The little place of prayer for spinsters was an accident for us, really.
Mr. W. and I were on our honeymoon in the south English countryside, in a rental car, winding through postcard pastures and villages of thatched-roof cottages.
The early days of the trip had been strict concentration, with my husband reacquainting himself with driving a stick-shift car on the opposite side of the road, and me minding the GPS, alerting him to the next roundabout. We visited Jane Austen's home and hiked at Durdle Door, me sporting a sunburn (in England!) and my husband reviewing our sketchy itinerary.
"Next stop, Abbotsbury," he said.
"No idea. But I'm sure it's old. It has Abbot in the name."
No expectations. I figured we would admire more wisteria and photograph tumbling tombstones. We would creep into another church, careful not to let the pigeons and the swallows follow us inside.
But Abbotsbury, in Dorset, held a poignant surprise.
As soon as we wound into the town, we saw it, an ancient chapel on the top of rolling green. Sheep grazed. And a woman hiked to the top. But we couldn't find a path.
There were signs for the swannery, but nothing about the chapel.
Go to the village shop, we were told.
There, we learned that it was just a "15-minute stroll" to the top, unless you keep stopping to admire the view. I read a postcard about the unusual 14th-century building on the hill.
It was the Chapel of St. Catherine, the patron saint of spinsters. Women went there to pray for a husband.
A husband, St. Catherine,
A handsome one, St. Catherine,
A rich one, St. Catherine,
A nice one, St. Catherine,
And soon, St. Catherine.
I stopped many times on the climb to the top, admiring the view. Mr. W. waited for the perfect shot of sheep and then practically sprinted to the top. I attempted my best Julie Andrews. "The hills are alive. ... " Mr. W. was not amused. Wrong country, he teased.
But as always, when entering a church, we got quiet. We puttered around, and I saw two notes on lined paper tucked into the wall. I unfolded one.
"God, please give me and other lonely people a soulmate so that we can make each other's lives better. Please God."
I read it to my husband, whom I had met in midlife, who had given me a sapphire engagement ring "to match my eyes" and had been quoting poetry most of the trip.
I shouldn't have read the prayer. It was private. It was holy. Web sources say that St. Catherine probably never existed. Spoilsports.
We left the chapel, admiring the sea, the village, the sunshine from the top of the hill.
But I pondered that prayer, and Match.com and blind dates and said a prayer for the writer, for anyone feeling lonely, married or single, in England and beyond, and for my new husband and our marriage.
He took a picture of me at the top and grabbed my hand as we walked down together, dodging sheep poo. And I suspect he said a little prayer, too.
Holly Collier Willmarth • 612-673-7947