The Mystery is Solved!

Thanks to the reach of the Internet — and Facebook — I have discovered the identity of the photographer of the image that is being used for the cover design of The Big Book of Christian Mysticism. The photographer is named Francesco Pirrone; he shot the photograph in the ruins of the Church of San Pantaleo in the village of Martis in Sardinia.

If you care to visit it (I hope I can, someday), click here to see the location of the church on Google Maps.

Here’s an image of the exterior of the church, from a Sardinia Tourism website.

Francesco Pirrone notes that this church is interesting “because the roof collapsed and the floor is dropped.” The Sardinia Tourism website notes that this church was built in the 13th century in Romanesque-Gothic style. The website also mentions a summer bonfire ritual which has interesting parallels to the Beltane/Mayday ceremonies from the British Isles:

On the evening of June 24th a characteristic event takes place which is worth mentioning; “su fogarone”, (a huge bonfire) is prepared, which has to be jumped over by pairs of both children and adults; in the past, before jumping, the pair tied a knot in a handkerchief to symbolise the relationship that was being formed at that very moment and thus becoming “compares e comares de fogarone”; a link, which purified by the flames, was stronger than that of a blood relation.

I can’t tell if this bonfire ritual takes place at the church itself, or just somewhere in Martis. But if does take place at the church, how interesting that what may be a vestigial pagan ceremony is associated with a beautiful church that would eventually appear on the cover of a book about Christian mysticism written by a former neopagan. And how interesting that I should discover all this on the first of May.

Synchronicity. It’s a beautiful thing.

Finally, here is another look at the interior of the church, from the lens of Francesco Pirrone.

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • BlackBirdie

    of course, since it’s “On the evening of June 24th” it’s more likely related to summer solstice. and yes, it is interesting and beautiful.

  • Campbell Welsh

    Carl, Thankful to find your blog. Yes, this photograph is more than beautiful. There seems to be a connection with rays of light and going home…

  • Carl McColman

    Blackbirdie: Oh, indeed. But the ceremony itself (people joining hands and jumping over the fire) is very much like May Day rituals practiced by North American neopagans, apparently based on similar Beltane ceremonies from the British isles.

    An interesting question about this kind of folkloric practice: is their provenance truly pre-Christian, or perhaps of a more recent origin? In this book The Rise and Fall of Merrie England, historian Ronald Hutton shows how many supposedly “pagan” folk practices in the British Isles really can only be reliably traced back to the last few centuries. So this Sardinian ritual might, likewise, be truly ancient/pagan… or not.

  • Christine Anderson

    How fun to solve the mystery!

  • Rachael

    What an interesting mystery, and how cool that it’s been solved!

    I look forward to your book with great anticipation, having enjoyed your posts on LiveJournal (and here) over the last few years. :-)

  • Dan

    It makes a great screen saver too.

  • Cindy

    Beatiful!! The church, yes it is. But I’m struck by the beauty of synchronicity, connection and the amazing dance we are all in!

    Thanks for this!

  • Jean wise

    What fun we all have had exploring with your this mystery, even more now that it is solved. Adds meaning to the photograph to know its story! Thanks

  • laura

    So glad the mystery is solved. What a gorgeous place! (And it still feels something like a mystery to me! :) )

    Just pre-ordered your book. Can’t wait to get it!!

  • Jacquelyn Judd

    A beauticul thing, indeed. I always take those kind of things (like synchronicity) as a sign that I’m on the right pathway. They inspire me to keep going.

  • Yewtree

    Yes, nice bit of synchronicity (and I liked what Jacquelyn Judd said too). I’m glad you found the photographer and the name of the place.

    Interestingly, in Norway and other places north of the British Isles, bonfires are held at midsummer, whereas in the north of Britain, in pastoral areas, the bonfires were at Beltane; whereas in the rest of Britain, in the cereal-growing areas, there were maypoles instead. It seems surprising that the bonfire should be at midsummer in a place south of Britain, if the bonfires did symbolise the returning light of the sun. A conundrum for folklorists.