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Return to Ladye Park

Return to Ladye Park

Q: Do you have information about the image "Return to Ladye Park"?

A: David Whittley's Return to Ladye Park (oil on canvas, 1998)

The border represents the Celtic origins of the shrine of Ladye Park (in Liskeard, Cornwall, southwestern England). The design itself is a symbol of life, with its complicated journey between earthly life and spirituality. This is also reflected by the colors; the green of earth and the gold of the spirit, which forms the path to the chapel.

Top center are the three white roses representing the Holy Trinity, flanked by the design of fish, the symbol of the spread of Christianity, moving outward to the meeting of the old religions and the new, which embrace and become one path leading to the entrance of the garden.

In Whittley's painting one sees Mary, body and spirit, rising from the water as that fountain of inspiration. She holds a rose. The rosary is the ancient prayer of the Church, a summary of the Gospel guiding those who use it throughout their lives to their eternal destiny. Each prayer of the rosary is like the offering of a rose. Mary is holding a single rose with love and care, a symbol of how each prayer is received.

The spirit of Our Lady fills the garden and all who enter with love and light. The dove and white roses all bring peace. The tree is a symbol of body and spirit, with the fruits of knowledge and the blossom of eternal life.

Historical Sketch

In Cornwall, the goddess Kerrid was thought to be a powerful spirit who relied on a cauldron of knowledge and inspiration for her works. Her creative thought was understood as coming from a higher spirit than herself through the cauldron, which was her well. She was known as the goddess of noble love and eternal youth. Her symbol was the lily. Kerrid was also linked to the Cretan god, Kerr, whose attribute was the bee, a symbol of both death and new life.

True to history, when Christianity came to Cornwall, the pagan shrine became a Christian shrine to Our Lady. But for a long time confusion remained in the minds of the local people of simple background regarding the difference between Kerrid and Our Lady. By the Middle Ages, Ladye Park in Liskeard became well known as a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary. However, the Reformation drove this and other places of devotion into neglect. Steadily visited by pilgrims and locals for centuries, the shrine of Our Ladye of the Park was closed and the area turned into a cattle pasture by Henry VIII.

The mid-twentieth century experienced a revival of interest in Ladye Park. One of the great promoters was the late Dr. Margaret Pollard, a Cornish historian and convert to Catholicism, who became a great devotee of Our Lady. She discovered that a good deal of the old site of this Marian shrine remained even after a long period of abandonment.

The following words describe Margaret Pollard's impression of her first visit to the shrine of Lady Park. "We went down a steep, rough, woodland path still called 'The Mass Path', which was at that time ankle-deep with leaves ... At the bottom we came to the farm of Lady Park, and the owners' grandson showed us around. The shrine site consists of an orchard (mentioned in ancient records), a small, plain, vaulted building under a grassy mound, overgrown with laurel bushes--perhaps a baptistry at the end of a pool. There is a pretty well, but it is not part of the shrine. The lower story of the chapel is built into the farmhouse, and there is a fine window with a dripstone, and arched gateway, a bricked-up arched doorway, and two trefoil-headed loopholes. This was most exciting...."

Now new interest is promoting the restoration of Lady Park to the Marian shrine it once was. David Whittley's painting Return to Ladye Park and his written interpretation gave impetus to the movement in 1998. That same year the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary made a pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Park, and this was repeated in 1999. The Catholic family that now owns the property is willing to allow pilgrimages. As of July 2000, The Mary Page received word that the shrine site and house of Ladye Park has been up for sale again (It has been in private hands since the reformation and the present owner purchased it only last year.)

Here is Mrs. Claire Riche's ardent wish for the future of this old and new shrine: "With thoughts of Christian unity as we approach the year 2000, we look outward to other faith communities too! What a wonderful thing it would be if Ladye Park could become a focus of unity for the new multi-faith society which is Britain today, including perhaps a 'Peace Garden' where those of all faiths and none could feel Our Ladye's mantle of peace surrounding them. Then indeed Ladye Park would become a fitting place of pilgrimage for the twenty-first century, and England could once more become 'the Dowry of Mary'."

Doctor Pollard enlisted the help of Mrs. C. G. Riche, and her husband, in this project from whom we received this information.

For more information contact:
Claire Riche
14 Maple Close
London SW4 8LL
Tel/Fax 0208 671 0807 (England)

Addenda from a Reader

The pilgrimages to Lady Park at Liskeard that were, for a time, so enthusiastically promoted by Peggy Pollard may be a very good thing for Cornwall and for the Church; but those who are active in the project now ought at least to know something of the real history of the pilgrimage founded by Peggy Pollard.

She identified, and apparently named, a 'mass path' through the woods, and imaginary traces of a Celtic baptistry. She also interpreted the origin of the town name, Liskeard, as derived from the name of a Celtic goddess, probably called Kerrid, and having to do with bees. No etymologist today can find any evidence for this theory. In fact, contemporary scholarship is very skeptical about the 'Celtic' legends of Cornwall, the oldest of which date from the later Middle Ages, and some from the twentieth century. The ancient inhabitants of Cornwall, like those of other 'Celtic' lands, never called themselves, 'Celts.' They were given the name by eighteenth-century philologists at Oxford, who studied the Celtic languages and gratuitously linked them with the Central European Celts of classical times. Historians have long reserved the name 'Celtic' for the family of languages now known by that name. Even Celtic culture is now seen as being a dubious term, because so-called Celtic art was the dominant style of many groups that did not speak Celtic languages--Anglo-Saxons, for example.

Canon Richard Rutt, 3 Marlborough Court, Falmouth, Cornwall TR11 2QU--UK

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