"Anthem" by Leonard Cohen

"The birds they sang at the break of day
Start again, I heard them say
Don't dwell on what has passed away
or what has yet to be...

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in"

Friday, October 24, 2008

Melrose Abbey

Melrose Abbey in Black and White
(photo taken by Beth Kotkin, 8/2004)

Melrose, along with the other Border Abbeys of Dryburgh, Jedburgh and Kelso, had been repeatedly attacked and burned during the Border Wars between Scotland and England. The rest of the destruction was done during the Scottish Reformation, when many Scottish Catholic Abbeys were defaced of all "idolatry".

This beautiful shell is all that remains of what once was a thriving community of industrious monks. For a time before the bloody Border Wars that devastated this region, it was the center of knowledge and commerce in the British Isles. Ideas, books, scholars and goods were exchanged directly from Melrose with major centers of European learning during the "Dark Ages".

My most ancient Scottish ancestor, Gualter (William) de Somerville, was from a Norman family that came to England from Normandy with William the Conquerer in the invasion of 1066. He fought at the Battle of Hastings, and was rewarded with lands first in Northern England (which his descendants lost in punishment for being part of the revolt of English Lords against the Crown in 1213 that led eventually to the signing of the Magna Carta). Gaulter de Somerville came North to Scotland with David I in 1107, and was awarded lands there as well.

He was buried somewhere here in this cemetery while the church was first being built in 1142...

I stayed in a b&b in Melrose for a week during the Fall of 2004, so I had plenty of time to explore the area while I was in town. I walked the length of the graveyard many times in search of his grave, and looked at as many of the ancient headstones as I could.
Many of the graves are extremely old and the stones are very friable. Their markings have worn off over the centuries. I do not know which one was his or even if his grave had been marked at all.

But it gave me comfort to know he was there somewhere, and that he had walked these same lands almost 900 years before...

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