This morning, as I walked around the Cathedral Close here in Salisbury, I glimpsed an open gate that had been closed before. A truck was parked in the gate way. Behind that truck I could spy stones — piles of rough cut rocks obviously waiting to be used for the ongoing renovations of the Cathedral.
I thought of a question one of our students asked when we were on our way to yet another site of historical value, “Are we going to another big pile of rocks?”!!
In the last few blog posts my theme has been water. Lots of water. But here in the UK and Ireland there are also ROCKS. Lots of rocks….
Last week we visited Bru Na Bóinne in County Meath, Ireland, the site of megalithic (translate: BIG stones) passage graves. A UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most important and extensive prehistoric sites, this area is home to over 90 monuments ranging from passage graves, burial mounds, standing stones, henges and other big piles of rock which no one is quite sure what the purpose was.
Over 5,000 years ago people figured out how to roll these huge stones on logs, or devised ways to float them downriver, often many miles from their origin. The white quartz which was laid carefully outside the tomb at Knowth and which lined the face of the immense tomb at Newgrange, is from County Wicklow, over 50 miles to the south. What immense engineering feats! What creative and energetic people designed these tombs and cut decorations into the rock!
No one knows for sure why these tombs were built. The entrances line up with sunrise and sunset at the equinox (in Knowth) and at the solstice (in Newgrange). Besides being tombs, were they places of worship? Were they community centers? Whatever the detailed purpose, surely the people were reaching beyond themselves, thinking of time beyond their time, linking themselves with ancestors who had died, with times yet to come, somehow with eternity.
“[God] has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3.11).
We also visited Avebury in England, near Stonehenge, which contains the largest Neolithic stone circle in the world (much larger than Stonehenge but not with standing stones and lintels).
Of course the other big piles of rocks here in the U.K. are the midieval cathedrals. Again, the engineering, design, creativity, and ingenuity shown in building these places of worship is mind-boggling! As I write this, I can see the spire of Salisbury Cathedral out my window — the tallest spire in England. Some of our students are taking the “Tower Tour” this afternoon where they can climb above the stone vaulting, see the wooden scaffolding that holds up the slate roof and actually climb up to the observation deck on the main tower. Completed in 1258, the Cathedral also stands as a monument to our ancestors’ search for eternity and desire to worship.
Rock has a permanence and endurability that makes it perfect for those who have eternity in their hearts. Scripture is filled with references to God as our ROCK and refuge. Jesus is “the stone that the builders rejected” which became the cornerstone. The Apostle Paul uses the image of building a temple of stone to remind us that believers are living stones, “being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Even more lasting than 5,000 year old stone structures, even more valuable than a World Heritage site, is each human soul!