Matter Of Heritage

Entry by: Alex Fleet

13th March 2015
John Brewster had stone in his blood. That’s what he always said to visitors when they asked him how long he had been working on a mason at the cathedral. For generations, he would say, generations. His father before him, and his own father before that. Each generation teaching the next, going back through the years.
He walked around the cathedral with pride. It was more than just his; it was him, a part of his body, his soul. The visitors he entertained admired the vast spaces between the towering cliffs of stone, the sweeping arches, the huge landscape inside and out and its minute details, small carvings to be found in the most obscure of places.
He loved touching the ancient beams in the roof, their rough timbers hidden from the beautiful finishes of the visible parts in the main body of the church. Great trees had been sawn in half and their two parts placed either side of the span of the roof: their matching halves balancing the stresses and strains of the great structure, a dark void above the heights of the nave, like a great wooden barn in hiding.
Repairs were always needed, he was always busy. He had worked stones all around the building. The strong, structural stone of the main columns and the fine more easily worked stone of the decorative filigree. It would have come from various local quarries. His family had supplied some of the various stone he worked, those millennia ago.
This day, he was to work on the vast stone in front of the foundation stone – the first stone to be laid, back in 1220, an unimaginable time ago. Carefully they had prepared the area, protected the surrounding floor and the access to it, so they could bring in the heavy lifting gear. Now they slowly inched up the great slab, the clacking of the gear resounding amongst the vast walls around them.
At 100cm above the floor they carefully swung the slab to one side so they could access the ground beneath. So far as the indications went, it looked as if it never been disturbed since the cathedral was first built. Below was the normal floor of gravel – but in the centre there was a rectangle of a different material, a hard, malleable matter like clay but of a different quality to the usual. John and the rest of the team mused, scratched heads. Well, they needed to get in here for the project they were working upon, so carefully they scratched at this new matter, un-noted anywhere in the records of the building. It seemed to be a specially laid waterproof material. They dug carefully through its resisting thickness, a handspan’s depth, before they hit stone. The hours revealed a stone slab, a cubit* wide and two long.
John looked at it and everyone else agreed with him: it was the back of a piece of worked stone. The front would be underneath: most unusual. Perhaps it was a reject piece of stone put there out of sight. This would be an interesting historic find.
Placing the top slab to one side, they carefully lifted this, photographed beneath while they held it in position 100cm above the floor.
Looking at the computer display, there on the floor of the cathedral, they could read the inscription engraved upon the face of the stone.
It was a note, from the man who had built the cathedral in its first phase, which had completed in 1260. Translated from its ancient English, it sent greetings to the person who lifted the stone, giving details of the building of the cathedral and the writer’s own involvement in it: working on and overseeing the carving of the stones. He gave his name. There was his initial. It was a hieroglyph. The small crowd of experts gathered around the stone and fell silent.
They all looked at the birthmark on John’s forearm, a strange swirl of red. Yes. It was. It was exactly the same as the hieroglyph on the stone. The initial of that stone mason from those millennia ago was the same as John Brewster’s.
As he knelt there, John felt the years fall away and was on this spot with the cathedral newly finished and the bishop proudly consecrating this new, high-tech building, shining, gleaming in the Autumn sun. His blood was the cathedral’s. His was the matter of the cathedral and its heritage.

*cubit: the length of a man’s arm from finger tips to elbow