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Pilgrimage site garden is a place of ‘encounter with the scriptures’

Author: Hazel Southam, 8 August 2022

Locals gathered at St Margaret’s Church in Binsey, Oxfordshire, to create a Psalm 23-inspired garden. 

The historic church is home to St Margaret’s Well, an ancient medieval pilgrimage site, still visited by pilgrims today, especially by those seeking healing. 

But the church grounds had become overgrown, until local lady Jackie Holderness decided to transform it into a Psalm 23 garden. 

In warm August sunshine, half a dozen locals planted roses, oregano, pulmonaria, lovage, sage, marjoram and lemon balm, as well as native hazel saplings. 

They drew on the inspiration from Sarah Eberle’s Psalm 23 Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, incorporating trees, naturalistic planting and seating. 

Jackie said, ‘It is very moving to see people here and the garden becoming a reality. The place has meant a lot to me and it’s always comforting to see it becoming important to others as well.’

Rector of the Osney Benefice, the Revd Clare Skyes said that the garden would ‘turn the well from being a place of curiosity for people to a place where they can encounter God and the scriptures. It makes the scripture explicit and creates a beautiful space.’

She added, ‘The psalm still speaks to us today. It speaks of what we are all looking for, which is a spiritual home.’

Professional gardener, Mirjam Chappell was helping with the planting. Describing her approach as ‘spiritual rather than Christian’ she said that the site was ‘tranquil and peaceful’. ‘The garden is a real transformation,’ she said, ‘and will make it a destination for visitors, creating a place of beauty, rather than letting it go to waste.’

As the team dug, planted and watered, they were joined by pilgrims from Northampton, Simon and Miriam Symeou. The Greek Orthodox family had travelled to the pilgrimage site to give thanks for Simon’s brother Paul who had survived surgery on Stage 4 cancer of the jaw. 

Simon wept as he said, ‘We have come to give thanks in a place of healing. We are just so thankful,’ adding that the garden would ‘give glory to God’. 

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