Rhetoric in Ely
Today I spent a good few hours in Ely Cathedral, and had plenty of opportunity to look at what is often overlooked: namely the epitaphs beneath your feet as you walk round. My favourite, as I have said before (and if you can put it like that), is memorial to the architect George Basevi who fell to his death while inspecting work in the tower (that’s above).
But today I found myself looking at the slightly less spectacular, with all the necessary ambivalences of ‘churchyard creeping’ as my Mum used to call it. Mostly, when you get to my time of life, you look at the age of death (did you do better or worse than them?). There’s also the language though and the stories of family life that you can rightly or wrongly infer.
I found myself pondering on the memorial of Bishop Keene, who died in 1781, set elegantly into the floor of one of the chantry chapels.
I was first struck by that wonderful bragging of modesty in the apparent postscript to the stone. This memorial was ‘placed here by the direction of Bishop Keene’.. who had expressly said he wanted no other monument put up to his memory. But then I spotted Mrs Keene a few feet away.
Now I have to confess that I misread this at first. I though it said that she died at the age of 19 when the Bishop was over 60, and I was beginning to reflect on the age gap and tragic early death etc etc . . . until I realised that the inscription actually as 49 (which made a bit of a difference). All the same it was fun to stand there and enjoy that wonderfully eighteenth century jargon about her ‘unfeigned piety and humility’ (what, I thought, did feigned piety look like?) and to think a little bit about the life of the Bishop’s wife.
I was still thinking jargon when we went across the road to get some lunch, and I came face to face with a rather weird bit of twenty-first century lingo. We sat down in a pub and looked at the menu, having eyed a rather splendid plate of fish and chips going past. The menu offered us this choice, but with the alarming extra that you could ‘upgrade’ to cod for a quid more. Tasty I am sure, but what on earth were you getting at the cheaper rate?
We didn’t find out, because — in the face of the upgrade option — we moved to the pub next door.