Chalice Well Gardens, Glastonbury Somerset
One of the most wonderful things about being a Companion of Chalice Well and staying at Little St Michael’s retreat house is the freedom to be in the garden at any time, day or night, for the duration of your stay. I fell irrevocably in love with the peaceful and nurturing presence of the gardens the first time I visited Glastonbury over 30 years ago and on that day I bought a small goddess carved from a branch of one of the gardens’ yews trees. This figurine keeps me connected to the gardens even when I’ve not visited for several years. But this year, it felt time to go again.
The Companions of Chalice Well understand well the value of silence. There are no mobile phones, radios, laptops or tablets allowed in the retreat house and the upper room is reserved for silent meditation. I slipped quickly into a state of peace and tranquility.
I hadn’t planned to do so, but I ended up spending time in the gardens, alone, during the two liminal times of dusk and dawn. Around 7.30pm, I stepped out of the backdoor of Little St Michael’s and made my way slowly through the sections of the garden, ending up at the well enclosure just as it was getting dark. Sitting here, I could hear a robin chirping and a light breeze rustle the ferns. I could also hear the well itself. Its difficult to describe what a well sounds like – if you’ve listened to one too, you’ll understand. You can hear the spring itself trickling down the hill, but the well cavity amplifies it in a certain way so that it sounds both more immediately present and also further away. I imagine it would sound similar if you were able to stand inside a conch shell and listen to the sound of the sea. I was in my happy place and I re-iterated my vow to those present that I would continue to listen my way through life, striving to know more and more deeply that which ever sounded on an audible and on a non-audible level. I also whispered my desire to learn how to embody the peace enveloping me in that special place and share it out in the world.
The next morning I woke at 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep, so again I went out into the gardens. I spent some time recording the fountains on the lower lawns and in the Lion’s Head Courtyard on my Zoom recorder. I was hoping it would be quiet so early in the day, but there was already quite a bit of traffic on the A361 and I only ever managed to get about a minute’s worth of clean audio. I didn’t feel drawn to the well as I had the previous evening, so I went up to the Meadow and listened to a small but exuberant dawn chorus of robin, wren and blackbird, while watching the sun rise on the Tor.
On my way back to my room, I passed the silent minute bell. A plaque in the garden describes its purpose thus:
“Around midday and mid afternoon we invite you to take a minute’s silence with us.
A moment of silence
A moment of reflection
A moment of inner peace
On most days the ringing of a bell will signify these times.”
Here is a really good recording of the silent minute:
More information about the origins of the silent minute here: