THE Rev Bob Thorn was on a spiritual journey rowing back from Cornwall recreating the traditions of Celtic saints when he died.
The body of the Burton Bradstock vicar was found on Monday after a long search following the discovery of an empty rowing boat at Seatown.
The 59-year-old church leader announced last year he was going on a sabbatical to Cornwall from March to May but was planning to return for the Easter break.
He said was going to follow the Celtic Christian saints in the way they travelled by coracle.
He told parishioners he was not mad enough to do the same but would be using a rowing boat.
He told them: “The Celtic Christian saints were ascetic to a reckless degree, and I need to make some shift in that direction to be able to understand something of what they were about.
“Then I shall row home again. Did I say how I was going to get there?
"Well. By water, as so many of those Holy people did in those half forgotten times.
“They went about by coracle. I have a little boat, which I know is not authentic, but then have you ever paddled a coracle any distance yourself?
“Do you think I am mad?”
Close friend Bridport Rector the Rev Andrew Evans said the Rev Thorn died doing something he was passionate about.
He said: “Obviously when the news came it was devastating. We are all very sorry both for him and for his wife Jean.
“He died doing something that he passionately wanted to do but of course the outcome of it has been such a tragedy both for him and for Burton Bradstock.
“He was a larger than life character, a hugely spiritual man, which is why he was doing what he was doing – he was doing the Celtic spirituality thing, going on to the sea and so on.
“In Celtic times the early members of the church that’s how they travelled, they got into their coracles and rowed and that’s how the gospel spread.
“In a sense he was trying to recreate that sense of journeying and pilgrimage but it is a devastating loss.
“He was hugely respected and well liked. Thoughts and prayers go to his wife Jean and to his mum and the wider family.
“He will be greatly missed. For me personally he was a great chum – I’d known Bob since my days in Bristol when we were both priests there – we were ordained together in 1991.
“I have known him for more than 20 years. It is a huge loss.
“The shock has rippled through the diocese.”
The Right Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury, has made a statement on the death of the Revd Bob Thorn.
Bishop Nicholas said: “I was devastated to learn of the death of the Revd Bob Thorn, Rector of the Bride Valley Benefice, in a rowing accident.
“Bob was a remarkable man of incredible determination. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Jean, who is also a priest and with whom he shared much of his ministry, and with his children.
“Funeral arrangements will be announced in due course.”
The vicar’s body was found after an empty boat prompted a huge missing person search by rescue services.
Portland Coastguard received reports of a small boat that had been washed ashore on Seatown Beach.
The small rowing boat was found on the eastern end of Seatown Beach and a large scale multi-agency search was launched by Portland Coastguard on Monday morning.
Coastguard teams from West Bay, Lyme Regis, Exmouth and Beer and all were tasked with carrying out a shoreline search of their areas.
The RNLI Lifeboat from Lyme Regis, both RNLI Lifeboats from Exmouth and the Independent lifeboat from Sidmouth were also launched and the Portland rescue helicopter was also scrambled.
After hours of searching, the Rev Thorn’s body was discovered by West Bay officers in East Ebb Cove at the base of the cliffs below Thorncombe Beacon.
A spokesman for the team said: “Due to the difficult terrain and location, rescue helicopter 106 assisted with the recovery of the deceased and all teams were then stood down to return to station.
“Our thoughts are with the persons family and friends at this most difficult time.”
Church member Juniper Greener from Long Bredy said: “He rowed down to Cornwall and he was aiming to be like the old Celtic saints and just go and survive on nothing and be self-sufficient.
“We shall miss him enormously.
“It was not just as a vicar but as a man he was fully rounded intellectual, cultural, spiritual, musician, cook, communicator.
“He did everything gladly and humbly, he was joyfully eccentric. He was such a good communicator with anybody of any age.”
THE FULL TEXT OF HIS ANNOUNCEMENT AS IT APPEARED IN THE BRIDE VALLEY NEWS PARISH MAGAZINE
I have been allowed a sabbatical which in terms of ecclesiojargonic linguistics is known as extended study leave. Clergy are supposed to have one every 10 years or so.
I have been ordained over 35 years now and have had one such leave, when Jean and I walked 450 miles from Bristol to Lindisfarne on pilgrimage.
My new one is to run for three months from the beginning of March
next year to the end of May. I hope to be back in circulation for a small window over Easter, and then sink away for another small bit to write.
My last effort was to steer well clear of dusty academia, and to find
out about walking in the way of Celtic saints by doing it, knowing in my own feet and weariness the constancy of God’s presence and the amusing and inventive quality of his providence.
This time I am taking off to find out in my own self what the Celtic
saints were after when they went off alone, and sat either rapt in glory or in a state of holy grumpiness in either squalid or splendid isolation.
I shall be going down to stop in a small hut at the top of a sea wall
at the end of a village in Cornwall. There is no water or electricity, and I shall be making shift for food. The Celtic Christian saints were ascetic to a reckless degree, and I need to make some shift in that direction to be able to understand something of what they were about.
Then I shall row home again. Did I say how I was going to get there?
Well. By water, as so many of those Holy people did in those half forgotten times. They went about by coracle. I have a little boat, which I know is not authentic, but then have you ever paddled a coracle any distance yourself?
Do you think I am mad?
Answers please, on the back of a piece of seaweed, always
remembering, please that the Celts were for the most part a non-literate culture.