Hermitage Cells on Lenore
The last week has been spent in semi-solitude. I have been roaming the island at will, only coming into contact with the other guests at breakfast and the evening meal. Each day I have wandered in a different direction and have covered quite a bit of the island.
To the north of the abbey, where the rocks rise up almost vertically from the sea, I discovered hermitage cells carved into the rocks. I don’t have a head for heights, so I only ventured as far as the topmost one. I was not aware that the cells were there, but a paved path led gently down from the cliff-top and I dared myself to see where it went. I was very careful to keep my eyes on the rock face and not look down while I negotiated the pathway. There was a thick, rope handrail attached to the rock, to which I clung with both hands. It was only a distance of a few yards, but I was sweating and weak-kneed by the time I reached the cell, and I had to sit down for a good ten minutes before attempting the return trip. The view out over the ocean was magnificent, and the cave was deep enough that I couldn’t see down, so I quite enjoyed it.
There was a metal plaque on the wall of the cell:
These cells, although no longer in use, were occupied at
various times by members of the order serving a self-imposed
penance of solitude and reflection. A single meal for each
penitent was delivered daily at sunset and left, with a pitcher
of pure spring water, at the top of the pathway.
Some penitents spent a few days here; others months and, one or
I studied the tiny cave I was in. A slightly raised slab of stone was obviously the bed and there were three niches in the back wall and a kind of shelf hewn into the rock. A small crucifix made from a couple of pieces of bleached driftwood, and bound together with hair, hung in the centre niche. The others possibly held candles or maybe some ceremonial items. Very, very basic. I wondered if the occupants of the cell found the experience uplifting or depressing, and if that was part of the penance? Did they write or pursue some other craft during their stay? I really can’t imagine it.
I sat on the ‘bed’ until my knees regained some substance and then climbed back up the pathway, clinging to the rope and keeping my eyes firmly closed. At the top I sat down again and congratulated myself on conquering my fear long enough to see the cell. I’m still afraid of heights and feel quite sick at the thoughts of walking along that path. I suppose it was really quite stupid of me. I was alone. What if I froze and couldn’t get back up to the top? No-one knew where I had gone. At my age you’d think I’d have more sense! Proving once again that age and wisdom don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Sometimes age travels alone!
Sue (aka Beryl)