Norfolk sculptor's Way of Blessing crosses Britain
An artist and sculptor from Banham in South Norfolk is undertaking an epic mission to build a path of blessing for walkers and riders across the widest part of the British Isles from Lowestoft in Suffolk to St David’s in Wales. Sandie Shirley reports.
Steve Eggleton is pioneering a unique pilgrimage with regular stops of rest and spiritual refreshment along a 400-mile route using Christian artwork to tell the nation about God’s love.
Via Beata – A Way of Blessing – began as a valiant faith venture with wife Gill but now there is growing widespread support as it continues to blaze a trail of hope.
The initial concept was plotted on Ordnance Survey maps using rural footpaths and quiet roads before Steve learnt that the line cut straight through his property, which later became the site for the first ‘way station’, or resting place, in 2009. Since then another 14 have been added and others are under construction.
“As the project has developed we are constantly surprised by the way this blessing has touched individuals, churches, groups and events. It has been far beyond our wildest dreams,” says Steve.
While marking and changing lives, Via Beata has also brought new spiritual injection to many rural churches and centres as they become part of a collaborative venture that includes dedication services and annual celebration weekends.
Interest and involvement has come from every facet of society including a Dereham youth camp, ex-offenders and a man who carved one of the plaques to pay tribute to his now late father who was a keen walker in the area.
Creative ideas and connections have dovetailed as the vision for a ‘way station’ approximately every ten miles of the route gathers pace to build a ‘belt of truth’ and blessing across the nation.
“We could never have done this on our own – it has been a chapter of miracles,” reflects Steve who is supported by a 44-strong prayer team and a weekly group of apprentice woodcarvers that include a local Anglican minister!
The woodcarvers, taught by Steve in the barn alongside his home, help design, carve, oil, paint and erect some of the artwork installations including a giant oak cross and brightly painted plaques depicting some of Jesus’ parables.
Past workshops have been attended by women from Norwich’s ‘Step’ project, who receive support after abuse, and who painted and carved the birds in the mustard seed parable depicted at Roundham near Thetford.
Ex-offenders and struggling addicts have developed new job skills to help them back into society during numerous workshops involving ‘Days of Creation’ and the lettering and carving depicting Jesus’ rest for weary souls (Matthew 11:28-29).
Some of the men also cycled the entire Via Beata route from St David’s Head in West Wales wearing jumpers bearing the words: ‘A Way of Blessing’. During the nine-day trip to Lowestoft Ness they found blessing and hospitality from those they met along the way.
Artwork has also been created by members of a Christian youth camp and made, in part, by visitors at a Christian music festival; others have been commissioned.
Says Steve: “Producing the artwork brings great joy and it is a wonderful way to share the gospel and we pray that it will increasing touch people. We want everybody to know that God loves them and sent his only Son, Jesus, to die for them. Whoever they are and whatever they might have done they can be forgiven and welcomed into God’s eternal family.”
This vision was sparked in 2000 when Steve, a former art school teacher, was impacted by a large exhibition showing artwork of Christ that spanned the centuries, at the National Gallery in London and spearheaded by its Christian director.
“It attracted millions and it made me think that I would love to do something big and special for God,” reflects Steve.
A few years later he was asked to design and build a town memorial with a Christian message for a cemetery opposite a small industrial estate. “The result was an oak pavilion with relief carving on the interior walls that spoke about Christian hope in Jesus. There was a grand opening with a Salvation Army band and many thanked me for the memorial pavilion where industrial estate workers eat their sandwiches.”
The carving included a biblical scene of Thomas the ‘doubting disciple’ who placed his hands in the nail marks of the risen Christ and people who see the sculpture place their hands on the nail marks in the carving explains Steve.
As more commissions followed, his vision heightened until work began on the first ‘way station’ at ‘Rowancroft’, Kenninghall Road. It received an unexpected publicity boost when an?Eastern Daily Press reporter visited Steve’s home while the ‘Prodigal Son’ installation was being built by his son.
The reporter interviewed Steve about the book he had written and was due for publication but she was also curious about the ‘way station’ which soon led to a further story about the Via Beata. When the report included the dates Steve and Gill planned to prayer walk along the route in East Anglia, looking for suitable way station locations, they were joined by others.
The story of blessing and support has continued with ‘way stations’ at a guest house in Great Moulton, one at Belsey Bridge Conference Centre in Ditchingham and another at Ringsfield Hall near Beccles. The trail continues east and west and includes further artworks in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Warwickshire. A massive 15ft high cross carved with an olive branch and scripture, was erected this summer, marking the mid-way point and the 25th anniversary of a Christian centre in the Midlands.
Further afield in Wales the retreat centre at Ffald-y-Brenin allowed us to use their high cross as part of the trail explains Steve. At the Christian conference centre and international movement, it’s reported that the deaf hear, the blind see, the lost are found and the broken receive healing.
Says Steve: “Christians will be able to travel this trail and pray for the nation. The ‘way-stations’ are sited on church land, public land and private land bordering a footpath or public rights of way. We are always looking for suitable sites within a few miles of the Via Beata line where further ones might be placed.”
Pictured from the top, Steve and Gill Eggleton, the carving at Sedge Fen in Suffolk and the way station at Ringsfield Hall near Beccles.