A visit by Jesus and a dragon slain
Planning a visit to Somerset by a friend, I thought I would put Priddy on the list.
It is a few years since I have been there and we went to visit the parish church because in the back of my mind there was a faint recall of the church having some significance, of there being some famous association.
Driving up the narrow road that led to the church, there was a definite feeling that there had been something interesting that had happened here, or that someone important had been here.
Going through the church door, there seemed no obvious signs of significance.
A grey stone, medieval building, the interior was typical of that to be found in any part of rural England.
Perhaps the memory had been mistaken, perhaps it was another local church that had been prominent for some reason. On a shelf near the door there were butter paddles with notes about the history of the building. Immediately, the reason for its place in my memory was clear – the information noted that local legend said that Jesus had visited Priddy in the company of Joseph of Arimathea.
‘There you are’, I said, I knew someone famous had been here’.
There had been laughter.
The claim seemed logical, if Jesus had visited Glastonbury, an island in the Levels to the south, then he might easily have visited Priddy, high on the Mendip hills above. Surely, he wouldn’t have come so far without visiting Cheddar Gorge?
And if Joseph of Arimathea was a merchant, then the Mendips, with their minerals and wool, would have been on the itinerary of a trader who had come so far.
However, the visit by a Palestinian boy would not have been nearly so interesting as the tale behind a spear that stands in the corner of the chancel of a church in our parish.
The spear is said to have been used by a local hero to slay a dragon that came over the hill from the neighbouring village of Aller. Tradition says that the spear defends the local community against attack from outsiders. Aller acknowledges the presence of a dragon, it is said that their village is named after John Aller who saved the village from the dragon’s predations.
A sceptic snorted at tales of dragons and suggested that the spear in our parish was not even ancient, but had been brought home from Africa by a local landowner – it had certainly not slain anything in the area.
Tales of feet walking on England’s green and pleasant land are as unlikely as dragons, whether they be from Aller or elsewhere. But magical tales do make a place more interesting; wouldn’t the world be dull if there were never a dragon to be slain or a deity to visit the village?
Magnus Magnuson on the telly years ago was one of the first to unpick the Icelandic Sagas and concluded that the core was based in events that actually occurred.
This hook of his stuck in my mind and whenever I’ve read fables and sagas I wondered if at core they might have some factual basis.
That Dragon, and the fears, could have something to do with underground mining in the Celtic and Roman periods. Given how they got at the ores the numbers of people they would kill in a year would be well beyond replacement rates. But it would also go some way to explain the mountains breathing fire, for the method was to build a fire before the face and then when red hot, throw water on it.
If we lived in the Welsh valleys like Tolkien’s dwarves, I could understand the story.
Aller, however, is on the edge of Sedgemoor, a long way from the sort of rock that would have ore.
But you have copper, iron and lead in the Mendip Hills and oodles of copper in the Quantock’s. The nearest I could find was Kingston St Mary’s at about ten miles. But more further to the coast.