Rosslyn Chapel

Celtic Christianity, the third thread of my Scotland pilgrimage, has a very different feel than the Christianity back in the Bible Belt of the US where I live. Celtic Christianity has always taken on the flavor of the community, history and landscape of Scotland. The influences of the ancient past are still part of the spirituality of the place because you can’t isolate Christianity from the local culture and land. Scotland, being so remote, has been much more influence by isolation than by the Holy Roman Empire. There are no great Gothic cathedrals but instead the great cathedrals of the natural world. I went exploring many of the Christian mysteries of this magic landscape and I want to share with you some of my experiences.

We spent the first full day of our tour at the enigmatic Rosslyn Chapel just a few miles outside of Edinburgh. I first visited Rosslyn in 2009 on a gloomy day in September. There was scaffolding both inside and out and much of the chapel was concealed but I was not disappointed and had such a peaceful experience just sitting with the chapel cat William on my lap and enjoying the power of this small but energetically intense place.

Templar Gravestone, Old Pentland Cemetary

The land surrounding Rosslyn is a beautiful glen that goes straight down on one side of the chapel. We first walked down into the glen to see 400 year old Chestnut trees that hold the memory of this place. There are ley lines, energy lines of the earth, running through this land that cross in the chapel. Peaceful and beautiful and I spent extra time listening to the birds in an old yew tree forest. After lunch we proceeded to the chapel. On this day, there was not a cloud in the sky or a single piece of scaffolding now the renovations are complete. The chapel shone in all its glory. I was happy to be returning on such a perfect spring day. We walked around the outside and then I slowly took my time wandering the inside. I listened to the official guide talk about the history and point out the ley line in the center. William the chapel cat was napping in the same spot as last time and I gave him some love, I’m sure he remembered me. I watched the intense reactions of my fellow travelers to this very holy place. I finally made it to the crypt and lingered with one of my favorite parts of the chapel– a stained glass window with Christ coming out of a diamond.

400 Year Old Chestnut

The next day we went north of Edinburgh to Perthshire, just in the village of Grandtully. I had a big surprise for the group. In a sheep pasture is a little stucco and wood chapel, a place that is easily missed. St Mary’s chapel is a hidden treasure for inside this modest building in the middle of nowhere is a 400 year-old painted ceiling detailing the lineage of Jesus in Scotland. Depicted on the ceiling is a Grail Knight levitating the philosopher’s stone between his hands, a painting of Mary Magdalen, the four gospel authors Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and Jesus channeling energy into the flaming heart of the world. In the center, is a painting of what is clearly the Judgment depicted just like the Tarot. The mysteries are all there. When I stepped back to the far side of the chapel, you can see that each part together makes the shape of the Quabbalistic Tree of Life. This little secret place called me back and I was so glad to share it with my friends. Like at Rosslyn, the hidden stories of Christianity are kept safe waiting to be decoded by those who are willing to see an alternative story.

Grail Knight                                         Mary Magdalen

Jesus and flaming heart                      Judgement

St. Mary’s Chapel Ceiling

Speaking of alternative stories, there was one more mysterious place to investigate on the Isle of Mull. In a tiny church, in the tiny town of Dervaig on the edge of Mull, is a stained glass window with a heretical image. Here, in this hidden spot, is a 1900’s era window that shows Jesus and a pregnant Mary Magdalen in a loving embrace. Now remember, we saw the lineage of Jesus on the ceiling in Perthshire. And what about William Blake’s poem Jerusalem:  

And did those feet in ancient time Walk upon England’s mountains green: And was the holy Lamb of God, On England’s pleasant pastures seen!”

Hummmm. Not the official story but one I have long accepted as possible and probable.

Fairies, Knights Templar, stone circles, ancient forests, mysterious chapels—you just don’t know what you will find next in this magic land. But I had one more place to visit, a place I have longed for and the culmination of our grand Scottish pilgrimage—-Iona.

 

Rosslyn: Guardian of the Secrets of the Holy Grail

by Tim Wallace-Murphy and Marilyn Hopkins

The Woman with the Alabaster Jar:  Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail

by Margaret Starbird

http://www.sacredconnections.co.uk

Youtube:  The Scottish Grail Legacy

Callanish

My latest adventure had been over a year in the planning and many years in my dreams. Finally the day came to leave for my Mysteries of Scotland tour. I visited Scotland with Hamilton in 2009 but it was a short visit and I had a few important places still to visit. So my friend Val set up a tour and we gathered some friends to join us on a mystical pilgrimage to the holy land of Scotland. There were three great mysteries we all wanted to experience: standing stones, nature spirits and Celtic Christianity. All three weave together in a unique way in this enchanted land far away on remote islands in the north Atlantic.

I want to start with ancient standing stones. The world is very familiar with the iconic and immortal Stonehenge and maybe even Avebury in England. But our ancestors left many more of these monuments to the cosmos. There were five stone circles on the itinerary for our pilgrimage so come along with me as we explore these magnificent sacred sites.

The first stone circle and the smallest on the journey was Croft Moraig. This 5000 year-old double circle is just by the side of a narrow road in a sheep field in Perthshire, an hour north of Edinburgh. We silently approached and each person took the time and space to experience the deep knowing of land and stone. We had the circle to ourselves and were able to really experience what was for many people their first time inside an open cathedral to the Universe. Although stone circles still have many great stories to tell, we do know they are places of ceremony for our ancestors, aligned to the sun and stars as observatories and serve as acupuncture points for the energy meridians of the Earth. Most of all, these mighty stones hold the memory of place and time and therefore become the timeless watchers of the land.

Our first stone circle fed our souls and after lunch we went to see the 5000 year-old Yew tree just up the road and another set of stones nearby. On our entire trip this was our only stop in the rain: otherwise the weather was perfection. But we all agreed that the rain was part of Scotland and felt nurtured by liquid sunshine that couldn’t dampen our joy.

The next day we met the third set of standing stones, very different from the first. Clava Cairns is just east of Inverness and very close the famous battlefield of Culloden. We drove right past this place of suffering and went to the peaceful stones and the ancient burial mounds. Clava Cairns is now more popular because of the Outlander series but, on the day I was there, it was cool and clear with a light breeze and just a few other people visiting. As usual I just quietly wandered around and entered the big burial cairns and touched the stones in the circle. The trees surrounding the site are beautiful and add to the gentleness of the place.

The following day we made the long drive to the most important of the stone circles in Scotland and a place I have long desired to visit— Callanish. You can’t get there from here. It takes some serious effort but I was determined and like all pilgrimages the journey and anticipation is just as important as the arrival. We drove to the little port town of Ullapool on the upper peninsula of the Highlands then took a 3 hour ferry ride across The Minch, the body of water separating the islands from the mainland. Fortunately, the water was calm that day and we finally arriving at the town of Stornaway on the island of Lewis which is northern-most island of the Outer Hebrides. The bus was the first to leave the ferry and we were off down narrow, one-way roads with just pull-outs for passing. The final 45 minutes of the trip is through increasingly barren and windswept land. Then there it was, Callanish. The stones rose over the horizon where they have stood for millennia. There was nothing to block the view, no trees or buildings, just the stones standing strong in such a harshly beautiful environment.

The bus pulled into the parking lot and we all made our way up the steep path to Callanish. There were a few other visitors there admiring the stones. I felt like I was at the ends of the earth and these stones were the last outpost. I took my time and skirted around the edge for I wanted to work my way slowly into the center. I walked to the furthest point which are two stones that began the ceremonial entrance to the main stone. I walked up the avenue that narrowed as I got closer. It felt like entering the great temples of Egypt by walking up the avenues lined with sphinx. The circle has four spokes coming from the center and I went to each one and looked out over the land to the nearby lake and then distant hills. What did the stones witness? What did they know? I eventually made my way in to the center and just enjoyed my moment at this beautiful place. Our guide Tracy pointed out the solstice alignment and I took pictures of my fellow pilgrims. Others started wandering back to the visitor’s center for a cup of tea and postcards but I moved off to the side and found a low stone to sit on. I just looked at this majestic monument and listened to some music and took in every part of the moment: the smell, sight, feel, sound. I bathed in the ancientness. It was finally time to leave but I had my moment in time in the timeless. I will be back.

The final stone circle on the tour was also the last stop before returning to Edinburgh to say our goodbyes. I had visited Kilmartin before in 2009 and never forgot it and was happy to be returning. I remember on the first visit when I touched the stones it felt like they were touching back. This visit held the same sensation and I felt very welcome to be back in their presence. It felt like the perfect closing, a benediction for my remarkable days in enchanted Scotland, where the mysteries are there to be touched and experienced without barriers, physical or spiritual. Just me and the stones together on the earth.

 

Tree shaped by the stone circle–Kilmartin

Machu Picchu

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Today was the grand finale, the day we arrived a Machu Picchu one of the 7 wonders of the modern world. We ate a big breakfast and took our luggage to be stored until the train that night. Our guide Valdimir met us and we went to buy bus tickets to the top of the mountain. Alexandra and Anne decided that they needed more trekking so they took the stair trail to the top, 157 flights of stairs. I was happy with the bus that winds around up the mountain on dirt roads without guardrails.

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Vladimir gave us a wonderful guided tour and the girls found us about half way through. We had perfect weather, warm but not hot, blue sky and cool breeze. I was in heaven. The green mountains, blue sky and spectacular ruins —it is like walking in a dream. Nothing could possibly be that perfectly beautiful.


We all wanted to walk to the Sun Gate, a three mile round trip. This is where the Inca trail ends and the trekkers get their first glimpse of this magic city. We sat up on a ruin for a long time trying to soak up every inch of beauty. A man asked Anne if she could take a video. He was actually proposing and she recorded the whole thing. We cheered for the happy couple and her ring sparkled in the intense sun. Melissa and I did a little ceremony for our father who died last year. We miss him so much and he was our inspiration for an active and exuberant life. He loved to walk and so do we. He would have loved the trek and we knew he was with us. I told a story about how he used the Incan writing system of knots in string as part of a Sunday school lesson when I was a child.

 

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We headed back down to the terraces and just laid in the sun. Lisa, who is a yoga teacher, did peacock pose for her obligatory yoga pose at beautiful places. I wanted to walk the whole thing one more time now that it wasn’t so crowded. We just quietly walked through the site taking it all in one more time in our own way without words.
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We were hot, thirsty and exhausted from 9 miles of walking around the site and to the Sun Gate. So we caught the bus down to the town, found a restaurant. Pizza and beer never tasted so good.

A bit of last minute shopping and we headed to the train station just as the porter arrived with our bags. The train took an hour and a half but unfortunately it was dark so no spectacular scenery. A driver met us at our stop and we headed up the mountain back to Cusco, another two hour drive. It was cloudy so we couldn’t see any stars but the full moon lightly covered with cloud was the perfect finale to the perfect day in paradise at the lost city of the Incas.

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I was so happy for a shower and bed. Washed just enough clothes to get us home and fell asleep. I was so dehydrated that I woke up every few hours to drink and then would fall immediately back to sleep.

All total I walked 30 miles above 8000 feet. Our highest point was 15,000. The trip has been a lifetime of memories. All 6 of us where excellent travelers—no complaints, go with the flow and delighted in each new challenge and experience. We were so lucky that there we no injuries or illnesses. Yes a few blisters, sore muscles and a touch of altitude sickness but nothing more. Our time off the beaten path in the perfection of the Pachamama —mother earth—-has made all of our lives richer and more joyous. We are all changed and our lives empowered.

Sacred Valley

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Vicugna

After a breakfast by a crackling fire in the fireplace, we headed out for the day’s adventure. Wilfredo, our guide from the day before, met us for a tour of the Sacred Valley. This is the beautiful valley between Cusco and Machu Picchu, the holy land of the Inca. We quickly left the city and headed down the narrow winding road into the valley. The first stop was a small animal preserve were we saw llamas, alpacas and their petite cousins, vicugna, adorable creatures with long necks, big eyes with long lashes and the softest fur for sweaters. There were the sacred condor, enormous birds, not very pretty but the great messengers of the gods. High in the corner were puma, another sacred animal that represents power. There were also smaller native cats and foxes, monkeys and a darling speckled black bear just waking from a nap. A bit latter this same young bear escaped his cage and we saw him being shooed back home by the keeper. That was one of Alexandra’s favorite moments, the bear escaped the zoo!

Then back up winding roads to the archeological site of Pisac which featured layers of big green terraces build by the Inca. This was the only way to create farmland from mountains. The Inca were experts at building the walls and making the terraces complete with drainage systems which are still perfect hundreds of years later.

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Next in the agenda was the market in the town of Pisac. Dozens of stalls held beautiful Peruvian jewelry, sweaters, blankets, fluffy llama pelts and all other manner of Peruvian delights. We were delighted to trade our Sols, the Peruvian currency, for our new treasures. I bought a couple of alpaca blankets and a hat and scarf I needed to keep me warm during our adventure in the mountains the next day.

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After lunch, there was a quick stop to see the giant guinea pig statue to lure us to stop and enjoy the delicacy roasting nearby. Since I’m not much on roasted pets, we quickly moved on and headed to Ollantaytambo, a magnificent Incan site that was my favorite from my last visit. Very crowed this time but it gave me plenty of time to take the steep steps up the mountain at about 9000 feet. At the top is the magnificent Sun Temple, a mammoth granite holy site. Back down the mountain was a beautiful fountain

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It was time to take the long drive through the mountains to Cusco. The sun was setting over the snow capped mountains. The pink sky and full moon guided us back to the hotel where my sister and niece Anne were waiting to greet us. They had arrived that day on a different flight.  A supper of wood-oven pizza finished the day perfectly and then we headed to our plush hotel to prepare for the next day’s adventure.

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“Glamazon” woman too tall for the door.

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More lambs with knit hats.

Camp Chesterfield

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Memorial Garden, Camp Chesterfield

The last two years my passport has been tucked away as I have tended to family and refilled my travel fund. Fortunately rural America holds many hidden gems and I’ve traveled the highways and byways in search of the sacred. I’ve visited Vonore, Tennessee, Cullman and Tuscumbia Alabama, Peebles Ohio, Harrodsburg, Kentucky, Vergas, Minnesota, Carpenteria and Ojai, California, and now I have a new place to add to the list.

Last week I was headed to the Great Lakes Retreat in Olivet, Michigan, (a wonderful experience, I highly recommend) I stopped by Chesterfield, Indiana, to spend the night with a friend to break up the journey. About half way up the eastern side of Indiana amongst vast cornfields and tidy farm houses is the historic Camp Chesterfield, a spiritualist community. My teacher Rachael is a spiritualist minister but she comes from the English tradition and so I’ve never heard of the spiritualist camps in North America except Lily Dale, New York. Spiritualism is the communication with spirits and people who have passed away through a medium who is sensitive to the vibrations of the spirit world.

Camp Chesterfield was established in 1890 to provide contact with the spirit world and train mediums. There were many such camps across American during this heyday of mediumship but Camp Chesterfield is one of the last remain. Mediumship has become popular again as TV shows featuring mediums and the need for the comfort mediumship brings to people who are grieving lost loved ones.

In the morning after breakfast in the little cafeteria where each menu item was a dollar, my four dollar breakfast was perfect. My hostess had a reading to do for a friend so I happily headed out to explore on my own. Now if the Magic Kingdom in Disney World decided to make “Spiritualismland” it would have to be modeled after Camp Chesterfield. It is a playground of delights all with a patina of age and history. In the middle of the camp is an extensive park. First, there is a small cathedral and a chapel for services and messages. I poked my head into the little chapel and heard the organist practicing for a memorial service later that day. I moved on to the two hotels. The Sunflower built in 1914 is no longer used but I peaked in to see; it had the smell of a very old building and I would suspect it was very haunted, so I was glad that wasn’t my place for the night. The Western was build in 1945 and still houses the guest that come for classes. In the basement was a long room with two rows of twin beds each with a dressing table. In the back was a rack of dresses in case you forgot yours and needed something to wear for giving messages from the platform—-dress, pantyhose and closed toed shoes are required for the ladies, suit and tie for the men. The upstairs rooms were sparse but very clean. Across the way is a museum that was closed but has spirit art and apports (objects that manifest into physical form during seances)

cathedral

I headed into the glen sparkling in the morning sunshine where I enjoyed the American Indian memorial and the totem pole located on Inspiration Hill. The Garden of Prayer is a grotto, perfect for mediation. I walked the labyrinth in my bare feet so I could feel the ground. After that I sat on what was left of The Toad Stools, two dozen small tables and chairs under the trees where mediums gave messages to the campers, an old fashioned psychic fair. The table tops were engraved with the names of the mediums.

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toad stools

The Toad Stools

I wandered over to the Trail of Religions where there is a memorial to the world’s great religions with a bust of 10 leaders from Osiris to Mohammed. There was a memorial garden with the ashes of many of the mediums that had worked at the Camp. I gave my respects to Quan Yin and circled the outside of the camp where around three dozen summer cottages house the residents. The houses are close together and in every condition from needing lots of love to very pristine. Most have angel and St Francis statues decorating the tiny lawns. Many of the houses had signs in the front indicating that a reader lived there and the type of readings.

trail of religionsosiris

Trail of Religions

The camp was charming beyond belief and I enjoyed the atmosphere of church-summer-camp-meets-the-spirit-world. It is still an active camp in the summer with classes and a seminary. A unique place that has lasted a 125 years producing mediums of the highest training and integrity. There is a great need for good mediums. Over the years, as I’ve had hundreds of readings in my house, I have watched people come through the door broken and grieving and come out of a reading with renewed hope and healing. The loved ones in our lives are so precious and to reconnect without a doubt with the help of a great medium is a gift from Spirit.

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http://www.campchesterfield.net

Ave Marie Grotto

 

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I never quite know where or when the call for the next pilgrimage will come. My latest call came from a place not usually associated with the sacred, The Wall Street Journal. In the afternoon I get a cup of coffee and sit down to catch up on the day’s news. In the personal section there is a monthly column called “Dream Spaces”. The writer was talking about going to a place called the Ave Marie Grotto. The story peaked my interest and I looked it up and realized it was in the neighboring state of Alabama. A few days later my friend Val was talking about her upcoming college tour with her son to Alabama and had some time between appointments. I suggested she look to see how close the Grotto was to her route. Within an hour not only was she going to visit the Grotto but I was too. The hotel was booked and two weeks later I was headed to Alabama on a mini pilgrimage.

Spring had arrived during the night and the pure white pear trees, purple redbuds and the daffodils made the drive a delight of its own. The spring colors were extra vivid against the background of bares limbs and brown grass. I took my time and stopped at my favorite used bookstore. I had found some old cassette tapes in my closet and used this delightful archaic technology to listen to Alan Watts tell stories of the Zen masters. The new spring day and Zen, what a perfect combination.

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Ave Marie Grotto is located in Cullman, Alabama, in the northern part of the state on the grounds of St. Bernard Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery. The Grotto is a four acre park of over 120 miniature buildings, reproductions of some of the most sacred places on earth. It was built by Brother Joseph Zoettl, at first as a hobby but then as a true devotion. Brother Joseph was born in Bavaria in 1878 but came to Alabama as a young man to fulfill his dream of being a Benedictine. An injury kept him from becoming a priest so he was assigned to work in the boiler room. He started to collect rocks and used them to make miniature buildings of Jerusalem. Working only from photographs, Brother Joseph started making elaborate scale reproductions and shrines. The monastery moved the buildings to a nearby abandoned quarry and built a large grotto for a shrine to the Virgin Mary. Children from around the world started to send Brother Joseph objects to include in his creations: marbles, shells, rocks, glass, china.

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The next day was glorious and we had the Grotto to ourselves. The meandering path wound down beside delightful buildings including a fairy house for Hansel and Gretel until I arrived at the hillside of pure enchantment. First, there are the missions of California and then a few steps later you are in Rome, on the other side of the Grotto you walk through Jerusalem. After that, I headed to Lourdes and the tower of Babel and then Fatima. The tiny spring flowers were blooming amongst the tiny buildings and the azalea bushes provided a flaming backdrop. The grotto’s resident cat was taking her morning nap near the statue of Brother Joseph. I had to walk through the park a second time to just begin to take in the magic of this holy place.

Brother Joseph was a tiny man who left a large spiritual legacy. Everyday he tended the boiler and built his dream: stone and shell, found objects and imagination. He left a legacy of pure devotion, a perfect dream space to enter the timeless. When he died he only had one possession, the autobiography of Therese of Lisieux, his spiritual inspiration. She said “May you trust God, that you are exactly where you are meant to be”. No doubt Brother Joseph lived the life he was meant to live, and one early spring morning I was where I was meant, to be inspired by his love and devotion.

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http://www.avemariagrotto.com

Chartres

Chartres

I’d like to have a bumper sticker that says “I Brake for Cathedrals”. It doesn’t matter that there are no cathedrals within 500 miles of my home, I just want to be prepared. Seven weeks in Spain with a daily cathedral fix wasn’t enough to satiate me. I can’t get enough of stain glass, vaulted arches and high alters. So of course when I took Caroline to Paris when she was 17 I had to go Chartres Cathedral that rises majestically above a small town on the outskirts of Paris.

In 2007 Caroline and I spent 10 days in Paris going to every museum in the guide book, she a budding art student and me wanting to relive the month I spent in Paris as a college student. We did take a side trip to Bruges, Belgium and on the way back I struck up a conversation with some fellow Southerners. I mentioned I was going to Chartres on Friday. They said they would be there too and that was the only day the labyrinth was open.

A driver picked us up in a mini-bus along with another family for a morning in Chartres and afternoon at Versailles. I asked if there would be time to walk the labyrinth. He replied the unforgettable words “there is no time in Chartres”. Those prophetic words rang in my ears the entire day as I stepped out of human time into Divine time.

Caroline laid on a bench, a bit sick with a virus I had the day before, and I took the tour. We wandered around admiring the blue stained glass windows that are unique to Chartres. The blue is said to filter the light to make the space harmonious for initiation. No one knows how it was made but the formula was thought to have been brought from Jerusalem by the Templars. I marveled at the enormous pillars that had held the soaring ceiling for 800 years and toured the choir and alter. Chartres had been the home of a mystery school a thousand years ago and was built on holy underground streams.

The tour guide and other family wandered off to find some breakfast and I headed to the labyrinth. I had dreamed a long time of that special labyrinth. The circular walkway weaves in and out, back and forth, teasing you with the center so close just to take you back out to the edge and then magically you have arrived. I had never walked a labyrinth before, I wanted to save that first experience for the holy mother of all labyrinths at Chartres.

The labyrinth is in the nave and normally covered with chairs but on that Friday the chairs were moved to surround the magic space and several dozen people were seated watching the walkers. I’m normally a very self-conscious person and that would be unnerving to have people watching me, but I didn’t care, I had a task to do that I had waited a lifetime for. Just as I was about to step on to the path I saw my friends from earlier in the week just a bit ahead. We were the only ones walking, we smiled knowing that we had come back together for this sacred moment. In the center we met and hugged, never said a word, because to speak would have broken the spell of that infinite moment.

I slowly walked back out so happy to have that small break in my life to walk this internal pilgrimage to the heart, to come back out with the gift of a moment of eternity. There was only one thing I could do and that was to go sit in the chapel of Our Lady of the Pillar, a beautiful statue of Mary and baby Jesus dressed in golden robes and crowns. She is the black Madonna, the earth goddess, a reminder of the druid shine that was on that land two millenia before. I sat there and gave thanks for my morning of perfect sacred timelessness.

Our Lady of the Pillar

http://chartrescathedral.net/

http://www.labyrinthos.net/chartresfaq.html