Urith

chittlehampton-from-southImage credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ChittlehamptonFromSouth.JPG
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

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

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20 thoughts on “Urith

    1. There’s a hymn to St Urith – in fact, there are two. One is sung at Trinity College, Cambridge (it’s a University, but for some reason Oxford and Cambridge call their Universities Colleges), but the other one is little known. I think it’s only sung in Chittlehampton church, where they have leaflets with the words on. I’ve got one somewhere. I want to write a poem (or a hymn) as beautiful as that one. First verse:
      Daily the morning’s rays sang out to God their praise,/And freshly shone on Urith’s Holy frame./’Twas there the maiden fair plucked flowers for her hair,/And there her faith burned steady as a flame.
      I can’t remember the rest, but it’s lovely.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. I think I must be getting too fussy – I’ve been reading the classics lately, and finding myself picking holes in Coleridge and Sir Walter Scott – even Wordsworth. My mother would turn in her grave – she loved Wordsworth, and so did I, when she recited his poems from memory, while working in the kitchen…

      Liked by 1 person

  1. A good poetic tale about a possible event? It enabled the building of the church, at any rate. What I find somewhat interesting is Christianity in the 6th C. ? In Britain? Really did not exist, except perhaps in Wales? Personally, I follow no religion yet believe in God. God lives in my heart. The “church” is notorious, for scooping up folk tales, etc. For it’s own rewards. Certainly, why should it have not been closer to Stowford? If it occurred at all? Nice poem, I found it intriguing; since I am commenting. Cheers Jamie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment. I enjoy comments like yours, since they lead me to research the facts. Apparently, during the 4th C. Christianity was visible, though not popular. I found Anglo-Saxon Christian Saints listed from as far back at the 3rd C., but I don’t know how reliable those dates are. My source claims that Urith lived in the 8th C., but also says that she was converted to Christianity by St. Kea, yet he was supposed to have lived in the 5th C.
      I like the story – I grew up with it – but I think it may be complete fabrication. It’s likely that she was killed by invading Saxons or Vikings.
      It’s all good fun anyway, even though the church robbed pagans of their stories, and gave Jesus his birthday in December in an effort to bury the solstice.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I found the story completely intriguing and compelling, and your enthrallment with the legend of Urith shines brightly through. It’s definitely stirred my imagination. The pragmatic part of me tends to think that myths are little more than embellishments of some portion of the truth of a story…but I tend to not like that prasmatic nag very much, so I tend to ignore her. I love to get swept up in myths, and legends, and fanciful tales. It’s much more fun there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the way I feel about it. The down-to-earth side of me know that it’s more likely she was gored by a stray viking, but as a child I was enchanted by that patch of scarlet pimpernels by the spring. It occurred to me years later that a spring could sprout up anyhere, and pimpernels would be naturally attracted to the damp. I drowned that thought by reminding myself that no other flowers grew in that spot.
      Such faith is very alluring.

      Liked by 1 person

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