Where Do You Think I Am?
I can’t hear the bells of Westminster Abbey from my room, but I do hear the local Ding Ding Church as my grandson calls St. Luke’s only a few blocks away. I am here in London for next week’s big genealogy show, Who Do You Think You Are LIVE, billed as “The Biggest Family History Event in the World.” Lucky me, I also have a chance to visit with my son and family who live in London, not far from Olympia where WDYTYA LIVE will be held.
And. . . we’ve had a chance to do a little greater London sightseeing. I arrived with plenty of time to get over jet-lag, and join the family on a trip to the Cotswolds west of London. If you’ve seen “The Hobbit” film or read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, you’ve had a wonderful introduciton to the Cotswolds. When Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were friends and fellow instructors (dons) at Oxford, they belonged to a group of literary friends called the Inklings. Their wonderful fantasy worlds grew out of their friendship, and in some ways, both men gave the Cotswold countryside a place in their tales.
It’s a beautiful landscape of rolling hills, narrow roads borded by close hedgerows, and fields dotted with woolly sheep. It was the Shire for Tolkien, the English countryside that was being threatened by world events larger than anyone knew at the time.
Tucked in among the stone farm houses and villages are old castles, churches, and ruins. In midwinter, many of the sites are closed, but with a talkative three-and-a-half year old who wanted to see knights and castles, we were motivated to find something that might inspire and impress. We didn’t have to look far.
Malmesbury Abbey, dating from the 12th century, was the center of life in Malmesbury, thought to be the first capital of England and home of the first King of England, Athelstan.
Note the huge reflective mirrow in the corner to give drivers a view of what’s coming their way.
We arrived at the Abbey by winding through narrow cobbled streets and blind corners on a grey midweek afternoon. Snow flurries made us walk quickly through the churchyard, but I did notice the stone coffin outside the beautiful carved Norman porch. Evidenty, the coffin had been excavated when a car park was renovated (sound familiar?) and placed at the front of the church. The helpful docent inside the church explained that the holes in the coffin were indeed drainage holes, left to help remove bodily fluids from the stone tomb. I had another theory, but will have to do more research on the subject.
The tomb of King Athelstan, crowned King of Wessex in 925, stands in the north aisle of the Abbey. It’s really only a memorial, however, as his remains were buried under a church tower, and the location is now lost. (Sounds a bit like the Richard III story, doesn’t it?) Beautiful stained glass windows are espeically noticable. The windows from William Morris’ shop made in 1901, are saturated with color and fabulous examples of early 20th century style.
Luce Memorial Window, crafted in William Morris’ workshops 1901
Outside, we braved the snow flurries to stand and look up at the abbey walls and ruins where a great spire once stood higher than that of Salisbury Cathedral. I may not have ancestors buried in the churchyard at Malmesbury Abbey, but it was a very worthwhile afternoon.
Malmesbury Abbey Churchyard