Creation Time Day 19
I return today to the topic of the bedrock and in particular limestone. This remarkable type of rock results from the accumulated sedimentation over millions of years of the remains of sea creatures such as coral and molluscs. Limestone is soluble in water and so landscapes across the world in which it is the bedrock are characterised by sinkholes and caves. Rivers and streams disappear underground and in some places huge and complex subterranean drainage networks are formed.
This type of landscape is found in North Yorkshire. Today’s photograph depicts a characteristic formation, the limestone pavement at Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. The action of rainwater along the joints and cracks of a horizontally-laid outcrop of this soluble rock produces slabs which give the surface the appearance of an architect-designed feature. Networks of underground caves and potholes exist beneath the limestone area of the Yorkshire Dales. Some of the largest more accessible subterranean chambers are open to be visited by tourists; others are the preserve of cavers and potholers who enjoy the challenges of exploring the invisible world below ground.
In traditional mythology and religions the subterranean world was the domain of the dead, for obvious reasons in cultures where burial was the norm. Later it became associated in Christian tradition as the location of hell in its sense of the permanent abode of the damned. Today many Christians regard the ancient topography of hell as “down there” and heaven “up there” as purely metaphorical. The notion of human souls condemned to a place of eternal and cruel punishment and tortured by demons whether subterranean or otherwise, as depicted in medieval wall-paintings for example, is similarly rejected by many Christian believers today, including myself, as archaic and sub-Christian. Rather it is engaging the divine spirit and will to tackle hells on earth – the impact of the violence, abuse and degradation which humans inflict upon one another – which is the focus of Christian prayer and action today.
Perhaps retaining some residual frisson of its early cultural association with death and evil, the underground world retains a fascination to many; but in modern times and sensibilities, rather what draws people underground is the opportunity it offers for further enjoyment and exploration of the wonderful and awesome scope of the creation.