St Raphael’s Healing Snowdrop Ministry
Tony Parker is Deputy Churchwarden at the Chapel of St Raphael, Huccaby, at an idyllic spot on Dartmoor, next to the River Dart.
He says that in non-Covid times around 1000 people a year visit to see the snowdrops which grow abundantly in the churchyard.
The retired Police Detective from Sunderland says the best time to see them is between Candlemas, at the beginning of February, and Mothering Sunday in March.
He says the snowdrops, also known as Candlemas Bells, probably pre-date the Victorian chapel building, which used to double-up as the village school.
Tony said, “I’m down at the chapel a lot and I noticed a lot of people visiting.
“People come because it’s peaceful and they love looking at the snowdrops.
“I thought it was an opportunity and the Visitors to Pilgrims project was born.”
As well as welcoming visitors, Tony pots up around 1500 snowdrop bulbs a year for people to take home in exchange for a donation.
This year, because of lockdown, people are able to reserve pots of snowdrops to collect, if and when travel restrictions ease. Each label has a small heart on it.
The chapel is the only Anglican one in the UK to be dedicated to St Raphael, whose name means healing, or God heals. The archangel is also known as the patron saint of travellers.
Tony says many visitors to the chapel write prayers on the prayer tree inside it and come back for the monthly services.
“That’s the sort of thing that keeps me going, when the visitors come back.
“We had a postman from Plymouth who used to come walking here after his night shift and ended up getting married here and having his reception here. He went on to do a Start Course (introduction to the Christian faith) with us.”
The chapel is big on welcome, with regular humorous signs outside, a composting toilet, dog-poo bags for dog walkers and puncture repair kits for cyclists. Unusually for a church, it has a wood burning stove inside and is open every day of the year for prayer and reflection.
“People come for twilight, to light a candle and sit by the fire,” said Tony.
“I think they are just pleased to find a church that is open.”