WHAT makes a place sacred?
According to Nick Mayhew Smith, it is people.
So much so that in his new book, Britain’s Holiest Places: The First Complete Guide To 500 Sacred Sites, all the spiritual locations featured are places where people have had significant encounters – with themselves, with others, with the landscape, with the elements, and with the divine.
Nick is not concerned what faith, if any, people bring to a sacred site, but asks readers to be prepared to challenge any preconceptions.
This extraordinary book (Lifestyle Press, £19.99) records a five year journey through Britain’s holy places. Its broad scope encompasses every established tradition, including Anglican, Catholic, Celtic, Orthodox, Presbyterian and Non-Conformist sites.
Remarkably, every site is still in active use, with rituals and traditions to surprise and enchant anyone with a sense of the sacred.
All manner of artefacts and experiences are included, from miraculous healing pools, astounding works of devotional art, mysterious natural features, world-famous shrines and grand cathedrals, to some of the humblest country churches.
The nearest site to the Fylde coast, with various local connections, is the ancient shrine of Ladyewell, at the end of a meandering country lane just a couple of miles, yet worlds apart, from the Broughton end of the busy M55/M6 junction.
Last Saturday at the well there was a day of healing and spiritual renewal, led by Franciscan Friars of Renewal. This coming weekend will see Forward in Faith, led by the Anglican Society of Mary.
But day in, day out, groups and individuals find quiet prayer and reflection in the picturesque grounds, which also contain the English Martyrs Chapel.
Nearby is the church of St Mary’s, Fernyhalgh, built by the Rev Anthony Lund in 1794, to accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims to the well.
Director of the shrine and parish priest of St Mary’s Church, Fernyhalgh, is Poulton man Father Tom Hoole. A late vocation, he studied in Rome, was ordained in 2002, then he took up his post at Lancaster Cathedral, followed by Kendal, before going to the shrine six years ago this September.
He is assisted in the running of this holy and much-visited place by a team of enthusiastic volunteers, including retired nurse Ann Gladwin, of Poulton, widow of former Gazette photographer Bill, who has written an historical guidebook to the shrine.
Ann says: “The work at the shrine is very fulfilling and I feel very privileged to participate in the running of this place of pilgrimage, prayer and peace.”
Legend has it that the Ladyewell shrine was founded by “a virtuous and wealthy merchant” crossing the Irish Sea in a storm, who prayed and made such a pledge if he reached the Fylde coast safely. Staying in Preston, he was directed to Fernyhalgh in a dream.
More details can be found at www.ladyewellshrine.co.uk