After the Hermit’s Shrine, we continued on up the hill. The church at the top had been recommended to us, and for good reason. The Church of St. Issui Patricio, or the Church of Merthyr Ishaw (Martyr Issui).
Over a thousand years ago, an early Celtic Christian named Ishaw settled on a hillside by a stream. He lived in a small cell, pulled his water from Mary’s Stream (Nant Mair), lived among the local people, and shared with them his love of God. In the years he lived there, travellers would stop and stay with Ishaw, sharing his home, finding peace, and for some, healing at his hands. It is easy to picture them sitting by a fire, talking over food and surrounded by glorious beauty. But not all travellers had pure intentions and, finally, one of them murdered Ishaw, leaving him in his cell for his friends to find and taking what meager belongings were there.
The site remained holy. Travellers continued to stop and drink from the Holy Well on Nant Mair, and some were healed of illness and injury. Eventually, travellers became Pilgrims, and in the 11th Century, one was healed of leprosy. He left a bag of gold by Ishaw`s grave and this gold was used to build the first church. The font in the church is dedicated to Harawld, Bishop of Llandaff, in 1056 and the nave dates from around that time. Since then, there have been additions and changes throughout the church, including the eglwys-y-bedd (Church of the Grave) that looks to have been repaired around the 13th and 14th centuries, a rood loft dating from 1500, windows from the same century and 18th century murals. It`s an amazing patchwork that retains the serenity that must have been there with Merthyr Ishaw.
As we left the cool refuge of the church, we realized that we weren`t alone. On the porch, under one of the slit windows in the stone wall, curled up on the flag by the boot scraper, was a small, grey squirrel. He didn`t look up as we came out and at first we thought he was dead. Then we saw his back move with slight breath and realized that like many others who needed healing, this small creature had been drawn here. We left him there, secure in the knowledge that this is a working church, as it has been for over a thousand years, and that the person who had left the lovely May blossoms inside would return. We didn`t think the poor thing had long to live, so we didn`t disturb him. He was out of the rain and he was peaceful.
I got the feeling that Mother Nature often sent her creatures here to Ishaw`s church. Somehow, I couldn`t help but think that the sacred healing was not reserved only for humans, but extended to all life. I wasn`t prepared to interfere with that. And as I walked down the path toward the car, I saw the moon, smiling down at us.
And so, it is Boxing Day. As so many people are, I was away from my family this Yuletide, but not alone. I was among people I love, and who love me. No matter what your background, at those sacred times of year, when you can`t be with your family, being with those you love, being loved, is just as wonderful. I share with you a photo of a Yuletide many years ago, when I was at my mother`s house. It is a truly Canadian Christmas picture. And I hope that you all have had a wonderful holiday week, filled with love, laughter and family.