I did not plan to finish this post so close to All Saint’s Day and All Hallow’s Eve but that’s the way it went.
One obvious thing that hits you when you move to Scotland is just how old everything is. We attended a service the other night commemorating the 500th anniversary of the death of the University’s founder, Bishop Elphinstone. When in America do you get a chance to attend the 500th anniversary of anything? Its not really possible I don’t think.
While on our weekend in Edinburgh, we wandered several cemeteries, most with ‘recent’ graves from the 17 and 1800’s as well as castles, churches and chapels, some dating to the 1200’s. I mean some things are just crazy old. Which brings me to Mr. Knox.
John Knox was the leader of the Scottish Reformation and founder of the Presbyterian church in Scotland. You might think that such a historic figure might be exempt from the march of ‘progress’ and have his grave preserved. But no.
Here he is. Lying next to the church he pastored, St. Giles. I’m sure at some point in the past he had a proper gravestone, but time passes and priorities shifted. I love the honesty of this grave: its like: “yes we could very easily cordon off this spot with a fence and put a proper head stone, but then again, nah. We’re just going to let people park right here on top of Mr. Knox.” This strikes me as really odd in a country which is not particularly car-friendly. Britain is almost as anti-car as where we came from in DC. Any policy or project which discourages car use and encourages public transport or bike use will be passed by city council! No matter how much it costs! So for a city in Britain to privilege the automobile over history, a grave of someone quasi famous no less, is a bit curious. Another famous person’s grave lost first to history then to the car park steam roller was King Richard III. You recall that discovery a few years ago.
Here in Scotland, the vast expanse of history is so dizzying that one cannot help muse about one’s own momentary nature. As I was walking through one of those cemeteries, I was keenly aware that everyone in the graves was lying down, while I was standing up, walking around. My feet were on the ground- theirs under it. We are walking to and fro upon the earth- we are coming and going. Its what we do. We move around the earth until we can’t move anymore. There have been lots and lots of people who have come and gone on this earth. Somehow, here in Scotland, its much more obvious that we are very late arrivals on the scene. And as Americans, we are accustomed to seeing history with markers, monuments, plaques. But there are unmarked graves everywhere. In this dense storied atmosphere where human settlements have existed for literally thousands of years, each square inch has a story and probably people buried under it. The vast, vast majority of humanity does not have a marker or even a memory of each individual. So the fact that the spot has been marked and kept since 1572 is actually pretty impressive.
All this is helping me see God and giving me a sense of awe- we are a moment, He is forever.