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