My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Friday, 12 December 2014

Adelaide SA City of Churches - the Flinders Street Baptist Church

Into Jesus
In the city
 That is the proud mission statement on the cover of the welcome leaflet to the Flinders Street Baptist Church in Adelaide City of Churches. The trouble was, I had to gain entrance to the church before I could pick up the leaflet, and that was not particularly easy to do. Which is a shame, because the church is definitely worth a visit. 

I had walked past this church several times during my pilgrimage to visit all the churches of Adelaide SA. The board outside told me and other passers by that it would be open on Tuesdays between 1.00pm and 2.0pm for a free concert. That is fine if you want to sit through the concert, but hardly conducive to anyone who simply wants to look at the church itself, or take a few moments of silence for quiet reflection and prayer. OK - the board tells us that if we want to do that the church is open again on Wednesdays from 12 noon to 2pm - just two hours in six days each week (discounting Sunday when it is of course open for its weekly services - which are very well attended - 100 or so I was told).
This certainly seems a very busy and flourishing church judging by the same welcoming leaflet: a special program for children, called Buzz, during the morning service; weekly English language classes for those whose first language is not English; and several different home groups meeting regularly, such as the fellowship group, a book club, and groups focusing on the needs of youth and young adults. 
Now I did finally manage to make it to Adelaide during that Wednesday window of opportunity and had a most fascinating conversation with the person on duty, a former minister to the church, after which I was able to stroll around, take photos, and pick up the aforementioned welcoming leaflet, together with "A Brief History." But the atmosphere was hardly conducive to simply taking my own private time for prayer, meditation or quiet reflection, always conscious of someone at the front of the church on "security duty." And they claim to be a community which is "open and hospitable... which reaches out to others."
It is also a shame that the Brief History notes are not anywhere on the website - or not that I could find anyway. The church, which opened for worship in 1863, and is heritage-listed, is noteworthy for: its gallery or balcony installed in 1873 to cope with the 500 or so congregation plus 500 scholars in the Sunday School; a rather magnificent pipe organ, the baptistry designed and indeed used for total immersion baptism; its links with Global Interaction (formerly the Australian Baptist Missionary Society) as recognized by plaques in the church: and some interesting stained glass windows including a rather beautiful rose window under the balcony.
Some day soon, when I come to the end of my Adelaide Churches pilgrimage, I am going to have a rant about closed churches - so watch this space. And meanwhile if you would like to contribute to that particular debate, whether about the churches in Adelaide or anywhere else across the world, I would really love to have your comments. In fact please leave your comments anyway! I know that lots of you out there are reading this series - I would love to hear from some of you. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Adelaide city of churches - Market Place Church

I was standing at the junction of William Street with North Terrace, heading back towards the railway station, and I was getting very wet. When I went into the South Australia Museum in Adelaide, (definitely worth a few hours visiting), the weather had been dry and warm. Now it was pouring with rain.

Suddenly I was aware of someone close at my side, and I turned to look. She was a petite lady, pretty, with a wonderful smile, and she was sharing her umbrella with me! Now that sums up the friendliness of Adelaide which I felt throughout my visit there. "I could see you were getting wet", she said simply. And with that she accompanied me right the way into the station itself, until we were under cover, before saying goodbye and slipping away into the crowd; but not before we had managed quite a conversation about our respective families, our work, our lives.

During my few weeks in Adelaide, City of Churches, I set myself the mission of visiting every single one of those Churches within the central and North Adelaide areas - 24 of them according to the leaflet I picked up at one of them on my journeying. Today I had taken time out to visit some of Adelaide's other attractions, to give my church pilgrimage a break.
But it seems God had other plans - he wasn't going to let me off even for one day - because as I walked along that North Terrace from the museum I looked up and there on the side of a passing bus was an advertisement for  

Market Place Church
"Changing the World One Step at a Time" it proudly proclaimed," and making itself Church number 25 on my list. Now I didn't get a chance to pitch up to their Sunday worship, held at 9.55 am at Flinders Park Primary School with its offices, it says, within the inner metropolitan areas. So I'm not sure if it strictly comes within the geographical scope of my pilgrimage anyway. But if you are looking for an alternative to "conventional church", whatever that is, and you are in Adelaide, why not check them out. I quote from their website:

"We don’t claim to be people who have life figured out or have it all together, instead we are just a bunch of people who have a desire to journey together and discover the wonder and greatness of who God is.
We aren’t overly that precious about being traditional when it comes to Church meetings. We just love the idea of community, hanging out and allowing Jesus to set the scene." 
And their activities for kids and youth look pretty interesting as well. And if you're not in Adelaide maybe start something similar in your own town?

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Adelaide City of Churches - the Pilgrim Uniting Church

This is my continuing series on Adelaide City of Churches, relating my experiences in trying to visit as many of the city's churches as possible. Sadly these days so many are closed and a little effort is sometimes required to see inside them. But so often I found that the effort was richly rewarded.

I wanted to put these buildings on the map again, and whether your interest is in history of buildings, religion, spirituality, or simply the appreciation of beautiful stained glass and other church artifacts, there is much to discover here.
Why am I doing this? I hope I shall thereby encourage visitors to go and see some of these buildings for themselves.

one of the aisle windows c. 1925
And even if you are far away from Australia I hope my photos and ramblings will still interest and inspire you:  perhaps to make your own pilgrimage to your own local churches, with an open mind to see what they have to offer. 

I wrote previously about Holy Trinity Church, on North Terrace, which claims to the Adelaide's first church. The Pilgrim Uniting Church says that it shares with Holy Trinity "the heritage of those who were the pioneers of the Christian faith in South Australia."
the interior with exceptional organ
The excellent Brief Historical and Architectural Guide which I picked up on my visit claims that the Pilgrim Uniting forebears "were the first to hold religious services on South Australia soil, the first to build a temporary structure of gum and pine (Congregational Chapel on North Terrace) and the first to build a stone church in the city (Wesleyan Chapel) in Hindley Street." Artifacts from both these earlier churches are brought together at this Uniting Church in Flinders Street.
And oh what joy - it is open every weekday from 10am to 2pm so I was able to go in and have a really good look around.

And here is a church which really rewards the visitor, with its beautiful stained glass windows, its memorial plaques and one of the finest organs in South Australia. 
And if you visit any Monday at 12.30 you will be able to enjoy the regular and free "Music in the Lane" event in the Pilgrim Plaza just outside the church, where you can take your lunch and sit with a cuppa listening to a range of different musical experiences. The day I visited the program was jazz, and very enjoyable it was too.

It is clear that this is a very active church - as were most of the churches I visited during my stay. This one has an active Facebook page as well.

It is encouraging to see that Christianity is alive and well in Adelaide city of churches.
Between them all, a range of worship styles is offered, in addition to many other events and activities in each place; enough going on to suit just about any taste.
So do find a little time during your visit to Adelaide to visit some of these churches.

It is possible at the Tourist Information offices to pick up a blue flyer - "The Churches of Adelaide welcome you and invite you to their services" - which lists all the churches within the city area, with addresses, contact details and times of services. 

Monday, 1 December 2014

Adelaide City of churches - Christ Church North Adelaide

The residential streets of North Adelaide are simply charming. The Jacaranda trees lining many of the streets were at their very best, branches laden with the unmistakeable pendulous purple-blue flowers, and complemented by the reds, whites and pinks of the many rose bushes in full bloom - it is after all summer in South Australia. Strolling past the striking Adelaide Oval cricket ground, claimed to be the most beautiful cricket ground in the country, and the Anglican Cathedral, where I was pleased to worship during my visit to this wonderful city, I was making my way to the historic Christ Church, established in the mid 19th century.
Sadly I was too late to see inside. As I was coming to expect in Adelaide City of Churches, the church was locked, although I just caught a delightfully helpful lady as she was locking up the church office for the day. It was too much for me to ask to be allowed access when she was on her way home. She did however give me a rather beautifully illustrated booklet, describing in some detail the history of the church and its many points of interest, although it it was clearly written before the installation of a new pulpit in 2011.

The booklet also states "The church is among the few open daily, enabling residents and visitors to spend time in quietness and prayer." Oh dear. That is no longer the case. When did this change and why?
The 1939 bell tower
I read that this church exists in no small part due to the efforts of a group of women who started a building fund back in 1841 and collected £60 as its nucleus. A group of Anglicans had been holding services for a while by that time in the area, through the kindness and hospitality of the local Wesleyan Methodists and the Society of Friends, or Quakers, but they felt the urgent desire for a church building to call their own. This wish became reality when on Ascension Day 1848, 1st June, the foundation stone was laid, and Christ Church was consecrated and opened for worship by Bishop Short on 20th December 1849.

Here is clearly a very active church, well staffed and attended, with a strong music tradition and with services (of which there are four each Sunday, plus a mid week Eucharist) based on the Book of Common Prayer. I was just so disappointed that I was unable to see inside for myself, to see for myself the stained glass windows, the new pulpit, and Bishop Short's throne (the church was used for a while as the "stand-in" cathedral before Saint Peter's Anglican Cathedral was completed).

The website says that the parish office is now open Wednesday to Friday, 9am to 1pm, for anyone who would like to make contact with them for further information, and hopefully to gain access to look at this historic and interesting pioneer church in Adelaide City of Churches.

The church also has a facebook page.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Adelaide City of Churches - the other cathedral, the Catholic one.

So now I come to the other cathedral, the older one, the Catholic one - dedicated to Saint Francis Xavier, patron of missionary countries, and patron to their first bishop, Francis Murphy (1844-1858)
Actually followers of this blog will know that the Catholic Cathedral is only older than the Anglican Cathedral by just a few years.
What mattered to me was that both cathedrals stand proud in their own territories, neither dwarfed by adjacent high rise blocks, which sadly is the fate of many of the churches I tracked down in this beautiful city.
And joy of joys, it was open! (7.30 am to 6.30 pm the website tells us - and that it is a busy church with several daily masses). And as a result there was a steady stream of people coming and going, lighting candles, kneeling in prayer, some just sitting quietly in their own space, meditating or simply taking in the atmosphere around them, perhaps seeking solace in the spirituality and peace of the place. Private times - meeting the needs of that moment - and what a church is all about after all!
Much of what is written here I found in the information leaflet I picked up at the door which warmly welcomed me and invited me to walk around and take photos if I wished. It just asked for mobile phones to be switched off, and for visitors not to walk around during a service. Actually I felt a wee bit intrusive taking photos anyway - and was very careful to move around very quietly and as unobtrusively as possible. The peace and spirituality of the place was palpable.
Work began on this lovely building in 1851, and it was so designed tht it could be put up in stages as money became available - a very practical plan.

But it all got off to a rocky start as the lure of the gold rush in Victoria was too much for the architect and most of the labour force who went to seek fortune elsewhere! In spite of such difficulties the first foundation stone was laid in 1856 and stage one of the cathedral was opened and blessed in 1858.
Work continued in stages and the tower was completed as recently as 1996, the whole cathedral dedicated on 11th July 1996 by Archbishop Faulkner. So perhaps that man on the road crossing (see previous blog) thought of this cathedral as the new one after all!?

Some things to look out for:

The octagonal font, and behind this the statue of St John the Baptist, both carved in Tuscany, Italy, in 1925.
 The doors going in to the central nave feature stained glass panels of coats of arms of various popes and bishops, and of the city of Adelaide, and other symbols representing the phoenix, pelican, Baptism and the Eucharist for example. 
Three beautiful stained glass windows dominating the chancel, showing significant events in the lives of Jesus and Mary.

The pulpit was carved by a South Australian wood carver W Price, and is dedicated to those who died in World War 1. It features grapes and vines, a 14th cntury design, symbolising the Eucharist.

This statue caught my eye before I even entered the cathedral. It is of Mary MacKillop, Australia's first saint, recognised for her pioneering work in education. The sculptor was J Rolovink.Isn't it lovely?

Then as I was walking back from visiting other churches - another day - another story or two to tell - I found this plaque on a rock in, I think, Hindmarsh Square. It commemorates the first mass for the Catholic community celebrated on South Australia soil on 13th June 1840, long before the building of the cathedral - an example of "church" as a body of Christian worshippers without the need for a building as such.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Adelaide City of Churches - the early pioneers

When is the first not the first?
Well it can depend on what we are talking about.
When can a church claim to begin? When a number of Christian believers get together to hold acts of worship, with or without a minister, ordained or otherwise? When the foundation stone of a building is laid? When a priest or other minister is appointed? When the completed building is consecrated and first used?

One of the first churches I visited on my pilgrimage in Adelaide South Australia was the Anglican Holy Trinity Church on North Terrace. And this claims to be Adelaide's First Church.
The office at the church gave me a good booklet, Holy Trinity Adelaide's Pioneer Church: A Brief History, by Brian Dickey, where I learnt that even before the proclamation of the new colony of South Australia (SA) in December 1836 the Church of England were keen to settle in or support this new colony. To this end in early February 1836 they had already appointed the Revd. Charles Beaumont Howard to be their first chaplain in SA. In June 1836 Howard set sail to what was to become SA with some of the official party on HMS Buffalo, and during the long passage he conducted many Sunday services, weddings and baptisms.

He was sworn in to his new role as first SA Anglican Chaplain on 28th December 1836, the date of the founding of the colony, and he conducted his first service on Australian soil on 1st January 1837, in the sandhills at Glenelg.
A prefabricated building sent over from England proved to be useless and the foundation stone of the first permanent Anglican church on SA soil was laid 26th January 1838.
For nearly a year Howard was apparently the only ordained clergyman in SA.
I may have uncovered just a wee bit of friendly rivalry in this business of who was first to stake out their religious patch in the new SA colony! Later I visited the Pilgrim Uniting Church in Flinders Street Adelaide, who proudly claim that their forebears were the first to hold religious services on South Australian soil, on Kangaroo Island, on 13th November 1836, by a local Methodist preacher. I shall write about that church in due course.

My pilgrimage around the churches of Adelaide has been hampered somewhat by the fact that so many are locked up during the week, only opening their doors for services and other events. But sometimes a call at the church office during their working hours was all  I needed to gain access, and I quickly  discovered that behind those closed doors there is often a vibrant, active and significant church membership. I was told that the Holy Trinity church attracts around a thousand worshippers on Sunday between its four services. That's a good number for a city church.

Holy Trinity Church overshadowed by road bridge!
I also found much to interest me in what are often very beautiful buildings worth a visit in their own right: beautiful stained glass windows, the carvings on marble fonts, the carpentry and moulding of pulpits, rood screens and so on.

Come on Australia, let the public see behind those doors and admire the treasures therein a little more often. In England many of our churches are open all day every day with just CCTV for protection, and of course the most mobile and valuable treasures are locked up and brought out only for services. Many of us feel that the small risk of loss or damage is far outweighed by the importance of keeping our churches always available for those who wish to find a quiet space for meditation or prayer, or even just to admire the architecture and all that is therein. An open church attracts people, and more people means greater security. A locked up church is a dead church all the while it is inaccessible. Just being open in office hours, with CCTV playing through to the office, would be surely a good start?

the Ten Commandments - as relevant now as when they were brought down from the mountain by Moses

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Adelaide City of Churches - The old and the new cathedrals

Did you want the old one or the new one? "

View of the Anglican Cathedral from the Oval

Now that foxed me and half way across the busy North Terrace road just outside Adelaide railway station was not the time to start a further debate about this.
So once safely across the road, I studied the map again.
For some reason coming "down under" had totally disoriented me, everything did seem upside down, and I was going in totally the wrong direction - due South instead of due North.
Newly arrived in this very beautiful city, I was anxious on this my first Sunday here to celebrate All Saints and All Souls day and the Anglican Cathedral of St Peter's was my chosen venue for this most important service in the church calendar.
For subsequent Sundays I found the very pleasant walk across the new Torrens footbridge past the Oval cricket ground a much better route to the cathedral but this once I followed the main road ..... and made it with time to spare for the 10.30 choral Eucharist.
1877 font, marble with blackwood cover
And so glad I was to come. The welcome at the door was sincere and warm, the atmosphere within calm and spiritual, and the service just "up my street."
View down the nave to the High Altar

looking up to the lovely clerestory windows
Whilst recognising that this High Church style might not be for everyone - there are plenty of different styles and ways of doing "church" as the next few weeks on this blog will reveal - the swinging incense, heavenly choir, organ, colourful vestments, procession, wonderful hymns old and new etc - really do it for me spiritually, lifting me to another place for a glorious hour or more each Sunday. With the hospitality of tea, coffee and bisuits commonly served after most church services these days, I came away refreshed in body, mind and spirit, set up for another week.
the Peace Chapel
The foundation stone for this Anglican cathedral was laid on 29th June 1869, St Peter's Day, by Bishop Short. Building of the cathedral was completed in 1904 although regular services started in 1877. 
The Lady Chapel 

The Catholic Cathedral in Adelaide, which I shall write about later, dedicated to St Francis Xavier, is older by just thirteen years, if you consider when the foundation stone was laid, on 17th March 1856. This cathedral was seemingly first used in 1858 but building work continued with various extensions until 1996 when the tower was completed and Archbishop Faulkner dedicated the cathedral on 11 June 1996. So old or new? You choose!

For those interested in the detailed history of the cathedral and its many interesting artefacts there is excellent information at its website including a very good professional virtual photographic tour. Items include: the Westminster Stone, given in 1966 by Westminster Abbey London to mark its 900th birthday: the Canterbury Cross, dedicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 15th June 1935 at the Empire Service in Canterbury Cathedral; and much much more.  Enjoy!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Adelaide City of Churches - A Light on the Hill in North Adelaide

It wasn't difficult for me to find Brougham Place Uniting Church in North Adelaide (formerly one of Adelaide's "congregational" churches until 1975 when it became one of the new Uniting Churches resulting from the unification of the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches of Australia). Walking up the hill from the Anglican Cathedral of St Peter, after attending the spiritually uplifting morning Eucharist there, I soon spotted the striking honey-coloured tower across the park, framed by the green of the trees in full leaf, and silhouetted against a perfect blue summer sky.  The church describes itself as "A light on the hill" and it is a beautiful sight. My delight was complete when I found the church doors still open, some time after the end of their own 10am morning worship. I could hear singing, and crept quietly inside, to be rewarded by the sound of the choir practising Christmas songs, including "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and "Riding through the snow, on a one horse open sleigh." Not quite what I expected!!

The 1891 Doolette Memorial Window 
A very friendly Jenny, one of the pastors, came up to greet me and said she had no objections to me having a good look around while the choir continued their practice, and yes, I could take as many photos as I liked.
It seems very strange for me coming from a cold and wet autumn/winter in the UK, to the heat of a South Australia summer, about to celebrate Christmas with our own traditional songs about snow and sledges! However, the choir were obviously having much fun. I heard someone quip that perhaps a "ute" would be more appropriate than a sledge in Australia (i.e. utility vehicle or what we would call a pick-up truck!).
The outside of this church is a thing of beauty in its own right, but inside one's attention is immediately drawn to the beautiful organ and the equally striking stained glass windows, 8 of them in all, through which the strong midday sunshine was streaming.
A google search told me that this beautiful building is open on weekdays, except Wednesday, from 9-12 noon, and on Sundays from 10 - 12 noon. If you are in the area do go and look at those beautiful stained glass windows for yourself, and admire the organ (dating back to 1882, originally powered by hand bellows!) and upper gallery. website. (where there is much more information besides).
looking towards the galleries at the back of the church

There was a leaflet available which gives full details of the windows and the organ, repeated on the excellent website.

 This church was founded on the 20th October 1859, the foundation stone laid of 15th May 1860 and the first service was held on 22nd  February 1861. The first minister was the Reverend James Jefferis. I learnt that when he was offered a gift of twenty thousand pounds (a considerable sum in those days) for a denominational college, he had a much wider vision, and arranged for the gift to become the nucleus for the founding of the University of Adelaide, whose lovely buildings are to be seen around the city.
This is a vibrant church with plenty of activities for all and with a strong music and arts tradition. 
I picked up the service sheet for the morning's worship, and saw details of Noisy Bucket collecting and Youth Busking at the morning tea after the service. Also coming up were a talk on someone's visit to Israel and Palestine, an educational workshop Beyond Violence, details of a Christmas Trading Table, Cookies and Craft, a spring cleaning Working Bee, a celebration dinner for the whole church community, and much more besides. 

As the website states, here is "a community of hope that has passed faith from generation to generation, standing for justice and truth, equality and compassion, grace and love.  Its cornerstone is built on Christ, the Living Word, spoken in the lives of its members.  The Spirit continues to lead the mission of Brougham Place as it seeks to reach out and make known the love of God."

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Adelaide City of Churches

St Peter's Anglican Cathedral Adelaide
... as a friend told me when I said I was going to come here. So why is there so little readily available information about them? Indeed the only reference I could find in the Visitors' Guide to Adelaide which I picked up on arrival in the city was in the city map where just three churches are shown, the Catholic, Anglican and Greek Orthodox cathedrals. The Guide's Contents listing directs me to shopping, nightlife, arts and culture, attractions, events, markets, parks and gardens, and so on, but any mention of churches, even these three great cathedral buildings?  No!
This is a shame, because these cathedral churches alone offer much for the visitor to see and enjoy.
So why isn't Adelaide, City of Churches, directing its visitors to them?
I decided to dig deeper, and found a more detailed city map which helpfully shows twelve city churches, and even lists them. This was a good start! But it was only when I visited one of those listed did I find a little blue leaflet, which gives details of no less than 24 of the Christian churches of all denominations, and on the cover it says: "The Churches of Adelaide welcome you and invite you to their services." But it seems the visitor to this beautiful city is unlikely to find the churches unless he visits one!
And you don't have to attend any service, or even be a Christian, to appreciate much that these many churches can offer the visitor. 
Catholic Cathedral of Saint Francis Xavier
Armed with the list and the map, I embarked on a pilgrimage around all these holy places, and found many to be very well worth the visit, whether as tourist interested in the history and culture or simply appreciative of beautiful buildings; and whatever your faith, creed, religion, or spirituality. The first step on my pilgrimage was to attend a Sunday morning Eucharist at the Anglican Cathedral. That was a deeply spiritual experience for me and a good start! Divine music, with heavenly organ and choir and plenty of incense. And the post service hospitality for all was generous and friendly.

So I shall soon be starting a series here on Adelaide City of Churches, relating my experiences and hoping to put these buildings on the map again. I hope I shall thereby encourage visitors to go and see some of these buildings for themselves, whether as tourist or worshipper. And if you are far away from Australia I hope my photos and ramblings will still interest and inspire you:  perhaps to make your own pilgrimage to your own local churches, with an open mind to see what they have to offer. 

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The end of our Caucasian Georgia Pilgrimage - and an old Georgian Myth

There is an old Georgian myth as to why this country is one of such incomparable beauty - but I am getting ahead of myself...
It is our last day, Sunday, and we all celebrate a final Eucharist together in the Tbilisi hotel - a fitting way to end our pilgrimage. Then we have the morning free to do what we will. I head to Rustaveli Street and those parts of the huge Georgian National Museum collections that are housed in the impressive building there. This museum is quite simply fabulous and really needs far more than the couple of hours which I have available. The collection of pre Christian gold and silver is totally absorbing and I spend a long time poring over the display cases, well displayed and mostly with English translations. The gold and silver work is astonishing in its craftsmanship - for example a tiny gold lion with the most intricately detailed mane dates from 2600-2300 BC, the early Bronze Age. Next door I spend some time in the sobering new Museum of Soviet Occupation, with just a little time left for the display of weaponry used in the wars with Persia and Turkey in the 19th and early 20th century. Sadly when I finally make my way to the shop hoping for some sort of guide to take home with me the door is firmly closed - the shop has shut for lunch!
Even a long weekend would be scarcely enough time to explore Tblisi to the full. It is such a shame that it is a long journey to get there from America and the UK.
Lunch is not included today, and most of us find the excellent supermarket near the hotel, where picnics are clearly big business at the deli counter. Our individual choices from a fantastic selection are then beautifully wrapped and supplied with plastic forks and spoons as necessary.
There is a hiccup on the flight home - a very large bang wakes us up out of our dozing making us all jump. It is turbulence or air pocket we are variously told when we inquire of the staff, but the captain makes no announcement at all from the cockpit - that would have been reassuring. In all my many flights over the years I have often experienced turbulence, but never like that!

arriving tired and wet and cold at Gergeti church nr. Kazbegi
If Kazbegi and the steep uphill walk to Gergeti (Trinity) Church at 2170 meters in the pouring rain was the low point of our trip, our last full day at the David Garedzha monastery complex was certainly the high point for me at least. But like the walk to the highest church, there were some of the party who for various reasons could not take part and time must have hung heavy for them on both days.

arrived at Udabno (desert) monastery, tired, hot and happy!
Reflections: I would love to go back to Georgia and allow more time to further explore many of the places we visited. There were also many other churches and monasteries for which we had no time at all. This is always going to be the way with a large group, many different interests and so much to see.
It didn't always feel as much like a pilgrimage as did our previous trips last year, to the Holy Land and then to South East Turkey. But then in Turkey we stayed for several days in two different monasteries which enabled us to really get into the spirit of the liturgy and the mystery of the Orthodox religion. And of course the Holy Land is a very special place for followers of all three Abrahamic faiths, with so many of the significant places to visit within a small area. The long distances we had of necessity to travel in Georgia, tempted us at every turn into becoming tourists rather than pilgrims. I have covered the Holy Land and South East Turkey pilgrimages in previous blogs on this site.

I would like to express heartfelt thanks here to both Rosemary Nutt and her team at McCabe Pilgrimages, who organised such a splendid trip for us, and Southwark Diocese, particularly The Very Revd. Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark Cathedral, and his supporting team, who so ably led us with such good humor throughout. And of course thanks to our two wonderful tour guides from Visit Georgia, Maka and Levan.
My guidebook throughout the trip was Georgia, in the Bradt guide series, this one by Tim Burford, updated by Laurence Mitchell, fourth edition published June 2011, and I am grateful for much superb information supplied therein which enriched my visit to Georgia.

I think it appropriate that we should let God have the last word, and so I return to that old Georgian myth that I found on the comtourist website:

"When the God divided the Earth among the people, Georgians were late because of their traditional feast, and by the moment of their arrival the entire world had already been divided. When the God asked them to what they had drunk Georgians just answered: "To you, oh Lord, to us, to peace". The God liked their answer. So told them that although all lands were taken, he reserved a small plot for himself and now he decided to give it to Georgians. According to the God the land was incomparable in its beauty and all people would admire and cherish it forever." 

I say Amen to that!

Friday, 22 August 2014

Ninotsminda Cathedral, Sagarejo - as our pilgrimage draws to an end

Someone sitting behind me on the coach groans - oh no not another church today! We are on the last full day of our pilgrimage to Holy Caucasian Georgia and we have just had a fantastic trip to the David Garedzha monastery complex in the desert close to the Azerbaijan border. It's fair to say we are all exhausted. It has been very hot and those of us who took the strenuous climb up to the higher Udabno (desert) monastery are truly whacked! We have seen amazing frescoes and a glimpse into the lives of the many monks who once lived and worshiped in this incredible setting. We have marveled at the dedication of the few monks who still occupy the Davitis Lavra monastery, founded by St David, one of the Holy Syrian Fathers, in the 6th century.
poppies in pretty gardens at Ninotsminda

We fondly believe that we are now heading back to Tbilisi and our final night before heading for home tomorrow. So imagine our dismay to be told that there is another sight on the itinerary for today before we can have that welcome shower and drink at the hotel!
I guess it is the relative familiarity of a return journey that always makes it feel shorter than the outward trip. It therefore seems but a short time before we arrive back in Sagarejo, and somewhat rested after the coach journey, we do somehow find the energy and enthusiasm to explore Ninotsminda Cathedral, (not to be confused with the Bodbe convent also sometimes known as Ninotsminda near Signaghi).
within the chapel at Ninotsminda

This is now ruined as a result of earthquakes in 1824 and 1848, but it is very impressive for all that. It was built in AD 575 but there was a church used here for Christian worship from the 5th century. It is an interesting building because it is built in the cruciform style, predating the Jvari Church in Mtskheta which we visited earlier in our week.

There are the remains in the eastern apse of a fresco of the Virgin and Child, vandalized with bullet holes by bandits in the 18th and 19th century. The defensive walls were built around the cathedral in the 16th and 17th centuries and are well preserved.
There is further detailed information online at eurasia travel for example.
Mid 16th century Bell Tower Ninotsminda
Just 3 or 4 nuns now live here, and they are the friendliest nuns we have met on the whole pilgrimage! They maintain beautiful gardens which enhance the ruin, and we are told that it is possible to take a retreat here, at the nuns' discretion. A small chapel is built into the walls and there is a service in progress as we arrive. The chapel is quite busy, and even very young children stand quietly with their parents, aunts, friends; the girls wearing neat little headscarves like the adult women. There is an equally friendly monk welcoming everyone who enters, and the whole atmosphere is relaxed and peaceful (As I stand their alongside these families I wonder to myself why in the UK do we think we need special "all-age" services which often fail to please either the young or the old?)
Many of us take advantage of this opportunity for some Orthodox liturgy and spirituality, standing quietly and discretely at the back, and we soon find we have been given far too little time there before we have to hurry back to the coach for the final stretch of the journey back to Tbilisi. We agree that we are so glad with hindsight that we paused for a while here.

the Ministry of Internal Affairs building
posters in Tbilisi for 15 June local elections
It is now clouded over and considerably cooler - and as we journey on towards Tbilisi the sun becomes murky in the sky and the atmosphere becomes sultry and humid. It feels like a storm may be brewing. The main road here is attractively undulating and scenic, with smallholdings dotted along the route. We cross the river Iori again (further back we saw people paddling in this same river). There are small calves tethered in the fields - presumably destined for the veal market. At least their short life is a happy one, grazing the lush pastures. Further over in the middle distance I had already spied long low sheds and feared that these may be for intensive pig farming, as pork is very much on the Georgian menu and I had seen no pigs at all outside in the fields during the whole week. Several little streams flow down through these meadows from the mountain range to our north, and beautiful yellow broom once more covers the roadside slope. But still, sadly, there is always that unsightly litter. Soon we enter Tbilisi, past the all-glass building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. We are told that normally at this time of day, between 6 and 7pm, there would be bad traffic jams, but today, Saturday, many families go out of town or stay at home for rest and relaxation. It is election day tomorrow, June 15th, in Tbilisi, and there are posters everywhere!
the Virgin and Child Fresco in the apse
We all enjoy a group supper at a local restaurant before returning to the hotel and our final packing! This for many of us has been the highlight day of the pilgrimage, but our tour is not quite at an end. Tomorrow we will celebrate a final Eucharist all together in the hotel…