The landscape setting is incomparable. The Via Sacra or pilgrims' way snakes steeply up the hillside through ruins that date back to the sixth, fifth and fourth centuries BCE (the fifth was the "golden age" of Pericles' Athens). Highlights include the Temple of Apollo, treasuries built to house the spoils of battle offered to the gods, the Sibyl Rock where the oracle was said to preside, a theatre and right at the top, a stadium. From these heights you look down to the gymnasium and the famous, much-photographed circular Tholos of Athena. The museum houses a memorable display of sculptures, including the legendary Charioteer in bronze, one of the most famous statues from antiquity. (Hadrian is there too, by the way, the Roman emperor who fell in love with Greece and came to Delphi, an unexpected point of contact - in addition to the weather - with our distant Northumberland homeland and its Roman Wall.)
But it was not for any of these reasons that we were especially touched by Delphi. For me, it was crystallised by a retired school teacher I was talking to about our Greek trip. She is a reader in her local cathedral. She told me she had taken many school groups to Greece and got them performing scenes from Greek drama (did she also mention Shakespeare?) in the ancient theatres they visited. Delphi was one of them. "Of course, the thing about Delphi" she remarked "is that it's a sacred place. Even after all these centuries, you feel something there, something in the stones that remember how mortals once went there to look beyond themselves, commune with the gods and seek their wisdom". I paraphrase but she put into words what I'd been sensing. When I checked it out with my wife, she said she had experienced it too.
She (my wife) is a psychotherapist with a particular interest in Carl Gustav Jung whose influence on analytic practice has been profound. Above the door of his practice in Kusnacht. Switzerland, he carved an inscription: vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit. "Whether called upon or not, the god will be there." That saying is attributed to the Delphic oracle, said to be the answer the Spartans got when they consulted her about taking up arms against Athens. Jung elevated it into a universal principle about how urgent it is that humanity seeks a deeper wisdom than is attainable through reason alone. He once said that he had not encountered a problem or question in any of his patients that did not turn out to be religious in origin. The divine, always present in human life even when it is unacknowledged, is the source of hagia sophia, the holy wisdom that alone can grant mortals a new vision of our better selves, the potential we are called to realise if we are to become what we are meant to be - in his language, find individuation.
The Christian question is, of course: who is the deus in that saying, this god who is always present in our midst? This was precisely the matter St Paul addressed on the Areopagus when he observed the dedication on one of the altars he had seen, To an unknown god. I wrote about this last time. Christianity gives a name to this deus, says Paul, and tells us that he is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified and raised from the dead. In him, what is unknown becomes known, the hidden God is disclosed to us. This God invites us to know and to love him and, yes, vocatus atque non vocatus, always find him alive and present among us by the power of Hagia Sophia, his holy and life-giving Spirit.
Delphi bears witness to humanity's long search. It's one more in the long list of places remote from Christian revelation where I've unexpectedly glimpsed "the idea of the holy". In our own parish of Haydon Bridge you can find what is left of a Roman Mithraic temple standing alongside Hadrian's Wall. I quip with the vicar that we are one of very few parishes in rural Northumberland where there is a religious site belonging to another faith community. We shouldn't dismiss the spiritual potency of these places. It's a narrow view of Christianity that limits the ways in which God discloses himself, for there are many names by which he is perceived.
But for us Christians, there is a name that is above every name. Albert Schweitzer wrote at the end of his great book The Quest for the Historical Jesus: "He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us the same words, Follow me! and sets us to the tasks which he has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who he is."
Here is Christianity's answer to Delphi, the fulfilment of all that it reaches out for. Here is where our spiritual yearnings and hungers are met; where all our oracles and dreams are transcended; where we find our God-given selves at last.