carried it with my for the rest of my stay on the island. You can read more about this picture on Seeing the Gorilla photography blog.

Bardsey has been a holy place for some 1500 years, with reputedly the bodies of 20,000 pilgrims buried there. It was decreed that three trips to Bardsey were worth one pilgrimage to Rome.  I suppose pilgrimages are not meant to be comfortable and this, my sixth trip to Bardsey, was for me a challenge. For the first time I glimpsed something beyond the  spirituality and sacredness of this place to realise that those pilgrims, the sick, dying, righteous and penitent, made this journey seeking something different to the stunning beauty and peacefulness that I have found in this place.  The journey here was deadly, especially as the pilgrims were often already sick, probably gravely so, and such was the problem of travellers dying en route to the island that eventually it was said that you would go to heaven, not just if you died on Bardsey, but also if you died on the way there.  In reality, Bardsey may well have been a more grim destination than the beautiful island that draws me back each year. And rather than a spiritual journey, for those pilgrims, it must have been a more tortuous experience.

It took a while to break free of these sensations, well after I had returned home. My journey to Bardsey was meant to be a spiritual quest rather than a creative retreat and Enlli certainly gave me plenty to think about while I was there.

Whatever our beliefs, we humans should be kinder to each other, and maybe this should start with being kinder to ourselves.

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