A few weeks ago, I made a pilgrimage. It was one of my regular visits to the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway, a preserved railway that runs beneath the escarpment of the Cotswolds from Broadway to Gloucester. This is a part of the world I first encountered almost 50 years ago, when I was a member of the walking club at school and we did the Cotswold Way. On my regular visits to the railway, I have always seen the signs to Hailes Abbey, which lies close to the line and the name resonated with me from the walking club days. I could actually remember very little about the site, but on this visit to the railway, I made the short diversion on my way home to visit it.
I have to say, first impressions were not favourable. I did wonder if it was really worth spending £7 when all that seemed to be standing were just four walls of the cloister, the quadrangle next to the church where the monks would study. But I did pay. What really struck me was not these walls, but the vast green space next to it, carefully marked out by the mower, that was where the church had stood. I followed what would have been the processional route, through the main door of the nave, beneath where the tower would have stood, to what would have been the high altar where the priest would have celebrated the mass. I tried to be devout, to imagine what it would have been like to lead Holy Communion, not with much success. There was something about just being in that space that seemed to be the really important emotion, not my own analysis.
In the weeks that followed, I have found my thoughts coming back to the vast green space; empty, tranquil and somehow special. In my mind, the place remains holy, even though the building has long gone; perhaps it has become even more the dwelling place of God now there are no walls and it is open to the sky and all sides. Given the present traumas all around us, I am grateful that it is place I can revisit in my mind, to refresh my soul.