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Great Walsingham

Great Walsingham lies approximately one mile west of Little Walsingham. In typical 'normal for Norfolk' fashion, it is actually smaller than Little Walsingham.

Cottages at Great Walsingham

Frontispiece from Hydriotaphia

In 1658, in a field in the village, 40-50 urn burials were unearthed. This inspired Sir Thomas Browne of Norwich to write his Hydriotaphia - Urne-Burial or, A Brief Discourse of the Sepulchrall Urnes Lately Found in Norfolk. However, he mistakenly assumed they were Roman when they  were, in fact, Saxon. Here is the extract from the book:

'In a Field in old Walsingham, not many moneths past, were digged up between fourty and fifty Urnes, deposited in a dry and sandy soile, not a yard deep, not farre from one another: Not all strictly of one figure, but most answering these described: Some containing two pounds of bones, distinguisable in skulls, ribs, jaws, thigh-bones, and teeth, with fresh impressions of their combustion. Besides the extraneous substances, like peeces of small boxes, or combes handsomely wrought, handles of small brasse instruments, brazen nippers, and in one some kinde of Opale.'

The book was a meditation upon mortality and has produced a number of famous quotes including:
'The long habit of living indisposeth us for dying.'

'Man is a noble animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave.'

'Generations pass while some trees stand, and old families last not three oaks.'

'To be nameless in worthy deeds exceeds an infamous history.'

'But to subsist in bones, and be but pyramidally extant, is a fallacy in duration.'

In the first chapter of The Rings of Saturn W.G. Sebald meditates, in turn, upon Thomas Browne and Hydriotaphia:
'The inquiry of oblivion blindly scatters her poppyseed and when wretchedness falls upon us one summer's day like snow, all we wish for is to be forgotten. These are the circles Browne's thoughts describe, most unremittingly perhaps in Hydriotaphia or Urn Burial of 1658, a discourse on sepulchral urns found in a field near Walsingham in Norfolk. Drawing upon the most varied of historical and natural historical sources, he expatiates upon the rites we enact when one from our midst sets out on his last journey.'


More Sir Thomas Browne photographs





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