The Mysterious Old Layde Church
Nestled among the glens of the North Antrim coast is Old Layde church, a fascinating and mysterious place that until recently was not even signposted. In our almost five years in Ireland I have visited it a number of times and have taken nearly all our visitors there and no-one regretted visiting. If you take even a casual interest in Christian history then the church is really worth a visit.
What makes this church so special?
Lets begin with the basics. Layde church is located in stunning surroundings. The glens of the Antrim coast are one of the most scenic places in Ireland. Layde church is build on the spot where one of the smaller glens meets the ocean. You can just sit on its grassy slops and enjoy the view. On a clear day you can see Scotland a mere 14 miles across the water.
But scenery is only a portion of the fascination. The truth is, Old Layde Church is simply different from most other churches.
First, its location.
Local tourist notes state that Layde was the parish church of Cushendall, a seaside town about one mile away. But, why build a parish church a mile away from where the parishioners live? In olden times of unpaved pathways in rainy times, a mile long walk in the mud would certainly not have been a prospect even the most faithful parishioners would relish.
Second, location again.
In contrast to parish churches with lofty towers visible for miles, with Layde, unless you know exactly where the church is located you will not find it. It only becomes visible 70 meters before you enter the church yard.
Built at the confluence of two hills at a point where its glen takes a steep decline towards the sea, and surrounded with tall vegetation, the church is only visible from far out into the ocean.
Not surprisingly, it is sometimes called “The Hidden Church”.
Why would a church be built to be hidden?
A local amateur historian with an extensive knowledge of Antrim historical places gave me the following explanation:
The church’s earliest mention comes from the 14th century, but the church is probably much older dating back possibly to the high Middle Ages.
At such a time when there were no roads connecting the Antrim coast with the Irish hinterland and the Antrim boglands cut the coast off from the rest of the country, the coastal town did most of their trading with Scotland just across the water and much more easily accessible. This is evident even today by the many Scottish surnames along the Antrim coast indicating interaction and intermarriage.
During the high Middle Ages parts of Scotland refused to conform to the ecclesiastical authorities of the time.
Scottish monarchs tried to suppress them but the remoteness and inaccessibility of the western Scottish coastlands meant that nonconformists survived and flourished. That is, until Margaret of England married Alexander III of Scotland and became queen of Scotland.
Being particularly zealous she set out to eradicate some of what she considered to be “strange” Scottish customs; and did so with determination and a vengeance.
Could it be that Scottish non-conformists tried to find refuge among the more tolerant lands of Antrim?
Could it be that Layde church was built to cater for the needs of a people who couldn’t practice their faith in their homeland?
My historian friend was convinced that this was indeed the case.
Freedom of choice
I stood many a time at the ruined Old Layde Church trying to visualise with my imagination boatloads of people sailing across the straits between Scotland and Ireland hoping to worship God in freedom according to their conscience.
There are some things for which it is worth making sacrifices. Freedom to believe is one. A thought worth remembering in a land where religious intolerance and hatred has produced a lot of hurt.
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