The good Doctor and myself attended a rather amazing wedding recently, at a truly extraordinary venue, that, if honest, I had never heard of before. It was located in the county of Kent, an area that I have had little to do with in my life. Kent is, of course, known quite rightly as the Garden of England, and I have to be honest, as we caught the minibus to the venue, we passed miles of beautiful and cultivated land. It was indeed very beautiful, especially as it was harnessed in the mid-afternoon autumnal sunshine. There is no doubt about it, but England at this time of year, as the colours blend and mix, is an exceptionally lovely place to be around.
So, the wedding was located at a rather amazing place, the village of Dode, which was once a typical rural village, like many in England, and deeply and richly steeped in history, it went about its everyday business. Until, everything changed; the change was dramatic and savage, and it was called the Black Death. Or bubonic plague, by any measure a swift, and awful disease that took countless lives and simply wiped out whole communities, literally almost overnight. Dode not unlike the Dodo, went away. There was quite simply virtually nothing left, except for one thing. It’s ruined church. This place of worship is almost 1,000 years old. Putting that in perspective, when you look back one thousand years as we almost enter 2020, it’s worth looking back to 1066, when William defeated Harold and overnight the French took control of a then divided England and started to implement some order and structure. Part of that was the implementation of Catholicism and the need to build churches, and thank the Lord that he did, because this nation is still populated by Norman churches. However, this church very sadly, like the village it belonged to, disintegrated and for over 650 years became nothing more than a ruin, a collection of old stones that simply crumble and eventually cease to be.
Until that is the arrival of a man called Doug, a great name in many ways for a man who devoted ten years of his life to rebuild an old and decimated church. He dug and he found the original stones, he lovingly rebuilt it and eventually it was done. I had the chance to speak to Doug and it was a very fascinating conversation. He told me that once he had finished the renovation, one of the national newspapers got in touch, he did an interview, and the next thing he knew he was inundated with people wanting to visit – some 2,000 people showed up. Many asking the same question: “Can we get married here?” Answer: no, because the law will not allow you to do so. And then one day, it all changed, because the law changed. So, fast forward to today, and now there is a two-year waiting list, and even more fascinating for me, was the additional experience of not just the very sweet civic ceremony. But, in many ways, given the deep history of the location, the additional ceremony of handfasting.
In fairness, I had absolutely no idea what handfasting was about. I suspected that it was Pagan in origin, and indeed it was. So, what happened was this: located at the foot of a hill, where the church stood, was a collection of very old stones, not unlike Stonehenge. The mound upon which the church was built was manmade, and is believed to be over 4,500 years old. So, lets just digest that for a minute. Truly, it does your head in, hard to believe just how long ago that was. Suffice to say possibly Jurassic Park and I’m not talking kids theme park here; we are talking about seriously fossil coast, like Dorset. So, after the super wedding ceremony was over, it was time to adjourn down the hill to the stones. At this point, all attending were asked to form a circle around the stones, and then Doug, and Paul, the two Druid guys along with a very gifted harpist, arrived along with the happy couple.
And this for me was when it got very interesting. What happened next was a classic druid-style wedding process. The audience were asked to vocally support the couple as the druid vows were read. It was all about the four elements of the religion and indeed life; namely, Air, – The East, Fire – The South, Water – The West, Earth – The North. The audience were asked to shout their support, as the 4 elements were introduced. It was a very moving service as the couple repeated their vows, although it was somewhat different, but in a very true and honest way. I thought that it was great, and in the end one of the druid guys sealed the deal by binding the hands of the couple together after each vow. And as the vows ended, and the rope was tied, that is where we get the expression of “tying the knot” comes from (always useful in a pub quiz). And even better, two members of the audience were invited to hold a broomstick that they had to jump over. Signifying a new start, a new doorstep, a new life, and a new beginning. If I am honest, I had honestly no idea at all what to expect, but on reflection, it was superb, really nice, moving and honest. Take that any day. So thank you Dode, and well done Doug, and especially thank you Ty and Lee, and every happiness to you both.