Sunken Kirk

Last month, I visited again Swinside stone circle, this time noting its alternative name: Sunkenkirk. This is a strange name for a place of apparently pre-Christian paganism. Jo Sweeney asserts:

The name "Sunkenkirk" comes from the legend that the stones were originally to be used for the building of a church (kirk). Every time they tried to build the church, the Devil caused the stones to sink into the ground creating the circle, hence the name.

My own estimation is that the place was used for Christian worship, as either an attempt to cleanse and claim the ancient stones for the true God, or as a discreet place in which seventeenth-century nonconformists might elude the gaze of prying magistrates (kirk was, and is, common parlance for church north of the border).

Whatever its origin, the myth of the devil preventing a church’s building is both foolish and insightful. When the Lord Jesus said that the ‘gates of hades’ would ‘not prevail against’ His church in Matthew 16:18, He presumably is allowing for those same gates to successfully launch sallies and attacks. Though their ultimate goal- the destruction of the gospel- will fail, the intervening millennia of warfare will not be without efficacy. The churches in France and Spain were all but destroyed in the Counter Reformation and the government of the People’s Republic of China is doing its best to do so today. Satan, surely, is aiding and approving of these suppressions and persecutions. The devil and his darkness is ultimately doomed and defeated, but many a church suffers from his wrath and tirade, sinking for a season.