Sacred Bristol: a journey into the Christian feng shui of Bristol
July 27 2010:
Martin Palmer, director of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation and Canon Tim Higgins, City Canon Bristol Cathedral and priest-in-charge at St Stephen’s, will be leading a two-hour Sacred Bristol tour of invited guests this Friday at 10am, starting from St Stephen’s Church. The tour will explore the Christian cosmology of Bristol and reveal how the city was laid out as a theological statement during the Anglo Saxon period. It will examine the following:
• The earliest map of Bristol shows how the city was laid out as a Celtic Cross; the River Frome was diverted to make an almost perfect circle, with a cross in the middle formed by the crossroads made by Corn Street and Vine Street (this has since changed shape following World War II bombing).
• In the centre of Bristol’s Celtic Cross layout were three churches (of which two remain) – Holy Trinity (later renamed Christchurch), All Saints and All Souls and St Ewan. The first two reflect Christian teaching that every soul can be saved through the intervention of the saints and the reality of the Holy Trinity. The third, St Ewan, is more puzzling as there is no saint with this name. It is believed that this church was probably named after the very first known priest in the city, who was probably Welsh.
• St Michael on the Mount Without, so called because it lay outside the original city walls, was built on St Michael’s Hill to the north of Bristol because St Michael was the Archangel who fought against evil. So his church was placed there as a bulwark against evil coming to Bristol.
• St Peter’s (the ruins of which are in Castle Park) was located to the east of the city because St Peter holds the key to paradise and in the Christian theological narrative Eden is to the east. For this reason St Peter’s was also Bristol’s original burial church.
• St John the Baptist on the Wall – the only survivor of Bristol's four city wall gateway churches – was placed there because this was where the conduit came into Bristol. So this was where people came for fresh water.
• St Nicholas Church was built by the port because St Nicholas was the patron saint of sailors.
The tour is part of the work of St Stephen’s Church on sacred and spiritual Bristol. Saint Stephen’s is Bristol’s parish church, built on the ancient riverside boundary of the ancient Anglo Saxon sacred city, and its tower (now peeping over Bristol city offices) used to be a visible landmark to seafarers.
“The tour uncovers the hidden Christian feng shui of Bristol that has been hidden for 500 years,” says Martin Palmer. “The whole city of Bristol was laid out as a theological statement and in the past people knew exactly where to go for water, for the port, for burials, for intercessions and for protection against dark forces.”
Note to editor: Martin Palmer is director of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) as well as a theologian, author, broadcaster and one of the foremost translators of ancient Chinese texts. He appears regularly on BBC Radios 3 and 4, BBC World Service and BBC TV. His work on sacred sites worldwide has won awards and his book Sacred Britain has been a best seller. He advises UNESCO on World Heritage sites and helps the World Monuments Fund with protecting endangered sacred sites.