Lighting the darkness

Jan 24th, 2007 | By | Category: Personal Columns

There was a footpath through Saint Andrew’s churchyard in High Ham. It wasn’t really a shortcut; by the time you had taken a diversion to get from the village green to the church gates and then followed the path around the church to get to the gate in the wall on the far side, it was just as easy to walk along the road; but it was a source of dares for young boys.

Growing up in sight of Glastonbury Tor, we believed in ever story and legend that we were told. Ghosts were an absolute certainty, no-one would have confessed to not having seen one! The churchyard was a definite location for ghosts, the church dated from Norman times, so there had to be lots of them.

The dare was to walk alone in the dark from one gate to the other. It was daft, the only danger was falling over fallen headstones in the long grass at the back of the church, but boys are daft.

Our churchyard was altogether different from churchyards in Austria, where there seems a widespread practice of having lighted candles on graves at night time. It gives a comforting sense to churchyards. No ghosts here, just a feeling of warmth and homeliness amidst the dozens and dozens of flickering lights, each in its own warmly coloured lantern. Far from fear, there is a sense of welcome in the churchyards.

But, being a boy who was daft enough to believe in ghosts and ghouls, I wondered how the candles all came alight as dusk settled across the village. Was there a lamplighter whose task it was to light the flames each night? Were the candles real, or was there a gas or electrical supply to the graves that could be turned on to light all the flames simultaneously?

I discovered the answer when I went to the churchyard on a brilliantly sunny winter’s morning. The candles were, of course, constantly lit. It’s just that I only noticed them when it was dark. My sister’s partner, who still cannot fathom how someone who spent six years at university can lock himself out of his car, would roar with laughter at another tale of my daftness. It would have been be no surprise to him that I was terrified of ghosts.

But the churchyard candles did remind me of one thing, we only notice lights that shine when it is dark. It is the worst of times that brings out the best in people; it is the dark days when the light shines most strongly from the Godly people we know.

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