Sunday 11 July 2021

Urn Burial, 21st-Century Style

 Early this morning, while drifting back to sleep, I caught some of that Radio 4 perennial On Your Farm and, for once, my attention was caught. The presenter was at Soulton Hall farm in Shropshire, reporting on a wonderful retroprogressive enterprise – the creation of a long barrow, made in much the same way as those millennia-old barrows that still dot our remoter landscapes, and for much the same purposes. The Soulton Hall long barrow is designed not as an archaeological curiosity but as a repository for urns containing the ashes of the dead, placed on shelves around the interior, decorated with whatever mementoes the living choose to leave. Leases of various dates are being sold, and the barrow is already proving popular. I can understand why: this is surely a fine way to commemorate the dead in a suitably accessible but numinous space, while at the same time  forging a link across time with the countless generations of dead who went before. Sir Thomas Browne would surely approve. Indeed, hearing about the Soulton Hall long barrow sent me back (yet again) to his great Hydriotaphia: Urne Buriall; or, a Discourse on the Sepulchrall Urnes Lately Found in Norfolk...
'In the deep discovery of the Subterranean world, a shallow part would satisfie some inquirers; who, if two or three yards were open about the surface, would not care to rake the bowels of Potosi, and regions towards the centre. Nature hath furnished one part of the Earth, and man another. The treasures of time lie high, in Urnes, Coynes, and Monuments, scarce below the roots of some vegetables. Time hath endlesse rarities, and shows of all varieties; which reveals old things in heaven, makes new discoveries in earth, and even earth itself a discovery. That great Antiquity America lay buried for a thousand years; and a large part of the earth is still in the Urne unto us...'  

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