Early humans under naked stars above their campfires, bewitching modern man who longs within his spirit for such simplicity;
bending down into a dark hole another mood emerges, to stalk with a flat profile, moving with the underground – a lion of a thing, defending the dark nooks of time, of recess and mysterious redoubt, against what I wondered following the fogou’s blinding corridor, slipped on stones from leaking water where moss- joints, drip from buttress and boulder, breathing the brewed air of many centuries.
Climbing out into the light I felt that link of kinship, imagined through half closed eyes I gazed at neolithic skies, fancied I heard their broken voices, carried on a breeze;
~Roy Austin from “Ancient Bluebells”
The ninth century is not “early man” nor Neolithic as Austin’s poem references about underground hideaways, but it is a long time ago nevertheless. The poem evokes what I felt crawling into this space created by early Christians over 1000 years ago.
We explored an underground “souterrain” yesterday in the hills of County Down in Northern Ireland, used most likely by the converted Celts to hide effectively from invading clans and Vikings. It is located in a farmer’s field, cows milling about the fenced off entrance. A few years ago there was installation of solar powered lights inside for 15 minutes of minimal illumination to get in (on hands and knees) and out again before the lights go out.
The flash on my camera shows what I could not see during our time underground. From the low entrance which runs 30 feet or so, where you must crawl to the rest of the tunnel which is only high enough to stoop or crouch, with several different chambers and side passages with shelves and hidden holes for storing valuables.
Five minutes was plenty for me in that forbidding place. I don’t do well in small places and this tested my tolerance. I guess if it was a choice between damp darkness in a crouch and being pillaged by Vikings, I’d choose dark and damp. It reminds me that early Christians spent more than their share of time underground and in hiding. We have challenges in our modern life, but staying underground because of persecution is not one of them.
Climbing back out was a huge relief even though I was not hiding from anything or anyone. The cows had not been taken away by rivaling clans. The ring fort of dwellings that existed long ago was still nothing but a pile of rocks in a field.
There was nothing to fear on this day hundreds of years in the future because these early faithful thrived and hid themselves well.