‘Holding the Light’,
photograph taken with a pinhole camera, by Angela Shaw.
In the middle of Mounts Bay in West Cornwall, there is a tiny island that rises out of the sea just off-shore, near Penzance. It is here, on top of this Mount in 495 AD, that the vision of Archangel Michael appeared to a group of fisherman in the Bay below. 8th May marks the anniversary of this sighting.
View of Mounts Bay, St Michael’s Mount in the distance
Living on the hill above the bay, I can see the castellations of the castle on top of the Mount and catch whole glimpses of it when I walk the moors around my home, or the dogs along the beach at Longrock. The storms this winter exposed remnants of the petrified forest that is normally covered by sand in the bay, reminding us of a time when it was merely a hill in the midst of a landlocked forest.
‘St Michael’s Mount is a tidal island 366 m off the Mount’s Bay coast of Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. It is a civil parish and is united with the town of Marazion by a man-made causeway of granite setts, passable between mid-tide and low water’ (Wiki).
The causeway that links the island with the mainland
There is something rather magical about the Mount. Standing alone in the bay like a figure from Arthurian legend, I feel its constant presence and is always a comforting reminder of home.
This tiny island has a twin, connected by an invisible thread across the Channel, which lies just off the coast of France. ‘Mont Saint-Michel is an island commune in Normandy, France. It is located approximately one kilometre off the country’s northwestern coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches. 100 hectares in size, the island has a population of 44′ (Wiki). Here, I have been told, the tide races in at the speed of a galloping horse. Both St. Michael islands get cut off from the mainland twice in every 24 hours. Both have been monasteries at some time in their lives and both are dedicated to the Archangel, Michael. More significantly for me, both lie on the Michael earth energy line where it crosses with its sister, the Mary Line, making them both pivotal points of powerful Gaia energy.
8th May, 2014. ‘Holding the Light’.
Angela’s Lantern and pin-hole camera placed on the Mary / Michael Line, St Michael’s Mount.
The lantern looking out to sea at the spot where the fisherman in the Bay first saw the vision of St. Michael.
Angela’s carefully prepared pinhole camera, primed and ready to go a few minutes before the 8pm start
Last week I met up with Angela Shaw (www.angelashaw.org), an MA student on the Art & Environment course at Falmouth, for a special visit to the Mount. Angela was on a recce to check out a suitable location for her ‘Holding the Light’ project and I was on a mission to identify ‘chakra’ points for a walk I am organising for FFT (more later in a new post). It turned out to be a very fruitful visit for both of us and I ended up offering to help in her ‘Holding the Light’ project: an 8-point photo work and light sculpture.
The 8 positions of Light Holders (Cudden Point is just off the map in the bottom right corner, my crop!)
Angela’s invitation to join in the ‘Light Sculpture’.
I was given charge of the St Michael’s Mount ‘watch’. In her ‘Guidelines for light holders/ witnesses, Thursday, 8th May, 2014’, she explains, ‘the aim is to ‘hold the light’ metaphorically, to give time and attention to the light……in a synchronised pause, knowing that 7 other light holders, over a 10 mile radius are doing the same’. Each light holder is issued with a lantern, candle and matches, a pinhole camera, notepad and pen to record thoughts and impressions.
8th May arrived and at 7.30 in the evening, I was picked up from the slip at Marazion by a castle Landrover and driven over the causeway to the Mount, now closed to daily visitors. From there, the castle manager, Pete, and I jumped into a golf buggy and bumped up the cobbled pilgrim path to the castle at the top where I laid out the lantern and pinhole in exactly the place Angela had identified as the chosen spot on our previous visit together, the very same spot where the Archangel had appeared to the fisherman below.
on the boat back, watching the setting sun just bursting through the mist before sinking behind the horizon. (For more ‘on the move’ pics for this weeks photo challenge see here).
At 8 pm precisely, I opened the aperture on the pinhole camera and whilst I watched the family of Ravens playing on the cliffs just below us, Pete and Adam (and his lovely dog, Eve) went to turn on the spotlights to illuminate the castle. At exactly 8.20, the tab was replaced over the hole in the pinhole, the candle extinguished and with the lantern packed away, we bumped our way back down the path from where I climbed into the motor craft that was waiting to take me back across the now flooded bay to the mainland, being dropped off at Chapel Rock where Victoria was recording my arrival with her film camera.
leaving the island behind me
With the light now beginning to fade, Victoria and I walked up the hill above Marazion to watch Angela light the prepared beacon. A few gusts of wind and the fire roared into life, easily sustaining the 20 minutes for the pinhole there to do its work. The gentle light from the chalky lanterns now replaced by the larger flames of the beacon. Standing there completely mesmerised by the spriggans dancing in the gloom and the glowing flames fill the darkness, I felt it had all been a rather wonderful experience and a privilege to have been part of something really special. So thank you, Angela, for inviting me to take part in your project. I have particularly enjoyed being a ‘light worker’. And particularly grateful to all those who had made my visit to the Mount possible. I can’t wait to see the resulting images from the pinholes and how Angela finally interprets her ‘synchronised pause’.
Angela lights the beacon.
Victoria recording the event, the illuminated castle on St Michael’s Mount in the distance.
Light is fading as the fire burns brighter
20 minutes later and the mission is accomplished.