I was going to mention the ancient Abbot of Waverley Abbey, who was discovered (much to my regret at missing the event) a few weeks before I started work as a mason's labourer for the old Ministry of Works during another summer holiday from college. This post is yet another excuse for me to put up the photo I took of H.I. heading toward the Abbey one overcast, Autumn day, years ago.
Waverley Abbey was the first Cistercian monastery to be founded in England, and - as always - they chose a beautiful spot to place it, in a wide crook of the river Wey, overlooked by densely wooded hills with swathes of rich pastureland around it for the highly lucrative flocks of sheep. The carp lake is still there and is still well stocked with fish, since there are no monks left to eat them after the Dissolution turned the vast abbey into a convenient source of building materials for local, private buildings.
I had already spent many happy hours alone there - wading in the shallow river and pulling out handfuls of medieval, bronze pins from the gravel bottom that were thrown in during some ancient magical rituals - when I was sent to Waverley as part of a small team to carry out some basic repairs to the crumbling, stone walls.
My old foreman told me that he had been there a few weeks before, when a team of archeologists had unearthed a large, lead coffin belonging to a long-dead abbot, and had decided to open it because it was in such good condition. Normally, these coffins collapse and crumple over the 800 years that they are in the acid-rich ground, but this one was perfectly intact.
They all stood around as two of the team went around the lid, prising it away from the main box, and as they broke the seal, a long gasp was heard as air rushed into the 800 year-old vacuum and the lid was lifted away.
They could hardly believe their eyes at what they saw. The abbot lay there wearing a slight smile and looking as if he had died only a few days before. He had longish, dark hair which was brushed away from his forehead and looked recently oiled and glossy. There was feint colour in his cheeks and his robe was richly embroidered. His hands were clasped across his chest and - miraculously - held a small flower which still had it's original colour in all the petals.
Within a few moments - like the final scene in a Hammer Dracula film - the whole thing turned to dust as oxygen attacked, and a few moments after that, they found themselves staring down at a skeleton lying in a thin bed of grey ash. Nobody had thought to take photographs.