Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The 'Barbarous Foes' of Bryant Lewis


In the middle of a day full of meetings, I decided to listen to my own advice and take some quality time doing some informal learning. Given that Norwich has the largest collection of urban medieval churches in northern Europe it isn't difficult to wander in, explore and learn something new. And so it proved when I visited St George's Colegate...

There are many wonderful things within this lovely well-lit church. On this occasion the thing which grabbed my attention, and stretched my imagination, was the ledger slab (grave stone) just inside the nave entrance...


The first thing that seized my attention was the simple skull and crossbones. Just to make sure we get the message, the crossed bones over the hourglass speak of the sands of time and mortality. And in the centre is a death shroud - "Remember death for you shall die". 

When I read the inscription I was fascinated to learn that this is the memorial to a man - Bryant Lewis - who, on September 13th 1698, was murdered on a heath near Thetford, having been stabbed fifteen times. 

There's a story here, and I would love to discover more about it. But, even if we are not able to establish any further facts about this case, we can imagine...

... We can imagine:

* The shock and pain of his loved ones upon hearing the news of his murder
* The tears that splashed down on the cold church floor as his body was lowered into the earth
* The sense of vengeance his surviving relatives must've have felt
* The desperation of the perpetrator - or perpetrators - of this terrible crime, to cover their tracks and escape the hangman's rope

And reading the epitaph on this monument one is struck by the searing anger felt by Bryant's loved ones:

'"Fifteen wide wounds this stone veils from thine eyes,
But reader, hark their voice doth pierce the skies.
Vengeance, cried Abel’s blood against cursed Cain,
But better things spake Christ when he was slain.
Both, both, cries Lewis ’gainst his barbarous foes,
Blood, Lord, for blood, but save his soul from woe.'

Be curious - explore

Colin Howey

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