Wander through the grounds of any of the great old houses of England, and it is not uncommon to stumble upon the gravestone of a beloved animal.
We honour them because they loved us and we loved them; they were their own people, and when they leave it creates a gaping space where they aren’t any more.
Here in England, a nation of animal lovers, we mark where they lie.
And thus, when Winkle the stray cat from Dowlish Wake, near Ilminster in Devon, died, those who knew him buried him in a local garden, and cast about for a stone to mark where he lay.
And they found the very thing: a perfect piece of Oolithic limestone, with the most fabulous carving: a figure surrounded by decoration and some writing in Latin. I suppose the writing should have given it away.
For many years the stone marked Winkle’s resting place, until Chris Brewchorne, a potter with a studio just over the road, spotted the stone and encouraged Winkle’s people to get it examined.
The stone went to be examined by specialist in such finds, Professor Dominic Tweddle, who declared it to be an unparalleled example of English Anglo Saxon carving, dating to the ninth century. It depicts St Peter and is engraved [S]CS [PE]TRUS, and is thought to be part of something much larger.
It was auctioned off at Sotheby’s in 2014 – read the fabulous catalogue notes here – and Somerset Heritage Centre has gained funding, assisted by ArtFund, to buy it so we can all go and take a good long look.
I shall go and see it, of course; and as I gaze at this stunning frieze I shall send up a fluttering, butterfly-light prayer for the stray cat whose place of resting it marked.
You can read the full story here.