HEATHERMATTHEW

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Of Angels

 Detail of angels on the outside wall of the church at Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

Detail of angels on the outside wall of the church at Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

I've been thinking about angels. The ones in fluffy cumulous clouds, just out of sight. Who come in dreams or in the quiet moments of reflection. Are they real? What is real? These paintings of angels in Orthodox churches all over the world bring the idea of conversation with divine intermediaries into everyday contexts.

In the Balkans, this ancient land of Thrace, the idea of divine emissaries does not seem that implausible. The Eastern Orthodox churches abound in images of angels and saints who watch over all aspects of everyday life. Angels who bring words of wisdom to be written in books, saints who intercede to offer protection on dangerous curves of a twisting Greek road.  

 Angel detail, Rila Monastery

Angel detail, Rila Monastery

 Kandilakia, roadside church shrine, Island of Thassos, Greece

Kandilakia, roadside church shrine, Island of Thassos, Greece

Its hard not to believe in divine assistance when travelling, when your fate can be decided by lack of common language, misunderstandings, unreliable bus timetables and lack of wi fi to help negotiate with google maps. Then its a matter of leaving to chance, to fate, the deities, the kindness of strangers. Your well being is in their hands.

I believe that this is one of the most important lessons of adventure travel. Belief that things will work out, you will find people to help, your footsteps will be guided to take the right path. That unseen everyday angels will help. 

Our planned ten day visit to Bulgaria was cut short when it was obvious that my husband's tooth needed attention. The IAPMA papermakers congress had just finished where I gave two presentations and had work exhibited. We were then due to travel to Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest city which abounds in galleries and culture. However it was clear we needed to change our plans quickly.

Despite the best best help from a Bulgarian dentist who didn't speak English, we decided to go straight to Thessaloniki in Greece to the land which abounds in dentists (you can see why with such a plethora of yummy sweet shops in every Greek town). We were assisted by the kind hotel staff who arranged the dentist visit, and the English speaking dentist who extracted the offending tooth. 

We then went to recover on the island of Thassos, the northern most Greek island and unbeknown to us, the one which was rich in neolithic archeology. The megalithic stelae found in the walls of one the settlements closely resembled the ones we had just seen in Scotland and in Keswick, England. One even had the characteristic directional angular cutting at the top, thought to be used as a boundary marker. There were also clear circular carvings in the stone, like the 'cupping' marks on the stones of Callanish on the isle of Lewis, in the outer Hebrides.

These circular incisions were so clear on the Thassos stelae they were described as star maps. It made sense that the megalithic stone circles we saw in the UK which were aligned with the moon and the sun, just like their Mayan counterparts in Mexico and Guatemala, would be cosmological direction finders.

Gods, angels and saints, divinity and humans, the divinity in human life. We travel, we seek, we connect. These stories in stones become our stories in books, in blogs, our cosmological google maps. Beam me up Scotty!

 

 

 Seagulls flying over the early morning ferry as it leaves the island of Thassos, Greece.

Seagulls flying over the early morning ferry as it leaves the island of Thassos, Greece.