After the tour bus dropped us off in Salisbury, we walked up a quiet lane that faced the cathedral green. The guide pointed out that the green used to be a graveyard — as all medieval churchyards had been — but all the monuments had been removed, leaving behind a flat green lawn where a woman in a bikini read a book.
Our guide stopped at a simple iron fence and directed our attention to the back yard it enclosed. The wildflower-spangled lawn inside folded over a huge heap of dirt.
“Why don’t they even that out?” one of the other American tourists asked.
“It covers a plague pit,” our guide answered. “During the 1660s, the Black Plague ravaged England. In every town, bodies were just thrown into mass graves. Most were buried so hastily, they didn’t even have a shroud, to say nothing of a coffin.” She waved at the mound, which rose four feet above ground level, even centuries after the grave was closed. “You can see how many people must be buried here.”
I wondered if I could live in a house, knowing its yard was stuffed with victims of the Black Death. Could I mow the grass over their grave? Could I lie on the lawn and read a book? If any place deserved to be haunted, I’m sure a plague pit does.
I was the only person who snapped a photo as the tour guide moved on.
Cemetery of the Week #71: Salisbury Cathedral
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