Living Water

Leon van den Broeke

When people hear about salvation and church planting they easily think about the spiritual dimension of belief. Mission history shows that (the topic of) salvation can not neglect the cultural dimension and infrastructure. The picture tells the story of the Weezenputten near the village of Oudeschild on the Isle of Texel. Of the original five wells, only two are left. The owner of these wells was the orphanage (in old Dutch: Weezen) in Den Burg. This house benefited from the sale of water.

At the east side of the dike of the village of Oudeschild was the Roadstead of Texel. Sometimes dozens of ships were waiting for good wind to sail out to the East or West Indies or to the Baltic area. When they sailed to the East, they could take fresh water and food at the Cape of Good Hope for the second part of the voyage. The Weezenputten were important for the health of the crew and passengers for mainly the first part of the voyage. The quality of the water of the Weezenputten was high, because it contained iron. That allowed the water to be preserved for a long period. This was a matter of life and death.

A Reformed minister or comforter of the sick also belonged to the ships’ crews on their way to overseas territories. They had an important role in the field of the spiritual and moral affairs. The minister was the captain of morality and belief on board of the ship. For that reason he was well paid. To help promote the process of Reformed church planting in overseas territories and during the journey, he wanted to preach the gospel of the Living Water. He could only do so when he was able to drink the water from the Weezenputten.

Pop-up church avant-la-lettre

Hans Schaeffer

At the heart of the impressive objects the Durham Cathedral Open Treasury displays, is a fair number of remnants that are closely related to St. Cuthbert (c.634-687). The Treasury holds one special artefact, found in the Saint’s tomb. It is a remainder of the portable altar he used during his many lengthy journeys. As a Bishop of Lindisfarne, Cuthbert was torn between serving God in meditation as a hermit, and the Church in preaching and mission. He travelled throughout the whole of northern England and southern Scotland. Sometimes he would be away from the monastery for a month at a time. He became famous for his pastoral ministry, wisdom and the miracles of healing he worked.

The pieces of dark, nearly decayed wood at display in Durham for me were the most impressing of all the artefacts. It is as close as we can come to liturgies in far away and long forgotten local parishes, little towns, with perhaps just a few celebrants. These pieces of wood function as a trait d’union with an old tradition of pop-up-church avant la lettre. Just a small plank with five crosses, carved at the corners and in the middle, and a simple text as well, to celebrate Mass. That is basically what is needed to become the source for so many, much more elaborated and sophisticated precious relics of these times. St. Cuthbert’s monastery of Lindisfarne would later became famous for its beautifully illustrated gospels, among which the so-called Lindisfarne gospels now are the most well-known and treasured.

These simple pieces of wood, however, testify as loudly as these gospels of enactments of celebrations and the real-life circumstances in which they took place.