Wednesday, November 17, 2010

St. Margaret in the Woods

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Margaret of Scotland, a saint who holds a nice place in my heart not because of anything she did but because of what someone else did for her. When I was a kid there was a shrine in the woods that someone had built for her and it was a place I dearly loved.

I don't remember how we first found it or even where it is located. If I went back there I doubt I could find it now. But I remember there was a narrow, unmarked path that went through the woods. There were many rocks in those woods – huge rocks, glacial deposits, left there thousands of years before. You followed this little path and wound between some of these giant rocks. The rocks themselves were something of a wonder, covered with lichen and thick blankets of silky, soft green moss. There were always tufts of ferns growing between the crevices and tiny woodland flowers peeking out from under them. Eventually you came to a great pile of rocks and when you walked around to the other side you realized they formed a shrine. Nestled in the rock pile was a niche with a statue of St. Margaret in it and covered with a glass door. There was a stone altar and flagstones set in to the forest floor of the little grotto. Often we would find someone had left a bouquet of flowers on the altar, daisies and buttercups and wild geraniums of phlox. There were lady slippers growing out of the crevices in the rocks and in the spring the whole grotto was surrounded by mountain laurel. I thought it was a wonderful place.

That little grotto with its shrine captured my imagination and I remember lying in bed at night thinking about it, wondering if it was getting wet or snowed on. I thought about it a lot when it snowed. Once I asked my Dad if we could go there in the snow and I remember as we walked back the trail there were other footprints in the snow and I wondered who had been there before us.

Years later, after I was an adult, I did go back and find it but things had changed a lot. There was now a sign by the road telling who it was and why she was there. Some lady had built the shrine as thanks for a healing she had received by praying to St. Margaret. The beautiful statue under glass was gone and, in its place, was a hard, plastic bas-relief depiction of the saint. It was nice but not as evocative as the one I had known when I was young.

Things like that shrine are a delicious treasure to have when you are older. I suppose today there are less of them because they would be vandalized in short order and that would be a terrible shame. We've lost respect for so much and in losing respect we've lost these special secret treasures because no one wants to invest time and energy and love in something that will quickly be destroyed.

I was glad to read about yesterday being St. Margaret's feast day if only because it made me remember that shrine and the magic it brought in to my young life. Things like that stay in the underground of memory and, when we are lucky, come out on the page. and then someone says, “oh, I loved the part in the book where they discovered the shrine, that was so descriptive and mysterious, how on earth did you think of that?” And you say, it was a miracle that St. Margaret made.

Thanks for reading.  

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