It is a very long time since first I spotted a mandala which took my breath away. And to be honest, I am no closer to finding who created it, or where it came from. What I saw, I suspect, was a Victorian reproduction of four tiles which together made a circle, hanging framed on the wall of St Cross Hospital, a stunning set of almshouses, chapel and gardens on the outskirts of Winchester, UK. It was so very unusual, so arresting, that I began to wonder where it could possibly have originated, and what unusual mynde and spirit created it.
Many things have happened in the ensuing years. The first is that I have gained a much sounder idea, through working at heritage sites, of what our historical accounts actually are. Unless they are about the celebrities of an era, the provenance of truly astounding things are often briefly recorded or not at all, unless through inventories or bills.
The second is a private study of mandalas, which has taken me on a roller coaster ride from Carl Jung and his sumptuous Red Book, through Indian and Tibetan traditions, and more. Jung’s assertion that drawing a mandala could be used as a way of searching the unconscious, that we could all draw them, led my to begin drawing my own. I have developed a healthy respect for the ritual of a circle and what lies within. I am a changed being, as, I suppose, we all are in one way or another.
The St Cross mandala drifted to the back of my mynde for the time being. Right until I visited a tiny church on the opposite side of Winchester, as I was travelling home one night.
St Swithun’s is a beautiful church, and I would strongly advise anyone finding themselves in the south of England to drop in; maybe sit by the little stream outside and watch the world go by, or practice silent myndeful steps within the 1,000 year old walls. Its silence is a balm. There is even a rood on the wall of the vestry. But what I learnt during two visits to the little place added to my knowledge of my favourite mandala.
Because lying beneath the carpet in the vestry hide four tiles:
Can you make it out? These 13th century tiles are the very originals of the ones in St Cross. My eyes, as they say here in the Shire, were out on stalks.I could not believe my eyes.
This, as any great piece of history will, raised far more questions than answers. Who created them? Are they to be found at other churches in the area, or around England? Was myndefulness a thing, here in Hampshire, centuries before it found its way to Christmas Humphreys, and the London Buddhism Society? How, in the 1200s, did the people of England Have Mynde?
Reader, I do not know. Perhaps someone else out there does. For me, I am at the mouth of yet another rabbit hole, about to hurl myself in to explore who knows where.