Christians accused of insulting sacred Pagan site

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The Independent Online
OLD-FASHIONED Christian imperialism is alleged to be alive and well in Cumbria, where contentious plans to build a millennial monument at a 4,000-year-old Pagan site have left local planning officers struggling to resolve a religious dispute.

The Mayburgh Henge site at Penrith - an amphitheatre that in the Bronze Age rivalled Stonehenge but is today a 9ft single standing stone - was chosen by organisers of the local Eden Millennium Festival as the place to site a monument to mark Christ's 2,000th birthday. A block of local Shap granite, emblazoned with a cross, was to have been dedicated there by the Bishop of Carlisle during the festival next June.

Pagan groups accuse the festival's organisers of attempting to annex the site. "The plan seems based on the misconception that Paganism is dead and buried," said Sandy Brock of the Pagan Federation. Even local district councillors are perplexed.

One, Brian Nicholls, who is a local history teacher, said: "The arguments that the Christians have always pillaged Pagan sites have been interesting here.

"People will go to Mayburgh to see a neolithic site, not a 21st-century monument."

Canon Gervase Markham, who chairs the Millennium Festival's co-ordinating committee, said the cross would complement the henge.

"The henge marks our forefathers' first search for truth through the supernatural world. [We] believe our religion is the truth our ancestors were seeking, which is why we want the festival to be linked with the henge," he said.

Alternative positions for the cross have since been proposed, within Mayburgh's field but outside the boundaries of the henge stone and its huge circular bank, which was built with pebbles from nearby rivers.

The proposed Christian monument would be inscribed with `alpha' and `omega', representing the past and the future.

Many still consider the plan unsatisfactory, though. English Heritage is concerned about large numbers of people converging on the henge during the festival. And Mr Nicholls believes there is a far more appropriate site for the cross, in an empty courtyard opposite St Andrew's church in Penrith, the site of Saxon preaching crosses. Graham Allan, Eden District Council's director of planning services, said council officers could not make ethical value judgements. "We have to consider the question of how it fits aesthetically with the existing site," he said.

But those who interfere with Mayburgh do so at their own peril. The 18th-century antiquarian William Stukely, who witnessed the destruction of stones at Mayburgh, tells of the fate of two of the workmen who blasted them into fragments with gunpowder: one hanged himself and the other went mad.