Reposting: The Thin Places

Note: There’s been some new followers to the blog lately (thank you!) and seeing as I am off celebrating thirty years of marriage to my wonderful hubby this week, I thought it might be a good time to repost one of my earlier posts. Hope you enjoy, and I’ll be back with something new next week! 


Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the Thin Places that distance is even smaller – Celtic proverb.

The ancient Celts had a concept of Thin Places, where the veil between the worlds was easily crossed. The Celtic Christians, whose practice of the faith was a delightful mixture of earthy and mystical, eagerly co-opted this idea of their pagan forefathers into one of their own. The Thin Places, in their reckoning, were places where earth and heaven were particularly close together, where the sacred and the mundane were juxtaposed, where one could as likely encounter the King of Heaven striding across a misty dew-soaked field as a roe deer.

The Hill of Tara in Ireland, Glastonbury Tor in England, and St. David’s in Wales are some of those places, sacred to the ancient Celts and ones which became holy to the Celtic Christians as well. All were known as Thin Places before the advent of Christianity in Britain, and after.

What is it about these places that the Celts found compelling? Natural beauty, to be sure, was a factor, but there seems to have been something else that set them apart. Something  that awakened the longing  that C.S. Lewis described so well many centuries later:

The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from – my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” (Till We Have Faces).

To the Celtic Christians that longing seemed especially poignant in the Thin Places. The lay of the hills or the misty seascape lodged in their hearts like an arrow, piercing through their everyday concerns and bringing them face to face with Heaven.

I knew I had to have some Thin Places for my characters to stumble across in my historical fantasy trilogy, which is set in Northumbria, 642 AD.  It was fun to imagine what function they might have in the books, how my characters would react to them. After all, how does it feel to stumble across one of these places? And would it feel different to a 7th century monk as opposed to a 21st century man?

It’s tempting to think of these places in a pagan sense, as the ancient Celts did, to imagine that the landscape itself is what is eliciting the transcendent effect. In the Christian teachings, though, the Creation is a signpost to the Creator. The heavens declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1). The Celtic Christians saw the Thin Places as ones where that glory was particularly accessible. As St. Columbanus (6th century Irish monk) said, “Understand created things if you want to understand the Creator.”

I have tried to infuse this understanding of the Thin Places into my books, which has challenged me to have eyes that see, to look for the evidence of God in all the natural beauty of the Creation. Is there something of God that I can learn from a tree? The breaking waves on the shore? When I start to slow down and notice, I can see that even the steadfast devotion of my dog carries hints of that greater love that never fails us.

This whole idea of Thin Places is just one of those fascinating details that make historical fiction so much fun to read, and to write. I love discovering these little treasures that not only enrich my story world, but my own as well.

photo credit: “Here Sleep Deer” by Stuart Williams, CC via Flickr

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Your thoughts? Have you ever encountered a Thin Place? If so, why do you think so? Is there any place for this concept in our understanding of the world today?

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9 thoughts on “Reposting: The Thin Places

  1. Sandy Keeler says:

    This is my favourite blog that you have posted. I like the concept of Thin Places. Those places that touch your very soul and even the thought of them can bring an ache to your heart. In a couple of weeks we will be visiting Peggy’s Cove, N.S. For me, it is definitely one of those Thin Places. Happy 30th anniversary, you two!

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    • L.A. Smith says:

      Thanks, Sandy! It is interesting how everyone can think of a place like that for them. Enjoy your time in Peggy’s Cove – that part of Canada is certainly beautiful and wild and full of things to see, if we have eyes to see!

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  2. sdorman2014 says:

    maybe Childhood is a Thin Place? or a “Thin Time.”

    happy great anniversary event to you and yours!

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  3. Happy anniversary to you both! Any thin Places in Mexico?

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  4. […] October had some scary connotations for the Celts as well. Last week on the blog I posted about the Thin Places, where heaven and earth meet. Samhain was a sort of “thin time”, when the doorways […]

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  5. Carmen says:

    For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
    When we slow down enough, when we are children (faith like a child’s) we might “see” the thin places anywhere… If God exposed us to that power all the time, our human fragility would be evident… we would be overcome. The double edged sword of protecting us from that power also hinders us from being aware of the thin places… Ah, to seek balance Lord. 🙂
    Thanks for re-posting this Lisa…

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    • L.A. Smith says:

      You are most welcome! I find it interesting how so many can relate to this feeling of the numinous, of another world breaking through. And it’s true, it is probably good it doesn’t happen too often! The angels’ first words to people in Scripture are always “Don’t be afraid”…getting up close and personal with spiritual reality is a little hard on us mortals, I think!

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