Having visited the caves at Wookey Hole, we drove to Priddy in order to drive down through Cheddar Gorge. There was a pause at Priddy. In the back of the mind there was a faint recall of the church having some significance, of there being some famous association. Driving up the narrow road that led to the church, there was a definite feeling that there had been something interesting that had happened here, or that someone important had been here.
Going through the church door, there seemed no obvious signs of significance. A grey stone, medieval building, the interior was typical of that to be found in any part of rural England. Perhaps the memory had been mistaken, perhaps it was another local church that had been prominent for some reason. On a shelf near the door there were butter paddles with notes about the history of the building. Immediately, the reason for its place in my memory was clear – the information noted that local legend said that Jesus had visited Priddy in the company of Joseph of Arimathea.
“There you are,” I said, “I knew someone famous had been here.” There was laughter.
The claim seemed logical, if Jesus had visited Glastonbury, an island in the Levels to the south, then he might easily have visited Priddy, high on the Mendip hills above. Surely, he wouldn’t have come so far without visiting Cheddar Gorge? And if Joseph of Arimathea was a merchant, then the Mendips, with their minerals and wool, would have been on the itinerary of a trader who had come so far.
However, the visit by a Palestinian boy would not have been nearly so interesting as a spear that stands in the corner of the chancel of a church in our parish. The spear is said to have been used by a local hero to slay a dragon that over the hill from the neighbouring Aller. Tradition says that the spear defends the local community against attack from outsiders. Aller acknowledges the presence of a dragon, it is said that their village is named after John Aller who saved the village from the dragon’s predations.
A sceptic snorted at tales of dragons and suggested that the spear in our parish was not even ancient, but had been brought home from Africa by a local landowner – it had certainly not slain anything in the area. Tales of feet walking on England’s green and pleasant land are as unlikely as dragons, whether they be from Aller or elsewhere. But magical tales do make a place more interesting; wouldn’t the world be dull if there were never a dragon to be slain or a deity to visit the village?
I’ve wondered about the dragon under the mountain sagas in the English west and Wales. I think it has to do with the way mining was done in the ancient past. You would build up a pile of timber before the face you wanted to mine. Light it, then when the fire died and the rock was super heated you put a lot of water on it cracking it.
Now I think high on the mountains there would be vents that would take the smoke and steam, the nostrils. You also find in the copper mines there was leats following contours sometimes for miles. Food for the dragon would be the slaves set to mine the ore and tend fires. And slaying the dragon might be destroying the mine.