Roman Silchester (Calleva) – lost or found?

Roman wall at SilchesterToday I walked at Silchester, my very favourite place to walk! I should explain to those who don’t live in Berkshire that, as well as being a small village, Silchester is also a large, circular area held in by ruined Roman walls (much like Hadrian’s wall) where, once, there was a thriving Roman town – Calleva Atrebatum – which was far more strategic, bustlingSt Mary's Church Silchester and sophisticated, in its day, than nearby Reading. For the most part, this circle now consists of farmers’ fields, often with cows grazing.  There is a smallish area that is in the process of being excavated, each summer, by archaeologists from the University of Reading.  Running alongside the walls is a footpath and information posts maintained by English Heritage.  On the East side is St Mary’s, a gorgeous little Anglo Saxon church with its characteristic tower and a small churchyard nestled into the Roman walls.

Brooding clouds at SilchesterThe area where once was Calleva is round and largely flat within the raised circle of walls and, typically, clouds gather like armadas in dramatic hues, casting large contrasting patches of shadow and iridescent light across the parching grass with grazing herds beneath. Outside its walls, on a clear day, you can see for miles, especially to the south across what would have been the route to Roman Winchester. Cows grazing at SilchesterWithin this small circle of fields – and this is the jaw-dropper – were once rows of houses, bustling streets, market places, huge public buildings, filth and sewage and all the usual trappings of communal living.

Silchester cowsFor the best part of a decade, this has evolved as a place that is profoundly important to me and in a very deep-seated way. At Silchester, I have faced up to and dealt with some of the more momentous transitions, difficulties and heartaches of recent years; not by mentally wrestling with them as I’ve walked there but by simply coming away with new-found clarity derived from no thought at all, just being there and experiencing time on those walls.

Cornflowers at Silchester There have been intensely happy times too; picnics and family dog walks, laughter and the making of memories. I have walked there at both extremes of the day, in all seasons and most weather conditions; I never leave it for long, often miss it, crave it from afar and always know in my very core when it is a “Silchester day”. At the end of my life, I would gladly be buried there or, more likely, thrown to the four winds across its fields. If I had just one afternoon left, I would probably choose to walk at there.

Romeran wall at Silchester

Why does the place hold me in such sway? Of course, the history of the place is engaging and there is, for me, a tangible sense there of what came to pass before the land was returned to fields. Knowing that there was once a heaving metropolis of human existence in this place that has now returned to nature gives the place a soulfulness that I’ve yet to find matched elsewhere.

Although there is a church “on site”, this isn’t a soulfulness in a conventional-religious sense that I’m describing, as you might expect when you visit a place of historic religious significance; hardly surprising since, for the larger part of its existence, Calleva would have been thoroughly pagan, the church being a much later addition on the site of a long grass at Silchesterlate-Roman Christian site.  No, the feeling that I get (and it is “spiritual”) goes beyond organised religion and plugs into the far bigger picture of human experience.  You can somehow sense all those human existences that have been part of this landscape and with all the immediacy of relatively-recent history, in chronological terms, since you know from just looking at these fields that almost no human intervention has occurred here other than farming since the very last communities dwindled away at the end of the Roman era; a complete rarity among Roman-settled areas, most of which have continued to evolve into modern towns for the past millennium and a half.

Roman walls SilchesterThe fact that Silchester is all but returned to nature is a solemn reminder that this is ultimately the fate of all humankind and both pulls me up short and leaves me in wondrous awe, a potent combination although I have no problem whatsoever facing up to the realisation that I am made up of universal building blocks that will be recycled again and again between now and the end of time. That realisation fills me with more wonderment than any promise of a heavenly afterlife ever could (perhaps, for me, this is the same thing).  There is constant regeneration, all things will pass, nature will triumph… It fills my contentment cup to theRoman Silchester brim to be reminded that, whatever human chaos may reign, we are all destined to revert to something not dissimilar to this big circular field with its crumbling walls, its blowsy hedgerows filled with long grasses, poppies and cornflowers, its gentle symphony of wind through trees, sheep baa-ing, woodpigeons cooing and – always at this time of the year – the perpetual song of the skylark.

St Mary's Church Silchester with a hare in the foregroundEven St Mary’s church makes me feel that, were I ever to attend Sunday services, I would want to do so here.  I
entered the description “holistic” under the religion heading on the recent census as that most aptly describes where I am with religion, believing as I do that the divine – call it God if you must – is within us all, an eternal spark that is our basic element, the best part of us and one which will continue on, in some other format, long after we have been broken back down into the atoms from which we were made. I still find,St Mary's Church Silchester
therefore, that centuries of us all looking with all our might for this eternal spark wheresoever we felt it to be, usually heavenward and particularly within the walls of these buildings we call churches, has concentrated this strength of feeling within the walls of such places to such an extent that I can feel a real sense of the divine inside a church, generated by the shared human longing – and so concerted St Mary's Church Silchester windowhuman effort made – to find such a thing. For that reason,  I still love to spend quiet time in a church.

And for me it really has to be, by preference, either a cathedral (a grand gesture of man’s achievement, striving upwards by actually looking inwards – which was much nearer the mark in my opinion –  to draw upon the deepest wells of human craftmanship and creative ability) or the very smallest nugget of a church, a connection with the divine on the most intimate level.  St Mary’s is one such as this – tiny, intimate and perfect. I crave my time spent there, sat on my particular pew where the clouds sail pass a very particular window, aSt Mary's Church Silchestern action guaranteed to soothe me into a moment of pure, unthinking awareness of “the moment” and which invariably helps to reconnect me with the deepest part of myself, reminding me that I already hold all the resources that I could ever possibly need to deal with all life throws at me and so equipping me to step back into the hub of daily living. And all of that soul-food, achievable on one walk, in one location – as long as the walk is at Silchester. Is it any wonder I keep returning there, time and again?

Silchester field and treesHistorians talk about Calleva as a figment of the past, a town lost beneath mounds of earth. The question is, was Silchester (Calleva) really lost after it was abandoned back to nature or was it actually found; is its current state not even more valid than its status as a bustling and important town which, had it not been abandoned, would have evolved into yet another heaving twenty-first century metropolis, barely distinguishable from any other town with its Victoriana and concrete shoulder-to-shoulder and its familiar array of chain stores. I would say that Silchester with its field of cows, and its potent reminders of what time can do to reverse all things back to nature, has uniquely preserved a far more potent tribute to humanity and what it is all about than any such concrete sprawl ever could.

About Helen White

Helen White is a professional artist and published writer with two primary blogs to her name. Her themes pivot around health and wellbeing, expanded consciousness and ways of noticing how life is a constant dance between the deeply subjective and the collective-universal, all of which she explores with a daily hunger to get to know herself better. Her blog Living Whole shines a light on living with high sensitivity, dealing with trauma and healing from chronic health issues. Spinning the Light is an extremely broad-based platform where she elucidates the everyday alchemy of relentless self-exploration. A lifetime of "feeling like an outsider" slowly emerged as neurodivergence (being a Highly Sensitive Person with ADHD, synaesthesia, sensory processing challenges and other defecits overlapping with giftedness). All of these topics are covered in her blogs, written from two distinct vantage points so, if you have enjoyed one of them, you may wish to explore the other for a different, yet entirely complimentary, perspective.
This entry was posted in Ancient sites, Architecture, Biography, Divine feminine, Health & wellbeing, History, Life choices, Nature, Personal Development, Spirituality, Symbolic journeys and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Roman Silchester (Calleva) – lost or found?

  1. Pingback: “The Novel in the Viola” – and memories of Tyneham | helenwhiteart

  2. Pingback: There really is no place like home | helenwhiteart

  3. Pingback: Christmas all wrapped up for another year! | helenwhiteart

  4. Pingback: Chasing Light with a Brush – My Painting Process | helenwhiteart

  5. Pingback: Eat Pray Love – an inner journey compared | helenwhiteart

  6. Pingback: Grassing over the bumps | scattering the light

  7. Pingback: Joining dots and crossing over | scattering the light

Please comment on what I have shared and follow me if you enjoyed it!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s