I have just returned from the most amazing weekend in Whitby where I have been wined and dined (well, a couple of lagers in the pub and fish and chips on the habourside) and been overwhelmed by an amazing co-incidence.
I have to admit to being a bit of a 'Hilda-babe' in that, St Hilda is one of my personal spiritual favourites, one of the church's spiritual giants, and someone whom I admire for lots of reasons, not least, that as an Abbess, she ordained a few bishops and priests in her time - not that you would get many in the Church acknowledging that particularly at the moment.
Sneaton Castle, home to the sisters of the Holy Order of the Paraclete, has hanging in its Conference Centre five very large paintings depicting the story of St Hilda - her baptism in York in 627 by Paulinus; her gathered community which included King Oswy's daughter Aelfleda; her discovery of Caedmon, the hymn writing goatherd; the Synod of Whitby in 664 she oversaw with King Owsy, for which we now have to thank for the setting of the date of Easter and finally, her death on the 17th November 680. Quite a woman by any account.
These paintings have played a huge part in my own spiritual development and I have spent many an hour meditating on each painting, seduced by the use of rich vibrant colours and drawn in by the use of movement.
Where is the co-incidence here you might ask? Well, I was in Whitby to receive a gift from friends and collegues at the North East Oecumenical Course (NEOC) in Durham. I have just left there after four years service as their Director of Residential Learning. They all chipped in and bought me an 'experience' as it was badged although I had no-idea what this 'experience' was until a few days ago. I was taken to Stills Photography where I was given the full make-over treatment and photographed - photographed in formal evening dress, casual dress and what the photographer, John, euphemistically called 'romantic shots'....I will leave that to your imagination but suffice to say, I did not have many clothes on! I had a wonderful time and never thought for one moment I would look so nice on celluloid. It was such fun and I would recommend it to anyone, particularly you ladies of a certain age who watch everything heading south day by day.
Still, how is this a co-incidence...? My husband John, would had arranged all this, had also booked us into Brunswick Bed and Breakfast for two nights - an arbitory decision based upon availability via a website. We got there and as I lay in bed that night pondering on my fate at the hands of the photographer the next morning, I was also looking at a painting that hung on the wall opposite. I realised that I knew the signature on the painting...it was the same artist that had painted the St Hilda paintings, Juliet Macmichael. Juliet was also our host offering hospitality through the provision of bed and breakfast.
I was stunned to realise that I was staying with the same artist whose paintings I had so admired and whose paintings I would never have seen had it not been for the fact that NEOC used Sneaton Castle as a venue for some of its residential weekends, and whose students and tutors had all contributed to my 'experience' in Whitby....truly and experience in more ways than one. Co-incidence....God-incidence....does it matter what kind of incidence it was because it clearly was an 'experience' I shall never forget.
You can view all of the St Hilda paintings by logging onto http://www.wilfrid.com/saints/search_of_hilda06.htm
You can view my photographs only be very special arrangement!