Once there was a family tradition of visiting family graves on Good Friday. The day would culminate with tea with Aunt Ella and Uncle Clem at their Pitney farmhouse, the table would be laden with food. Uncle Clem would prompt howls of laughter from the children by showing them the thunderbox in the garden.
Sitting, eating lunch my mother reflected on such distant days. The moments seemed to belong a lost dreamtime, to a realm of memory and imagination outside of our current reality. Resolved to visit the grave of my grandparents, I suggested to my sister that we retrace the distant steps.
Driving the narrow lane to Aller church, it was hard to imagine what might have been the scene some eleven and a half centuries ago.
Inside Aller church, there are two fonts. One dates from the Seventeenth Century, the other is primitive. It is in the primitive font, recovered from a well where it is said to have been thrown by Cromwell’s men, that the Danish king Guthrun was said to have been baptized after being defeated by Alfred in 878.
It is in this place that lie Luxtons and Locks, maternal forebears. Placing our floral tribute at the grave of our great grandparents, we found the church door firmly locked. On the most solemn day of the Christian year, people were excluded.
The Crossman family appear in parish records for the past four hundred years and standing in Huish Episcopi churchyard there is an awareness of walking paths trod by generations of forebears. It seems only a moment since I conducted the burial of my grandmother, the headstone tells us it was fourteen years ago, and that it is thirty years since the death of my grandfather. Only the churchyard was open.
And so we went to Pitney, passing Stream Farm where abundant teas had been shared, we arrived at the parish church of Pitney Lortie. Ella and Clem lie close to the church gate, facing eastward awaiting the day of judgement. To the west of their grave lies their so, dead at the age of forty-four. A notice at the gate told visitors that the church was closed.
The death of the Church of England will allow its buildings and its burial places to return to the people to whom they belong, the people from whom the church’s benefactors extracted rents, the people on whom the clergy imposed tithes. The church is a latecomer in these places, an outsider, an alien presence.
My family were Saxons, Parliamentarians, yeomen, they were people without regard for pomp or hierarchy. Rooted for a Millennium, future members will perhaps again visit their forebears in Good Friday sunshine.