The Lastingham Group of Churches

Lastingham, Hutton-le-Hole, Appleton-le-Moors, Rosedale & Cropton


      York  35 miles   ·   London  242 miles

Lindisfarne 126 miles   ·   Canterbury 310 miles    ·    Rome ~1140 miles   ·   Jerusalem ~2290 miles    

Whitby  28  miles   ·  Scarborough 23 miles   ·   Pickering 7 miles   ·   Kirkbymoorside 5 miles


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Sacred Space & Holy Place

I’ve just started a book about the spirituality of place.[1]  This article is not about that book (I’ve only read two pages so far), except to mention that it begins by sounding a familiar warning, which is this. In these days of globalisation and the internet, and with everyone so busy, we are in real danger of loosing the enchantment of particular places: the Wild Garlic Walk in Lastingham during May, the purple heather on the Moor in August, the atmosphere of a particular farm we knew as a child, the house we once lived in. 

The spiritual elusiveness we may feel is beautifully expressed in these lines from  T. S. Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’ in Four Quartets:

It would be the same, when you leave the rough road

And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade

And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for

Is only a shell, a husk of meaning

From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled

If at all. Either you had no purpose

Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured

And is altered in fulfilment.

The loss of the idea of ‘a special place’ is shown in the way we so often, now, use the word ‘space’ as opposed to ‘place’. We speak of  ‘living space’, ‘office space’, ‘exhibition space’ and so forth.  And cyberspace. A church may presumably be called a ‘worship space’.

This sort of usage belongs to a time of a rapid turnover of addresses which many of us have had, and also to the recurrent ‘change of use’ that may have been applied to particular buildings or areas.

Space may also be ‘sacred space.’ This term is nowadays used by new-age writers, on Feng Shui and other things. But it has also been used by anthropologists and liturgical scholars. The Jerusalem Temple built by Solomon was actually a schematic model of the created universe; and the famous ‘Veil of the Temple’ divided the visible world from the invisible.

Every Christian Church is ‘sacred space’, since the features of the building symbolise parts of the Christian faith and its antecedents. There is the orientation of the building towards the rising sun, the altar as the place of sacrifice, the font as the place of welcome and initiation, and so forth.          

But what of place, as opposed to space? There exist, as we know, well recognised ‘holy places.’  Last month we published an article on Lourdes – clearly one of the world’s generally accepted holy places. Others are Glastonbury, Walsingham, Jerusalem.


A sacred place carries memories – memories not just of peaceful pilgrimages but often of some intense and difficult spiritual endeavour.  The pilgrimages, the prayer, the sense of peace, the healing properties of the place, may be recognised only later.   They are likely to depend on the features of the terrain (proximity to water etc) and the spiritual input from human beings. 

We may not have access to why a place first became holy. But as T.S.Eliot goes on to warn us in a few lines on from the passage quoted above (which is placed in Lastingham Crypt):


You are not here to verify,

Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity

Or carry report. You are here to kneel

Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more

Than an order of words, the conscious occupation

Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.

And what the dead had no speech for, when living,

They can tell you, being dead: the communication

Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.

Here, the intersection of the timeless moment

Is England and nowhere.


A holy place may become neglected, like a beautiful garden that is overgrown. Churches certainly do have their ups and downs. Holy places must be looked after: swept, maintained and prayed in.


(There can also of course be unholy places, where unpleasant things have happened. These too need to be prayed in, and the Christian sacraments offered if possible.)


Every Christian church is both sacred space and holy place: sacred space because it is a model of the Christian story, and a holy place because within it ‘prayer has been valid’.  

©  ASF 2006




1]  John Inge, The Christian Spirituality of Place, 2006 (Aldershot UK: Ashgate). 

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