Standing below the spire of St. Helen’s church, I am thrilled by the presence of legend. As the week progressed, the theme returned to me. The following is my attempt at deciphering, in a very small fragment of raw thought, why I’m so attracted to legends:
As far back as I can remember I’ve felt a tug in my soul toward legends, myths, and fairy stories. I can hardly explain it, but I always have. As I grew older, it became a love of fiction in general, and yet a thrill shoots through me as I stand on land marked with by legend.
St. Helen, the mother of Constantine, is believed to have built a church in her own honor on this spot. The current church stands on its foundation, a foundation built with a nail from Christ’s Holy Cross.
The legend thrills my very soul.
I’ve always been attracted to legends, and although the reason is still only developed slightly, I think I’m beginning to understand why.
“I believe that legends and myth are largely made of truth, and indeed present aspects of it that can only be perceived in this mode; and long ago certain truths and modes of this kind were discovered and must always reappear.” – J.R.R Tolkien
They say that every lie is rooted in truth. The truth may be hard to find, but it’s existed at one time, no matter how twisted and mangled it has become. If I’ve learned anything during my life, in regards to truth, I’ve seen that truth must always find a way to breath fresh air. By continuing to seek truth, you’ll find it.
Tolkien says it correctly – these truths “must always reappear,” they cannot remain hidden for long.
And yet, I must admit, they do stay hidden. Truths are not all meant to be revealed, it seems. I understand this puts a majestic blockade before my theory, for there are some truths that will never be revealed, no matter how long the human race searches.
And yet, I ponder, they do stay hidden. King Arthur is no closer to becoming a historical figure than Winnie the Pooh (okay, that may be a stretch, but the point is still made). But that doesn’t mean there isn’t truth in his story. Just like Christianity – the truth can be found, but it must be believed first. But legends cannot be boiled down that simply. Legends are believed or disbelieved, like religions, and yet they are fundamentally different. Even then, however, religions are built off of a legend of some sort. All legends then are built on top of a sort of truth. All legends have some truth to speak.
“History has its truth, and so has legend. Legendary truth is of another nature than historical truth. Legendary truth is invention whose result is reality. Furthermore, history and legend have the same goal; to depict eternal man beneath momentary man.” –Victor Hugo
If we never discover the history of a legend, we can at least discover truth. Even if the real Camelot is never unearthed, we can glean truth from the legend. St. Helen’s story may never be revealed as history. It was so long ago, and so much from that era is unsure. But we can learn from the story. She claimed to have found a nail from Christ’s cross while visiting Jerusalem – legend places it in the church foundation. True or not, shouldn’t this be a metaphorical truth for all our lives? Shouldn’t our churches be built on the cross, and our mission defined by the nails in His hands? Should we not have some daily reminder of His sacrifice for us, and the miracle that ensued?
Legends, as Victor Hugo says, are truth. They may not tell the stories of actual men and women who actually lived, breathed, and walked, but these stories and characters teach us something about our selves, or how we might be. That is the beauty of legends – the stories they speak into our very souls. They are individual, and very personal. One legend may not say the same thing to you as it would to another individual. Perhaps that is why I love legends – they speak to my soul’s desire for greatness. Perhaps that is why, throughout history, humanity has been intrigued by the legends that cannot be changed into truth. King Arthur still remains only a legend, but that won’t keep people from searching for the truth, all the while they learn something about themselves. And therein is the pain and beauty.