Driving along the A85, I could not see the mountains that I had been up.
The heavy cumulus had closed in on the high lands – rain followed rain, a low ceiling creating a claustrophobic stronghold on my ever increasing grey mood. I shifted my feet, I pushed each shoe off with my toes, I tilted my weight back so that I could put my feet up on the dashboard.
Fort William is an ugly town in the Highland landscape but people gather there, even if reticently. Again David disappeared into the cloud. I drove back into the town centre and parked in the car park behind the public toilets. Everything looked so dreich so I settled down to read I don’t know how many chapters of my book.
People arrived in waterproofs and jeans and black boots that were too shiny. They headed down to the main street, they did not see me slouched in my car reading the horrific crimes unfolding in Cornwell’s Blow Fly. A council man walked past the car twice and looked in at me and the windscreen. I had not bought a ticket yet.
Reading was making me drowsy. I put the book down, put on another fleece and visited the house of many waters. The rows of shops with sale signs and the horde were uninspiring. If I was not going to lose bottled emotions in the mountains there was only one place to go.
I walked through the roofed wooden entrance into the church grounds near the Tesco Metro. I noted that the church of St Andrew was not Church of Scotland but a Scottish Episcopal Church. What its interior would be like, I guessed, was not the clean oak and light walls of a typical parish church in Scotland.
For the second time that week I put my hand to a large metal door handle that turned easily. I was in. Four people were admiring the altar. The light was low and the wooden pews were a dark colour. I put money in a slot to purchase the little book that explained the history of this sanctum. I turned my back on the main area and took the few stone steps down to the baptistry.
Silence. The chatter and traffic noises from the busy wee toun had subsided. In the far corner, the plainest object caught my interest. She was so beautiful. The profile of Mary was carved in plain white marble; her right hand, crossed over her chest, holds the side of her veil. Her head is tilted down as if she is looking into a still pool of water.
I started crying and I did not know why. Every problem was wrung out of me. So I sat down and started reading again. I was delighted with the surroundings. I wiggled my toes as I read these words. “The finest feature of the Baptistry, however, is the mosaic floor by the Italian artist Salviati.”
I stood up to look at the figures portrayed on the intricate floor, pictured below. I walked round each one, my breath slow as I took in the deep musty air around me. The colours were fresh but perfectly muted – my eyelids drooped. I settled on a small angel with its hands clasped in prayer. The head in this image was tilted up as if it looked at the marble bust.
Within a short time I was the only living being in that austere place. I wandered up to the reredos, a series of carved arches behind the altar. Each section depicts a highly emotive time in the Christian bible’s stories; including Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, his agony in the garden of Gethsemane and the crucifixion. The latter is another example of Salviati’s elegant mosaic work.
Before I left, I pushed some money into the roof fund box. I heard the water dripping down the side of a stone arch; white mould was forming. The water may ruin the mosaic floor. I wanted to walk on it again and feel the sanctuary encompass me.