Monday 26 June 2017

A Different Church

My church crawling took a new turn over the weekend when, with my cousin, I visited this one - Lud's Church in Staffordshire. Hidden away in woodland known as the Back Forest, in the White Peak, this deep, narrow, moss-grown chasm in the rocks can only be entered through even narrower passages at either end, from which steps lead down into a dank sunless world, with craggy rock faces towering on either side, and trees outlined against a narrow strip of sky above.
 It's a quite extraordinary place, with something of the feel of a naturally formed cathedral nave; indeed one of the more plausible legends about Lud's Church is that it was used for secret worship by persecuted Lollards. More fanciful tales about this handy hiding place have linked it to Robin Hood and Friar Tuck, Bonnie Prince Charlie and local Luddites  - from Lud, the legendary King of England who gave his name to London and Ludgate, to the equally legendary leader of the machine-smashers, Captain Ludd, by way of some local Lud whose name is otherwise lost.
 Others have identified Lud's Church with the Green Chapel where Sir Gawain kept his fateful appointment with the fearsome Green Knight. As the poem describes the chapel as a hollow grass-grown mound (suggesting a barrow), this seems more than fanciful. However, Lud's Church would have made a perfect setting for the climactic drama; it's easy to imagine the sound of the Green Knight's axe-grinding echoing off the walls of the chasm as a trepidatious Gawain steps down into its depths.

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