So often in my childhood days, I lay upon that ancient hill.
I knew its every dip and crag, and even now, by force of will
my spirit feels its rocky soil dig deep into my fleshy frame.
Though years have passed, the sacred space remains the same,
a tribute to its virgin Saint, so cruelly cut down in her prime
by farmhands of the tender sex, a faith in God her only crime.
The sun shone bright, a gentle breeze fluttered in her yellow hair,
the day she walked that track, with loving smile and ne’er a care,
to carry out her guardians task, with no suspicion in her head,
that ‘ere the morn’ was done, in bloody pool, she’d lay down, dead.
The hay was ripe, but it must wait; the scythes had wicked work to do;
grasped by evil hands they hid, until their prey came into view.
As she tripped round the bend, with slashing blades they cut her down.
While angels watched, she passed away, her beauteous face not marred by frown.
As her blood seeped through the earth, a spring appeared where she fell.
Pimpernels grew o’er death’s stains, to mark the place, and mark it well.
In bloody hue, they told the tale, and evermore, uphold the truth
of Chittlehampton’s martyr; Saint Urith, murdered in sweet youth.
I grew up one-and a-half miles from Chittlehampton, very close to the farmhouse Saint Urith was reputed to have lived in. I often walked along the public footpath which had been named for her. It was the path that, according to legend, she had walked. Saint Urith’s Holy day was the 8th of July, and our school mark it each year by visiting the well, en masse, walking in pairs, a snake of about seventy or eighty children, ranging from five to eleven years old, with the eldest at the front. I resented the glorification of this modest monument, as it wa my belief – and the belief of many others – through a tradition perhaps passed down through the centuries, that the well was elsewhere, on an unspoilt hill towards my home of Stowford, covered by scrubby gorse. To the edge of the hill was a small spring, and scarlet pimpernels grew all around it. They were the only scarlet pimpernels in the vicinity. I used to sit there and secretly imagine I felt the spirit of Saint Urith, dispite my atheist upbringing.
No scarlet pimpernels grew anywhere near the well to which we made our little annual pilgrimage.
This is my second attempt to do justice to the story of Saint Urith – I won’t give up until I get it right.
©Jane Paterson Basil