St Peter's and gazebo St Peter's and stage

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Saturday 6 July I travelled to St Peter’s Church, Bradwell on Sea, with Carl Kears, a PhD student at King’s College London, and Fran Allfrey, an MA student at King’s. The trip was part of the preparations for Interruptions: New Ways to Know the Medieval at Bradwell, an event which will take place at the church as part of the Ethical Knowledge knot on 25 July and during which a group of postgraduate researchers at King’s will present their own responses to Colm Cille’s Spiral. It became clear that we needed to visit the church during the preliminary workshops with Marc Garrett, Erica Scourti and Clare Lees. As we were thinking through Marc’s brief and began working with his ideas of connectivity, hacking, data exchange, community and power, we realised that a key element of the project had to be the location of our own meditations and exchanges: St Peter’s Church.

The site of St Peter’s is actually beyond Bradwell. To get there you have to travel through a series of small, self-contained villages (many, such as Asheldham, Tillingham and Bradwell itself revealing their early medieval heritage through their names). Bradwell is six miles from the nearest train station, and the church a couple of miles beyond Bradwell. With this in mind, originally we had planned to drive to St Peter’s. However, we realised that we would get a much better sense of how the church is located within its landscape by approaching it by bike (of course, foot would have been better, but the distances involved made this simply impractical). We got the train from London to Southminster and from there rode through the winding, hedged lanes to Bradwell.

As we cycled towards Bradwell we were constantly on the lookout for the church on the horizon. We had assumed we would soon see the church peaking above the trees and fields. This wasn’t the case, as St Peter’s didn’t reveal itself until we were practically on its doorstep.

This is interesting, as it reminded us that St Cedd himself approached Bradwell by the sea. Perhaps then, we need to think in terms of St Peter’s and the seascape, rather than the landscape. We need to think about how the sea enabled the exchange of ideas, commodities and culture, how the sea informed early medieval ideas of being in the world.

Our arrival at St Peter’s brought an unexpected reminder of the continued importance of the site to contemporary Christian communities.  During our journey we had rode past a sign reading ‘Welcome Pilgrims’ and had been struck by its optimism (‘How many pilgrims actually visit St Peter’s?’ ‘Is this some kind of initiative by the local tourist board?’). When we arrived, however, it turned out that our visited coincided with the yearly pilgrimage to Bradwell and, far from the being the only visitors as we expected, we joined around 350 pilgrims, who had brought with them a sound system, a stage on which a band led the hymns, a very large gazebo, an ice cream truck and a converted double-decker bus.

We didn’t spend long at the church, perhaps because we felt like we’d gatecrashed a significant event, but we did get a sense of how the site of the church is related to its surrounding area and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of some of the meanings the site continues to generate today.