Three Acorns

Within the arcading, to the south west of the altar in St Marks, Troughelme sits the tomb chest of Sir Thomas de Bohun and his wife Elizabeth. Sir Thomas was unfortunate to have lived at a time when the Henry the Sixth, that most pious but inept of our monarchs was occupying the throne of England. Presently the Lancaster supporting Bohun family was in conflict with the Yorkist supporter Warwick, before the duplicitous Neville switched sides and procured the epithet ‘Kingmaker’. Sir Thomas was killed in an ambush when he was thirty. His bride, Elizabeth as often happened at the time, entered a nunnery, near Stoke on Trent, these meagre facts concerning the Bohun family constituted the sum of Geoffrey Walter’s knowledge. As he approached the fine alabaster carved effigy of the couple his attention was arrested by a young woman sitting in the pews, she was dressed in a simple white blouse and grey skirt. He nodded, acknowledging her presence.
‘Exquisite.’ Geoffrey uttered. The young woman slowly turned,
‘Yes it is. A masterpiece… fine; it’s alabaster.’ She observed. She looked across to the carving then back to Geoffrey, who continued,
‘Alabaster, is a strange medium you know, correctly it’s gypsum, that is to say, sulphate of lime. I believe that this came from Derby, when gypsum is freshly quarried it is so soft it can be carved with a penknife. It hardens with age, and after polishing.’ Inwardly he cursed, now he would have to return… for Geoffrey with his accomplice who was waiting in the car outside, had been commissioned to steal the image, however he reasoned, it would give him more time to reconnoitre the carving and minimise the risk of botching the cut. The young woman smiled sweetly.
‘You sound like an expert.’ Geoffrey lightly ran his finger across Thomas’s sword, pondering the best location to site his first incision.
‘Just an informed amateur, really, I have a deep interest in the fifteenth century.’ The woman brushed her hair behind her ear. Her accent was, was… well curious, not local, not identifiable, she asked;
‘Then you’ll know about the Bohuns?’
‘A little, I was passing Saint Mark’s and decided to call in.’ She smiled, gestured towards the carving and continued,
‘The carving is not a true likeness; it was created several years after their deaths. If you examine Thomas’ shoe, you will see a tiny monk praying for his soul, a late mediaeval pun.’ Obediently Geoffrey moved to the rear of the carving. ‘And see the deeply detailed weepers on the limestone base of the chest, angels. They escaped the iconoclasts of the Commonwealth.’
‘It really is so perfect. Would you know about the family? I’d love to know more… Sorry, may I introduce myself, John Smith.’ He lied.
‘Like yourself, John I’m an interested amateur.’ She took a deep breath. ‘Thomas de Bohun was killed in a skirmish in fourteen sixty-five, it’s his wife, Elizabeth really who has the most intriguing story to tell. After his death she departed to a nunnery, at the time the usual course for the widow. Many stories are told of her… most of them apocryphal, I hasten to add. It was said that when the future boy king Edward the fifth and his brother, Richard, ‘the Princes in the Tower’ were on their journey from Ludlow to their imprisonment, Elizabeth experienced a vision and attempted to stop them. When it became obvious she could not, she blessed the boys, and told them to beware of the Duke of Gloucester.’
‘Very prescient. How do you know?’ she deftly sidestepped his enquiry and persevered,
‘After her death in fifteen hundred and eleven, there was a movement to beatify her. However, it was probably the Reformation that extinguished her possibility of sainthood. Nevertheless there is a society that keeps Elizabeth de Bohuns memory alive.’
‘And you’re a member?’
‘Oh no, no…’ she looked away, then resumed, ‘There has to occurred two proven miracles to qualify a person for beatification. Nevertheless, Elizabeth subsequently became the focus of a cult, and when Charles the First was executed it was said that she appeared by the block, and blessed the King. And at many times in history there are stories of her appearing to the dying monarch. The last time she is thought to appeared was to George the fifth.’ She fell silent; her face seemed to disappear as though it was somehow out of focus. The old church was briefly illuminated as a sinew of winter sunshine cleaved the darkness.
‘The story is fascinating, what more do you know?’
‘What more do you wish to know?’ she asked disarmingly.
‘Is she buried here?’
‘Oh yes. She lies at the side of her husband. She was brought here after her death. Her last wish was to be placed in Saint Mark’s, Elizabeth vowed she would watch over the shrine.’
‘Shrine, but you said she was never created a saint?’
‘No, but to people who remember her, she was. If Thomas de Bohuns’s misfortune was to be born at a time of conflict, it was Elizabeth’s to die within sight of the Protestant Reformation. Catholic martyrs were not to be encouraged. Some eighty years after her death a group of French Carmelite nuns exhumed her body, for they feared for the safety of the shrine. Elizabeth’s corpse was in perfect condition, there was no sign of putrefaction, and her body was exactly as it had been after she had been interred. Sister Josephine their leader, was struck down with a vision, in which she said Elizabeth had assured her that she would preserve the shrine for eternity.’
‘Do you believe it?’ within his pocket he fingered his tungsten cutting chisel.
‘It is not for me to believe or disbelieve, I am merely a cipher. The Bohun family lived at Green Withens in North Yorkshire, in a small but fine moated range of buildings.’
‘Oh…’ The woman examined a bible; there was stillness around her, an explosive quietness that unsettled Geoffrey. He reached into a small case and withdrew his camera.
‘These acorns at the base of the tomb chest?’ he indicated a small carving.
‘Three acorns are the heraldic device of the Oakhun family, Elizabeth’s parents.’ Geoffrey looked briefly at the woman; he started as he noted the young woman was wearing a necklace, on which three silver acorns appeared to be suspended.
‘It is also said that Elizabeth de Bohun only ever appears when someone is about to die.’ Geoffrey trained his camera on the tomb and from different angles snapped several photographs. He turned to the young woman, where unsettlingly and to his bewilderment she appeared to be reciting her rosary.
‘Would you mind if I took your picture, you have been so kind?’ she looked up, paused briefly and answered.
‘Yes. If you think it would help you.’ He stepped back brought the camera to his eye and pressed the shutter.
‘Another, for good luck?’ he asked. She replaced the old bible to the back of the pew. Once again Geoffrey snapped.

***A pause to indicate a passage of time***

Vicar Harris opened the newly developed photographs. He scrutinised the images.
‘Jeremy…’ he addressed his companion, ‘These photographs are professionally composed but these two here, why on earth would he want to take pictures of an empty pew?’
‘Another enigma, Vicar. When I discovered his body we found three acorns in his right hand.

Allesandro Allesandro
46-50, M
2 Responses Dec 2, 2012

This is incredible. I very much enjoyed it.

Thank-you, It is an edit of my longer story read around 12 months ago on the radio...