The Writing on the Wall

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in News

In January the team of conservators at Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire, made a surprise discovery:  when removing the Henry Hyde Monument from a wall in order to repair and clean it, they found hidden behind the monument the remains of some beautifully written English text.  The monument marks the grave of Sir Henry Hyde, who was executed in 1650 by Parliament for supporting King Charles I and was erected soon after 1660.

There are several lines of a large textual inscription, which had subsequently been whitewashed over making it difficult to read but the good gothic lettering is clearly visible.  Due to the age of the monument the writing was originally thought to be from the 16th century, when the nave was fitted out with high pews for people to sit in to listen to the ‘new’ sermons preached there.  Inscriptions of the bible, the Word of God, would have been written on the inside walls of the building following the Reformation, having been translated into English in Cranmer’s bible.

John Constable, Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds, c.1825

However, it has now been established that the text is actually from the 15th century, which means it was written before the Reformation, a period when English was, for the very first time, being used just occasionally in preference to Latin which was then ‘the norm’.  And although the clergy still stuck to Latin, English was increasingly spoken by wider society, including the ruling class.  The royal court used the language from 1413 onwards.

So far experts have not been able to decipher the inscription.  One line reads: “and we are c…” but the rest remains illegible and they have not been able to work out more.   Tim Tatton Brown, the cathedral’s Consultant Archaeologist, added, “So for now the basic questions of what exactly the words are and why the text was written on the cathedral wall, remain unanswered. It would be wonderful for us to solve the mystery.”
In the meantime the work on the Hyde Monument has been completed, the monument put back on the wall and the text once again hidden from view.

We would like to thank Susan Higginbotham from the American Branch to bring this fascinating discovery to our attention.

For more information you can read the article on mail online as well as  the press releases of Salisbury Cathedral here and here.

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