Sunday, September 14, 2014

Doing Research OnSite - Setting the Scene

I spent three weeks in September visiting the three main locations that are featured in my first Sargent-Paget mystery, The Spoils of Avalon, and the next few posts will reflect my experiences at Lanercost Priory and Brampton Town in the north of England (Cumbria), and the village of Glastonbury with the ruins of the Abbey in Somerset in the south. Some intriguing and enlightening experiences!

Built in 1169 by the Dacre family, the Priory was the home of Augustinian canons who, unlike monks in a monastery, did not live a cloistered life, but rather went out to the people in the surrounding areas, preaching and teaching and serving the poor. 

When I first arrived at the site, which is now managed by the English Heritage Society, I was struck with how small it seemed, and I didn't expect that. Set in the midst of rolling hills alive with numerous
flocks of sheep that move from meadow to meadow throughout the day, and surrounded with the chirping of birds, roosters crowing, and jackdaws swooping and calling, the Prior is, at first impression, rather homey and domestic. After a very little while, however, I began to feel it was just exactly the right size, and felt very good just walking around the building and grounds. The baa-ing of the sheep, lowing of cattle, and the roosters and chickens clucking and carrying on made it feel timeless, as if these were the sounds that the people in the Middle Ages heard all day long, too. There were no airplanes overhead, and the car noises were relatively infrequent, especially after dusk.

Although the ruins are extensive, there is a considerable part of the original church that is still in use as an Anglican church today, St. Mary Magdalene--it had been repaired (using many stones taken from the nearby Hadrian's Wall) and maintained since the late 1500's, after Henry VIII dissolved all the Roman Catholic religious houses, large and small--and still is home to parishioners and worshippers who are baptized, married and buried within its ancient walls.