Friday, June 26, 2015

Mura Cross and Fahan, Ireland

In Londonderry Laura and I came across the most exquisite little jewelry store ever.  My friend, Ganesh Nanda, has the finest gold jewelry store in the world, Nanda Jewellers in Vancouver, Canada.   I believe even he would like this Jewelry store.
Ganesh had sold me my 24 carat gold chain.  Being a survivalist of sorts I thought it a good idea to have some portable species.  I feared societal disruption and understood how people in crazy times sewed a few diamonds in their clothing just in case.  I’d been feeling unsettled by personal and world events when I walked into Ganesh’s lovely store and bought that gold chain that day..
We’d talked about the day his store was broken into by armed robbers and he was held at gun point. I’d asked him if it still bothered him at times and he’d told me it did.  He’d put in a special set of security doors at his store that required people to be buzzed in through both doors now. He’d had only one door security system before.  The armed robbers when they were eventually caught were a gang that flew from city to city robbing gold jewellers at gunpoint.
Ganesh had the robbery on video.  He’d spoken up and taken the attention of the armed men off his staff and onto himself.  They’d pushed his head down on the counter and put the gun to his head. It had been frightening to watch.  Yet he’d been so courageous. Heroic, really.  He told me later that all he cared about at the time were his lovely wife, Anita and his fine son and daughter.
I was talking to him again that day getting a new gold chain because in Athens a dozen young Moslem men had surrounded me. They ripped the gold chain I was wearing under my shirt from around my neck, taking the gold Celtic Cross I wore.  When they were trying to push me onto the ground I’d picked up the broken chain and run, elbowing one out of the way. I joke that at my age I’m still a better martial artist than Bruce Lee at ‘retreat’.  When faced with an ambush, and overwhelming odds, retreat is the right choice. And I had chosen it with great alacrity as the young men called me “Infidel” laughing and mocking me as they ran behind me.  I last saw them swaggering away in the distance passing around my gold Celtic Cross.
To say I was disturbed is an understatement.  I was frankly paranoid that night in my hotel room. In the morning I was able to speak with others and feel better.  Of couse we all knew that they were just lowlife criminals who stole the cross for the gold.  Young men who know no god themselves,  justifed their low life avarice with the cry “infidel”. A good Moslem mother would spank their bare baby bottoms for stealing under any guise.   Unfortunately given the statistics for ’snatch and grab’ assaults, they were likely drug addicts.
My Greek friends were enraged, not just for me, but because tourism was the life blood of their community.  They thought these men by my description must be refugees from Afghanistan as there had been other tourist attacks and stealing of gold crosses from Christians. The attack had occurred in a fine district at dinner time, before dusk, with hundreds about and a police station a couple of city blocks away.  I’d not gone to the police at the time, being paranoid as it were after the attack, and having heard of some countries where reporting robbery to the police just resulted in the police robbing the person of whatever they had left.
Materialists today just think in terms of money and ‘insurance’. Lacking heart and not knowing their souls, they do not appreciate the sentimental, intrinsic finer worth of things.  We imbue the inanimate world around us with the love, or hate or fear we feel.   Long after a death we are touched by the mere picture of a loved one.  Memories are carried in objects as much as they are in the written word.  Civilization is an upward development from animals like my attackers to a loving creative family man like Ganesh who helps employ others, pays taxes and gives to charity.
The gold Celtic Cross had a personal meaning beyond it representing the religious Anglican Christian faith I was baptized in.  It symbolized my Celtic ancestry as well as being a simply beautiful piece of fine gold art. I’d seen it one day in passing at a Celtic store in Vancouver. I was down and out at the time, out of work, going through a divorce. and frankly wondering if I’d ever work again. I’d had to accept charity from friends and the church because at the time my ex wife in spite and sickness had taken all our assets.  She’d use lawyer for the next five years to punish me and I wondered if ever I’d be no longer the target of her and those others I’d once thought of as friends.  It had been dark days when I saw that cross and reflected back on better financial days when the cost of an $600 or $800 gold pendant would not have been prohibitive by any means. I had prayed for God to help me restore me to where I could help others again rather than be dependent.
And a year or so later working three jobs and paying off the debts my ex and I had created I walked by that store again and saw that same cross.  I’d just been baptized, having made a commitment to Christianity, the religion I’d been raised in and apart of all my life but refused to drop my intellectual criticism and ’surrender’ or ‘accept’ Grace and faith.  Now I had and on that day I purchased that cross. That it had waited for me over a year was important to me too.  I liked the synchronicity in my life. I liked at times that feeling of being in the ‘flow’.  I felt touched by Grace at times, not because I was special but because Grace is.  The world is sacred and at times we can feel that sense of being home within when we get these subtle reminders.
When I was mugged, the next day I’d been able to go to a meeting where I met an Irish man living in Greece who told me that he’d just returned from Israel where he’d had to go to bomb shelters several times because of air raid sirens and Hamaz missile attacks.  He told me that he’d felt safer there because people were together and aware of who the enemy was.  In Athens he’d become increasingly anxious because of the anger in the masses, the corruption of the leadership, the mass migration and attacks like what happened to me. Stealing from tourists was something so stupid as to be like biting the hand that feeds.  People weren’t trying to make things anymore but rather were trying to find a way to steal things that others had made.
Whenever I touched my gold Celtic Cross I had thanked God for my increasing success, for the changes I’d made in my life, for the work I had and did.
Today seventeen years later from that year of changes, I’d had what my Christian Evangelical friend Willie would call some return on the Jabez prayers.  I’d never worn gold before that time but had been told by an old doctor at a meeting that he’d taken to ‘suiting up’ because he said that those he wanted to help didn’t see anything deeper than the superficial at first. It was important to display some of the success we’d be given for their sake.  So I had worn my gold cross and driven my Harley Davidson and dressed in new suits feeling that this little sliver of fortune was not just vanity but ‘attraction’.  For me, all I had were ‘gifts’ of recovery ,gifts from God.
Ganesh, being a devout Hindi, had been able to find regular gold crosses but no Celtic Crosses.  I wanted to replace what was taken with something better to undo the abuse.  When Christian churches have been destroyed by infidels and barbarians the Christians have rebuilt them but better, just as Ganesh built a better security system for his store. We don’t roll over and die.  To hide and take up the fetal position is to ‘identify with the aggressor’ and continue their assault.  Instead one goes forward, replacing what was lost, accepting the path, and using the opportunity for improvement. This was in some way, my way of healing.
In my work I’ve explained to countless women and some men who were raped and attended counselling that they are only healed when they have returned to having joyous sex.  Their assailant wants them to suffer for ever, wants to torture them with bad memories. These animals have told me that they want to be the last man to have sex with the woman so she remembers only them. If I break my leg and fall down I do not consider it healed if I remain in bed the rest of my life, but only thank the doctor when I’m walking again and on my way.  I found too many counsellors in my years of work had taken victims and kept them as such, reliving over and over again the trauma without encouraging and supporting them get on their way.
In the window of this little Londonderry jewelry I saw the gold crosses of “Proudly made in Derry”.  Inside the store a very pretty young woman explained that these gold crosses were replicas of the “High Crosses of Inishowen” the northern district of Ireland where the Mura Cross, Donagh Cross, Cooley Cross, Bodan Cross, West cross, Clonca  and West and East Crosses of Carrowmore were.
She told us that the closest of the crosses, not so far out of our planned drive that day was the Mura Cross in the village of Fahan.  The crosses were 18 carat gold and exquisitely fashioned by the local gold artisans.  I bought that Mura Cross for a few hundred euro because I could and because of all I’ve said before.  I have since that time bought many crosses.  I like buying Bibles too. I find Bibles and crosses make special gifts as well.   Other’s I keep and wear on different occasions.  I appreciate women’s enjoyment of jewelry more now too. Each cross (Christian Bling) carries associations that are uplifting and timely to me.   I was wearing the silver cross I’d bought in St. Patrick Cathedral made with Irish Connemara Marble and took this off to put on the new Mara gold cross.
Part of the joy of Ireland is the persona safety a tourist has. The Irish might kill each other, and that very rarely today, but they really care for you. I have felt so safe here, somewhat like being a child with family.
Laura and I, after my purchase, and her purchase of a silver High Cross, had another adventure before us.
St. Mura had been born in Donegal around 550 ad and died 645 ad. He was appointed Abbot of Fahan  by St. Columba whose disciple he was said to be.  He is said to have written many works including chronicles and a rhymed life of St. Columba which is quoted in the Martyrology of Donegal.  He is the patron saint of the O’Neil clan being descended from the founder.  The monastery was in ancient times known as Othan Mor but after the death of the saint was called Fahan Mura.  He was highly esteemed by Hugh, Head King of Ireland.
The early 7th Century Fahan Mura Cross is located in the graveyard, not in the lower Fahan Church but in the  Upper Fahan St. Mura Church of Ireland church. It is not in the graveyard at the back of that church but across a lane leading off from the road from Letterkeny to Buncrana.
It’s a 6 1/2 foot grave slab. It demonstrates a connection with Scotland where it’s shape is more common. The intertwined ribbon knot work is thought to represent the Tree of Life and the five circles representing fruit. With its roots in the soil and branches in the air the tree represents the connection between heaven and earth. The seasonal cycles of the tree link it with growth, death and rebirth.  At the base of the tree are two figures who might have represented the High King of Ireland and St. Mura, but that is just conjecture.
The old walled graveyard located west of the Rectory, also contains ruins of the 16th century monastery and 17th century church.  The Fahan Mura Monastery was sacked by Vikings in the 10th and 13th centuries and many of the slabs bear coats of arms. The grave of pioneering nurse Agnes Jones is there too with a sign pointing to it beside the sign pointing out the Mura Cross.  Agnes Jones  trained with Florence Nightingale and nursed in the Crimean War.
Typical of Laura and my graveyard adventures we began with only the statement, “You can visit the cross at Fahan.”  Talking with a lovely lady in the Catholic Book Store we learned that ‘you couldn’t miss it. It’s just down the road to Buncrana.”  Everything in Ireland is “just down the road!”
So we drove on the wrong side of the street following the signs to Buncrana. We’d also been told it was just past a petrol station and the graveyard was across the lane from the church.  Entering Fahan I was ecstatic to see the sign Fahan Presbyterian church.on the right hand side of the road pointing to a church on the left hand side.  Missing the lane,  I had to turn around and take a near death turn across oncoming traffic.  I found a parking place beside the church.  Laura and I then looked high and low around this church for the Mura Cross which we feared must be hidden somewhere.  Knowing it was a grave slab I was digging about in the briars along the lane and looking among the cow paddies across the street.  Laura meanwhile was insisting “this can’t be the church because there’s no petrol station.’  So finally, heeding her advice, thinking how can there be two churches in the tiniest village of Fahan I’d forgotten there may well be more churches in Ireland than pubs. Talking with a couple of men I sought out a few houses from the church I learned, “This isn’t that Fahan Church. That Fahan church is another 5 km up the road next to the petrol station."
So we got back in our little Citroen and headed ‘up the road’ till we saw a Petrol Station.  There was no church beside it. We kept on driving.  We had jumped to the entirely false notion that the church was beside, “next to”, as in proximal with it,  when it was another km up the road on the right side. I had another near death turn across traffic into the lane beside the church. With great enthusiasm we saw that this was St. Mura’s Church.  We were there.  Yet again when we searched all the graveyards in the back acre, huffing as we do with these hiking work outs,  and had searched under all the trees and in the briars, with our bending and yoga workouts, we still found no grave.
We were just heading back to the road when I remembered the part of the instructions we’d been told  saying it was across the lane from the church. Sure enough I saw beyond the high hedges an even higher high cross.  “Laura, Laura! “ I called.  And together we walked over to the old walled graveyard.  Sure enough there was the Cross of Mura.  Everything that I’ve written above about the ruins of the Monastery and Church and the grave of the nurse Agnes was as I said. Only at the time we didn’t have an internet connection and hadn’t done a search. We had enough trouble finding the village of Fahan. Yet again it all paid off finding the Mura Cross.
These graveyard adventures are like treasure hunts.  And treasure for the soul indeed because these places are so peaceful and the history comes alive.  And there I was wearing around my neck a bit of gold copied on this very Mura Cross from a trip to Ireland I never could have conceived all those years ago when I bought my first Gold High Cross.
It’s good to be Christian.  It’s good to be a wee bit touched and fay. Laura, as daft as I, enjoys these crazy excursions as much.  It’s the romantic  within us.  W.B. Yeats was all for this sort of adventure.
Reasonable old people, we straightened ourselves up and returned to the car.  We headed down the road to Donegal  where we had a marvellous fish meal at the Harbour Sea Food Restaurant. The chowder was to die for. Now we’re at Galway in the spacious elegant Forster Court Hotel.  Not a person at the restaurant or in this hotel would think that such a normal pleasant older couple as ourselves had spent the day mucking about in graveyards. With age we’ve perfected  our disquises.  Meanwhile my own  Mura Cross rests under my shirt close to my heart.

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