The car sped through the narrow road, dodging oncoming traffic and narrowly missing cars in front it… and the kerbside. The driver, my late cousin’s boyfriend drove, maniacally, totally unaware of the havoc he was causing in the nervous system of its passengers.
He was driving completely unsafely, blissfully unaware of road signs and the white middle line dividing the road into 2 lanes. Hooters sounded and he carried on talking, a non-stop narrative of the history of the countryside and its attractions.
My Grandmother, in the front seat, listened and gave encouraging sounds, hoping that she’d be distracted from danger we were in. My sister and I, crammed into the back-seat of the small red Fiat thought that this holiday to Portugal would be our last.
My white knuckled hands gripped the back of the driver’s seat. My sister seemed to be serenely looking out the window, trying not to look ahead at an impending frontal collision.
We were on our way north from Lisbon, to visit some of the spectacular beaches on the Portuguese Atlantic coast.
We stopped at a few beaches, thankfully climbing out of the car for a brief time to look at the scenery, before nervously getting back into the car to get to our next stop.
At midday our enthusiastic driver pulled into a small village for lunch…and there, perched almost on the edge of the cliffside was an abandoned church, a ruin of a building, its ancient walls rough but still intact, and no roof!
As I walked into the church a physical silence surrounded me like I had been transported to another place. I remember feeling bewildered at the silence that enveloped the place, the voices outside seeming to be coming from a distance. The sun shone through the broken beams of the roof and cast its slat-like rays through the dust swirls onto the ground.
I walked through the centre aisle, the pews dusty and realised with surprise that people still went there to worship. And I totally understood why. There was a peace, a serenity, a holiness about that place that made me feel at one with the universe. I lingered a while but not long enough. I haven’t been back since.
It was as though that church, without its roof, with its dusty pews, and black veiled village women praying under the rays of the sun was put there to help me realise that there is a higher power at play.
If I could zoom to another place right now it would be to this abandoned church high atop an Atlantic cliffside on the coast of Portugal. I don’t remember the name of the village or the church, but this place is one I visit often in my mind when I am in need of peace, solace and a re-connection with myself.