• Jill Durnford

Hidden Churches - Day 3

Today had a totally different feel as we boarded the train just outside the hotel for the delightful 10 minute journey to Ulverston.  Here we were met by a taxi who drove us the short distance to Swarthmore Hall.  Known as the birthplace of Quakerism, it was home to George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, after he married Margaret Fell, widow of Judge Thomas Fell.

The house is now owned by the Society of Friends and is full of Quaker information.  In addition to this, they have furnished the house with Jacobean furniture to allow it to appear as close as possible to how it was when it served as the central hub for Quakerism in England.

The room above is reputed to be the one where Quaker meetings were held although there is some evidence to suggest they may have been in a different room.  People came not just from the local area but from all across the country for the larger gatherings.  Business meetings to do with the development of Quakerism would also have been held in the house.

Some of the furniture is original and there are also rare Bibles and other books as well as personal items belonging to George Fox and others.  The house has a meeting room where we could make a cup of tea and warm up a little!  Some of us then went on a short trip to the Quaker Meeting House just up the road.  This was paid for by George Fox when he realised that the time would come when meetings would outgrow the house.

Although he technically lived in the house for many years, George Fox spent so much time travelling, preaching and in prison that he was unable to spend more than a few months or even weeks at a time in the house.  If you visit Lancaster Castle, you can see the prison cell where he is reputed to have spent a great deal of time!

We then got back in the taxi for another short drive to Conishead Priory.  Although it began life as a monastic building, it is now owned by a Buddhist community who have built a magnificent temple in the grounds.  In winter the gold top is visible through the trees as you approach and seems quite incongruous in Cumbria!

Inside it is quite unlike anything else we had seen all tour!  For a start it was warm!  It has been built for comfort with underfloor heating so that worshippers and visitors can walk without shoes in comfort and sit on cushions on the floor to meditate or pray.

This temple was the first of many Temples of World Peace which were the inspiration of  the Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.  The many gods and goddesses around and the huge bronze Buddha weren't to everybody's taste but we all enjoyed the contrast between this and the very English churches we had seen on the previous two days. The Temple made a fitting end to our tour which had seen us visit a total of 12 churches over the three days.  Everyone had their own favourites and there are different things of interest in each church.  We were so lucky with the weather on the first day and it wasn't until the very end of the final day that we really had any rain.  Wonderful views of the Lake District and Cumbria added to the interest and it was lovely to be in the area whilst the trees are still bare, meaning longer views and tearooms still relatively quiet!

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