Thursday, June 23, 2011

Winchester Cathedral and Jane Austen

It's a beautiful sunny day in March, and I've just landed in England. I made it through customs and caught the train to Winchester, where a friend met me. She knew immediately what I would want to see first: Winchester Cathedral, the place where Jane Austen is buried.

It was after 4:00 PM when we started the self-guided tour, and even my jet-lagged brain could appreciate the beauty of the afternoon light coming through the stained glass windows. Sometime I might do a blog post just on the stained glass I saw in England--I have even more pictures of that than I do of the willows.

The various altar pieces were beautiful. This one in particular struck me, with the gilded paintings and the beautiful masonry.

After seeing the cathedral in all it's glory, you finally come to Jane's grave. This is the actual stone marking where she is buried. I still find it a little odd to think of people being buried inside a building--can anyone explain this to me? I realize it was something of an honor, as not just anyone gets space beneath the transept, but beyond that...?

(Please forgive the slightly blurred picture--the batteries in my camera were dying.)

Jane's gravestone makes no mention of her writing--it's simply a commemoration by her family and friends of a life well lived. It wasn't until several years later that this plaque was erected on the wall of the cathedral, honoring "Jane Austen, known to many by her writings..." Above the plaque is a gorgeous stained glass window of St. Augustine, as Austen is an abbreviated form of Augustine. (I do have pictures of the window, but they turned out even worse than the pictures of the stone and the plaque.)

I find it a little ironic that my first stop in England was Jane's last. I don't attach any great symbolic meaning to that, but I know my trip over all grounded me more in her life and her way of thinking. The chapters I've written since I've come back have flowed more easily, with less time wondering how exactly something would work.

Visiting a grave site leaves you with a greater appreciation for what the person accomplished in her life. Jane Austen didn't live long--she was only 41 when she died. But in those short years, she created six of the most-loved novels in modern English, and she left us with numerous remnants and pieces of juvenilia. She worked hard at her writing, frequently sitting for hours a time at her little writing table. That kind of consistency and dedication inspired me to do the same.

If you could visit the grave of one person, whose would you choose and why? What lessons would you take away from the trip?