Meditation in a Country Churchyard.
a tale of two churchesClick thumbnail to view full-size
No fear amongst all these memories
The sun made a brief and damp appearance yesterday between two lowering clouds over my little village near Stanstead Airport in England. Seizing the chance for a bit of exercise, I jammed an old pair of sneakers on my feet - ones that looked able to handle the February mud in the fields - and set forth. For some reason, a new and unscalable fence had been erected round the cricket field where I usually passed, so I headed into a ploughed field parallel with the road down to the airport; one strange to me.
One good thing about Britain (there, you thought I'd never say that!) is that farmers are obliged to leave right of way through most of the fields and farms - you take pot-luck with belligerent cows with only two teats - they also are required to leave substantial margins at the edge of fields, so there is always a trodden-down place to walk.
I skirted the large field keeping an eye out for interesting artefacts perhaps turned up by the plough. It’s incredible what comes to light all the time here, sometimes huge fortunes in Roman gold. All I found was a nearly perfectly round flint that might have a fossil in it...I shared it with a startled jackdaw.
As I reached the end of the ploughed section and turned left in between two high hedges onto a hidden, rough piece of grassy hardpan, I could see the spire of a church a couple of hundred yards ahead of me in a grove of trees. This cause some head scratching. I mean, there was no road into here that I knew of; don’t tell me I had entered some weird time warp.
Well, no, as I walked into the large area around the church I saw it was the Holy Trinity Church, which had a sign pointing to it way back from part where I had come from, back on the high road out of the village. I had been fooled, because I had thought there was just a short lane down to it, not the half-mile driveway that put it into the country.
Anyone that knows my hubs will be aware I am not at all religious, but I am incurably sentimental and old graves get to me somehow: I expect they do to many of you.
After checking the new section of those in eternal rest, I carried on to the front of the church (there was no one else there, it would have been spooky in the gathering dusk I expect, if I had thought about it). Here were the old weathered, cracked and crumbling headstones, many with indecipherable messages.
Some of the earliest here were in the 1600’s! There were quite a few in the years from 1700 to 1850. I was smitten. This is just one obscure little church in Hertfordshire, one of thousands similar all over these islands, where the dead have been slowly melding into the common clay for hundreds - in some cases, thousands - of years! Here, in my little local church were simple headstones mouldering in place for all the development that we now call the United States! Columbus only just predated the earliest.
I must admit I was a little teary-eyed by now...maybe it was the cold. But...through all the wars this land had fought, The huge world wars: WW1 in 1914 - WW2 in the 1940’s. All the changes throughout the world over the last 400 years...and these bodies, skeletons and ashes had lain quietly here, in the pitch-dark and cold dirt, under this torn sky and whispering leaves in this humble corner of England, while a phalanx of watchers, most themselves now dust, had filed by and paid their respects, or, in my case, just gawped.
How impossible to comprehend, then, as we gaze at an insect trapped in amber that has been so entombed for hundreds of times longer than the whole of human history?
Some of the very oldest and most humble of markers had the writing erased by the dust, frost, heat and wind of centuries. What a contrast between these forgotten citizens and the later graves, some as recent as the year 2010, with the small toys, colourful flowers and signs of love and attention. I was astonished to find that some of these as old as 20 years still had flowers recently added adorning them. Someone still cared and cherished their memory.
What an ancient country this is. Even recent history is 1000 years old; churches lie in ruins dating back to 800 AD or even earlier. I went to school in Canterbury and often ate my lunch in the huge, gothic cathedral next door that was begun in the 1200’s! I often chewed a spam sandwich and gulped a coke in the little nook where Thomas Becket was slain by King Henry the Second’s assassins...that was a mere 1170.
So my first little walk of the new year took me into some interesting and thoughful territory. I hope you enjoyed my mentioning it.
This article is for hubber Jamie Brown and her Henry...a far better one than Becket’s false friend we hope!
(Many happy returns, Hank).
Note: Google just told me the church dates back to the 13th. Century, but I don't think any of the graves were quite that old - I could be mistaken.
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