The Dragon At His Feet

A cyberfriend of mine is fond of observing that in England, the very paths we walk on, the buildings we pass through; they are crowded, packed to the gunnels even, with history.

Nowhere is this truer than in a cathedral. Time has layered experiences, one upon another, wafer-thin in the same hallowed space.

Some traces are easier to see than others. Whilst some have scraped their immortality on a pillar,

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others are content with the beauty of their work representing their interests in eternity.

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And then there are the others. Those who left a trace on time. They had the money, or the intelligence or indeed resourcefulness, or perhaps just plain good fortune, to have left something which makes people pause. And think: remember, man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.

The early mediaeval tombs in Winchester Cathedral are grim, topped by cadavers. But as time wears on the memorials become more redolent of their tenants in life than death.

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And then, the late Victorian revivalists of the Arts and Crafts movement weigh in, and all bets are off. They will think nothing of combining mediaeval pattern and symbolism with very serious 19th century likeness.

It works, of course it does. And the eminent Bishop Harold Browne of Winchester – the Eton and Cambridge educated distinguished academic and High Churchman; the man who set up the first diocesan branch of the Mothers’ Union, and whose  work on the Thirty Nine Articles has become standard study in divinity circles- his tomb is a perfect example.

His was not a fiery life. It was exceptional, but moderate, and tempered.

And here he lies, moderate and tempered in white marble.

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He seems a little pallid compared to his neighbours: wet, white marble makes the opulent patterned cushion under his head seem rather inhospitable, and the folds of his clothes a little clammy.

But at his feet, a flash of utter flamboyance which gives the lie to a safe and comfortable life. Lying, tucked in as my cat nestles on a cold winter night, the most perfect of dragons.

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The curator of Winchester cathedral informs me the little creature is there for two reasons: Bishop Browne’s connections with Wales, that land of dragons; and because he was a member of that select band, the Order of the Garter, whose emblem centres around St George and the Dragon.

Whatever his reasons, this dragon is a darling. And by hook or by crook, when I have left this life, I, too,  would like to sleep with a little marble dragon curled at my feet.

Better do something momentous, then.

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36 thoughts on “The Dragon At His Feet

  1. Hmmm… Thomas Frigges, 1629… I wonder who he was… and if he saw 1642? Just done a quick Google search and the only results were more images similar to yours Kate. And what a cute dragon – it must be said – he seems to be patiently waiting and guarding at the same time!

  2. I feel a bit spooked out. We have yakked late into the night with a cousin visiting from the UK, on subjects from ghosts to genealogy. During the discussion I mentioned with amusement that Geni have invited me to check my relationship with Queen Elisabeth II via a relative who happens to be a Browne. We had recommended your writings to our visitor, so when I came to shut down the computer and saw you had posted, I called them to check your latest hot from the presses before retiring. We read – and were boggled.
    I love the little dragon, by the way.

    1. Ah, Andra, Death is one of my great heroes, the mediaeval one and his successors: I spend so much time poking around his paraphernalia, I forget that he can be a bit of a taboo.The trappings of a tomb can indicate so much about how someone conducted their life. Browne was clearly loved. At a tangent, I love the fact that Henry VIII had something big planned tomb-wise, and because of the seeds he sowed in life, his daughters ensured he got stuffed in a vault instead; and indeed, had Charles 1 was eventually shoehorned in with him. Wonderful.

  3. I would have to say the ears are the most striking aspect of this dragon. The detail is incredible! The stone mason must have been a master craftsman to be able to carve the marble this intricate. To me the stone mason/artist left a more interesting legacy in their work. Great post and story.

  4. They sure don’t carve dragons like they used to, Kate. An intricate marble dragon like that does look hard to top. Maybe when your time comes for your eternal rest, you’ll sleep with a little carved terrier at your feet.

  5. Now, that is an eternal thought, Kate. Of course, you will have a dragon; ye who slays dragons each day in your forest, atop your trusty bicycle steed or with your faithful Sir Macauley paving the way.

  6. NOt BAd……for an old women (re: comments @ speccy).

    Mummy shrines to oneself or to be fair, those risen to deity status by others seem odd to me, though I agree, not to all from history to modern times in fact. Once your gone your gone; dust in the wind an all that. But defining ‘momentous’ can be can be problematical. Nelson Mandala, life achievements were momentous -no statue necessary. A mother or father whom devote their life to the well being of their children in hostile lands in various parts of the world; equally as momentous but no monument at death. Their reward lives on in the eyes of their children.

  7. What a beautifully detailed little creature. He really is captivating. I can see why you are so drawn to him, Kate. You have, over time, definitely given me a keener eye towards dragon and griffin appreciation. 🙂

  8. That’s amazing, the dragon looks like a cat nestling into his robe. May you find a friendly dragon wherever you lie, Kate – I’ll find mine in the next realm, as I mean to be either cremated or liquified post mortem.

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