There is no GPS to the Past

Welcome to Under Lynden Church. I have always been fascinated that the remnants of distant past lives can be discovered beneath our feet – human remains and the objects they used. I have a particular affinity with the Anglo Saxon period, once called the ‘Dark Ages’ compared to the preceding Roman period, but now increasingly recognised as the formative period when England was born.

Sometimes we must search for these remains; sometimes the earth gives them up as a serendipitous gift. Their former owners prodding our toes as we walk over them; catching our attention; smiling as we stoop to pick up their long-lost belonging or saddened that we will come across evidence of their death. More often than not the dead toy with us, giving us a glimpse of a past story – a few lines, an excerpt, a confusing image of words half-blurred. We peer, trying to interpret them, as we would a road sign through a rain-spattered windscreen. We gather other evidence from history, written records, buildings, the landscape and increasingly use science to unlock hidden secrets. We try to make sense of what we have found. Yet, there is no GPS to the past. That’s most of the fun, where the detective work and the storytelling play their part.

There are a few places where more of the past is preserved. I especially love old English country churches where there is surviving Anglo-Saxon architecture and imagery. To close the creaking door and stand alone, smelling the damp scent of the past on cold, winter days. Ghosts, I am certain, must smell like this. To be sure, old churches have had their share of dramatic changes; through the Reformation, Civil War and Victorian restoration, but beneath their tiled floors what might the past have kept safe? Who is knocking at our soles? Hence the idea of the book and the title.

I have a close connection to the village I came from and to the surrounding region of the Fens and East Anglia, even though I now live on the other side of the world. This region is the setting of the story and I am fortunate to return each year.

When I was young, I sometimes felt that the whole history of my village had somehow occurred during my lifetime – that I had personal memories from every century. Unfortunately, as I grew older and came to understand mortality and chronology, I lost that sense of mystery. However, I replaced it with a deep desire to understand more of the past, including my family’s past, and past beliefs and myths. A branch of my family has lived in this same village since at least the early 1500s – although I only found out in the past few years. The earliest record I have found is a mention of my ancestor in a manor court roll from the reign of Henry VIII – and I continue to search for evidence of more distant links.

As I walk through the landscape of my youth, reflecting on the signs left by past generations, I can feel the value of the belief of Indigenous Australians that the land is sacred and it owns us, rather than us owning it. I hope that I have imbued Under Lynden Church with the same intoxicating sense of walking in a sacred landscape. Where the struggles, toil, beliefs, sadness and joys of past lives have left their mark for us to find, try to understand and to bring to life.

I have researched the subject matter of my book as carefully as possible. It is thoroughly grounded in what we know of the period when the Vikings invaded the Kingdom of the East Angles. At times, it may appear to drift into fantasy but this reflects the beliefs of the time. For example, Edmund, the last Anglo-Saxon king of the East Angles, came from the Wuffinga royal dynasty – ‘Kin of the Wolf’. There are folk tales of miraculous connections between Edmund and wolves. So, I have constructed other similar stories to try to walk closer to the minds and hearts of at least some Anglo Saxons.

One of the characters in my book is made a saint, so I researched the topic of Anglo-Saxon saints. I found it so interesting that I penned a short article, Who Became an Anglo-Saxon Saint and Why?’ I’d welcome any comments. I have written (and continue to write) other articles on aspects of Anglo-Saxon life and beliefs, and these are contained in this blog site.

I hope you enjoy reading some of my work and the photos I have taken.