The power of place: Tintern Abbey fieldtrip
This post written for my MA in Landscape, Literature, and the Environment.
On the morning of the 5th of November the Landscape, Literature, and Environment Course members went to Tintern Abbey. Our coursework revolves around the word ‘place,’ among others; Tintern Abbey has defined place in many ways throughout the centuries.
Tintern Abbey was originally a home for Cistercian monks and surrounded by the beautiful Wye River forest and hills, it is easy to see why this was once a place for peaceful meditation. The Abbey was later viewed by the writer and priest William Gilpin and he felt it was a prime example of the picturesque. Later, William Wordsworth also viewed the Abbey and wrote a poem ‘several miles’ away, his poem beautifully describes the presence of the Abbey and its haunting combination of nature and mankind.
But, when we arrived at Tintern Dr. Sue Edney asked all of us to set aside our previous knowledge of this place, to let go of the words we had previously read, to not read the informational signs, nor take any pictures, and simply interact with this place as if seeing it for the first time.
This exercise really let the place of Tintern be something completely distinctive for each individual. I felt that my connection with the Abbey and its forms of human and nonhuman nature was much stronger when I let go of the expectations I might have had, whether because of the true history or because of an author’s description. I found a certain imaginative energy in letting the areas of the place be exactly what they were in that moment rather than what they may have been historically. Also, one of the simplest tasks, to not take any pictures, was so much more freeing than I had expected.
We re-entered Tintern Abbey after this first 15 to 20 minute exercise and none of the previous rules applied. During this portion I found myself wanting to retrace the steps I had taken the first time but I couldn’t recapture the feeling and connection that I had had with the place. I would attempt to take a picture and capture the awe and beauty of a large window; instead of stained glass the beauty of the space was through the changing leaves, soft grey fog, and dewy grass. However, none of the striking beauty that I had seen in the first exercise could be seen through my camera lens (the lighting was wrong, the angle wasn’t right, etc.), again I couldn’t capture the same feeling.
These exercises yielded different results for each of us. Some might have found the second more rewarding and some might not have felt much of a difference. But, the exercise showed the power of a place, regardless of history or whether a place may be considered picturesque. The power of Tintern Abbey’s ‘place’ can be as simple as an individual’s perception.