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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Recommended Reading.
by Ronald Jessup.

These notes are being written deep in a forest of Belgian Luxembourg seven miles from the nearest habitation, a place where no man comes except perhaps during the hunting season, a place where a herd of wild boar can ravage all one's carefully-dug trenches during a single night visit, and where photography is possible only for five minutes at mid-day when a few scattered rays of the overhead sun penetrate the dense foliage. Talk at the customary mid-morning break turned on fakes and forgeries, the wrong attribution of relics and so on. One of the workmen told us a scurrilous but highly amusing story of a 1914-1918 shell case which, suitably tricked up, found its way into a certain museum where it was labelled as a Roman wine-jug. They asked if such things ever happened in England.

I thought of two. There is a parish in that extra south-eastern continent -- I did not identify it closely because there are people involved, all my good friends, and they are still rather touchy about the whole matter. This fine place had attributed to it in the 15th century a virgin whom we shall call St Mary-in-the-Botterase from the notable position which her image occupied, and I suppose that successive incumbents had all had high hopes that one day the image which had been missing for very many years might find its way back to the recess which still remained to receive it. The Rector's gardener had the honour of the find in a ditch at the bottom of the Rectory garden, a statuette unmistakably of a woman though it was sadly battered and the features and a crown scarcely to be distinguished. It seemed light in weight, but when scrubbed clean of its filth proved to be made of a very dense plaster. A queen it was, certainly, and what more likely than the long-lost image had now been found. Back into the church it went with bell, owers and candle. The village schoolmistress did a hand-printed label in waterproof ink, and the parish sat back and its distinguished visitors. The most distinguished was a former Rector, now retired in scholarly comfort. He observed the image most closely, stood on a pair of steps and lifted it from the niche. weighing it carefully in his hand he remarked thoughtfully that his wife at least would be quite interested. The other one of the pair, he said, might still be marked ALBERT on the foot, though it was some many years since his wife had thrown such an unwanted present into the glebe ditch.

Then I spoke about the Isle of Grain and how at the beginning of this century there was little apart from coursing and disputing with his Lay Rector to pass an idle hour for the Vicar of St James-in-the-Isle-of-Grain. In the winter of 1903 there came as I was told years later, a nine days' wonder. A sacred reliquary was dug up in the churchyard. This exciting curiosity was described as a block of granite recessed on its upper surface to hold a plate of metal covered by a piece of glass and the whole scaled down with lead. One who was made to appear a carping critic thought that the metal-work did not appear to be of any antiquity. At any rate its fame spread far beyond the Hundred of Hoo. There was certainly a difficulty in that no relic could be found, even after two days' hard work on the block with maul and chisel. No help was forthcoming from literary sources, although there was much reading of records and a to-ing and fro-ing among the ecclesiologists. It was left to the Rector's man-in-law to record something of the affair in Archaeologia Cantiana. At this distance of time we can recognise the mark of a permanent field-survey station. Someone remembered a date of 1805 or 1806 chalked on the stone block. If the memory was true, we can suggest that it was put down by the Admiralty when, for the second time and under Vincent as First Sea Lord, the Isle of Grain was surveyed as the possible site of a Royal Dockyard. As one of the workmen said, it was the British Navy all right -- made to last for ever.

Here, for the time being, I am far away from recommended reading.

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