Side trip to Saint Eadgyth’s…

This post was prompted by an idea a friend (EA had for a trip around the feature settings of various novels. She asked me where I would go and I chose a special place from Gisborne: Book of Pawns and decided to write a travel diary…

I had heard about the little priory from fellow travelers. It’s hidden inland a few miles from Great Yarmouth and friends had remarked on the secret tranquility of the place. But I was fascinated with illumination also and I discovered Saint Eadgyth, a mystic and scribe, little known now of course, was canonized not long after her death in the late 900’s on account of the miracle that occurred with her beautiful calligraphy.

In my journeying, I found a piece of her penmanship and fortuitously it was the fragment that was responsible for her canonization. The revered title of saint was conferred when her Madonna, illuminated most simply in the early Medieval style, cried real tears on the anniversary of Christ’s death. The fragment is stored as a valuable relic in the depths of the Bodleian although I have heard that the Vatican would like it transferred to their arts and antiquities collection.

Thus, fascinated not just with illuminated manuscripts but with legendary medieval priories, I determined to proceed with only the vaguest directions inland from the city of herrings…

I ignored the beaches and piers and followed the Rive Yare upstream, pausing where it split into two and thence found a track leading me to a thick clump of trees and shrubs and a little raised above the surrounding country.

The ruins of the tiny priory lay sheltered by trees younger than itself and shielded by a duck-egg blue sky. I can remember I took a sharp breath because the ghosts of history touched my shoulders. The quiet wrapped itself around like a blessing and for a moment I could quite see that what I had read was true:

‘A dulcet quiet drifted over us – bees, birds, water trickling somewhere, and silence. Whilst Gisborne had ensconced me in a number of religious houses, this one had a different air. There were similarities to be sure, but the preciously small nature of the place made me feel as if Mary had taken me in her arms and lifted me to some place beyond strife.’

I moved along what were most likely the cloisters – carved stone and the odd elegantly plain arch indicating a gracious and subtle design.

We proceeded at a measured pace and because the remains of the earlier mists had dissolved, I had time to observe that the walls continued further than I had thought. There was a hedge across the end of the herb garden and through a withied gate I could see the ordered rows of a vegetable plot and the longer pasture and wildflowers that underlay an orchard of trees.’

I walked beyond the arches in the hope I might find the remains of an orchard and infirmary garden and maybe even the headstones of the small burial ground. At first I thought the years had swallowed it all but I began to find plants: Pulmonaria, Samphire, Herb Robert. Then the cracked remains of a cistern, perhaps the original waterwell.

And finally the tumbled blocks of the headstones.

The carving was faded and illegible but I spat on my finger and rubbed at moss and lichen, the grain of the stone pitted like orange skin. And when I had all but given up with my finger red and sore, a letter began to emerge that might have been a ‘G’.

I sat on a weed-covered mound and gazed at the climbing rose thought to have been bred in this quaint place and which shrouded what was left of a wall.

‘I did not speak this time but noticed a rose lying with my self-styled cluster of the day before. A stunningly folded petal that looked as though it were shaped from fabric, a bud that had almost but not quite opened, as if it were shy of showing what it really was. It was as faded as a copper platter that might have been found in the burial mounds that littered the fields of England. I had never seen a colour like it, almost implausible. Kneeling on the dew-wet grass, I touched it with my finger.

 Ghislaine’s rose gleamed in the late afternoon light, the sun catching the centre, the stamens and folds shining like gold leaf and I was prompted to think on the centuries’ old life I had stumbled upon. Where gold leaf was worked into the edges of parchment and burnished like the centre of the rose.

I left as quietly as the silence around me, with a mind full of memories and a fallen rose-petal in my hand.

It was enough.

NB: Saint Eadgyth’s Priory, Saint Eadgyth herself and everything within this post (apart Great Yarmouth and the rose, actually known as Julia) is fictional, taken from the afore-mentioned book, but I hope you enjoyed the journey anyway!