British Pagans Celebrate Interfaith Purchase of Sacred
An unusual coalition of Pagans, Christians, and others gathered in south-central England on November 1 in order to celebrate the purchase and preservation of one of England's oldest religious sites.
The Rollright Stones, a neolithic circle in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, was offered for sale last summer by its owner, who had inherited the stones from her father many years before. Fearing that the new owner would close access to this ancient ceremonial site, British Pagans rallied to raise money for the purchase. Their fight was backed by the Sacred Lands Project, an interfaith organization that supports the preservation of sacred sites of all faiths; the Pagans were also supported by the Anglican Diocese of Oxford, on whose land the stones are located.
Although the interfaith Rollright Stones Appeal raised £50,000 in pledges and donations, the owner chose to sell the 4,000-year-old stones to Nat Le Roux and Nick Cavalla, two megalith-lovers who had placed a higher bid, and whose aims for preserving the stones were similar to those of the appeal. The new owners have agreed to sell the stones to the appeal at a lower price than they paid to the previous owner; they will be among the directors of a trust that is being set up to keep the stones open to the public for visiting and worship.
The November 1 interfaith celebration, which was held on the Pagan holiday of Samhain, was attended by about 200 people, according to the organizers; about 70 stayed after the celebration for a Pagan ceremony rededicating the stones. The stone circle resembles Britain's most famous Pagan monument, Stonehenge, but is smaller. On the night of the celebration it was lit by torchlight and wreathed in mist.
A representative of the appeal says that the next event at the Rollright Stones probably will not take place until Midsummer's Eve, as the appeal does not want to risk erosion of the land by encouraging large numbers of tourists to visit. Nevertheless, members of the appeal say they are committed to keeping the stone circle open to people of all faiths and no faith.
"We are trying to keep a balance between the interests of all groups – Pagan, archaeological, historical, earth mysteries, and the interested tourist – and feel that emphasis on any one group is not healthy for the long-term future of the stones," says Karin Attwood, who helped lead the fight to save the stones. "The circle may be small, but it is big enough to hold any view the visitor may have, and that is the way we want to keep it."
© 1997 Heather Elizabeth