I was out earlier taking photographs of snow-tipped Victorian angels in a local graveyard and was reminded of this morbid phrase …does anyone know its origin? (I believe its 17th C or earlier)
There is an ancient legend of Wolverley which has endured for centuries. It is the remarkable story of a Crusader, who had spent so long at war that his lady assumed he had died and was about to marry again.
One morning, a milkmaid went down to the meadow to milk the cows, taking with her an old dog. The dog ran before the girl and began barking. At once, the milkmaid ventured towards the scene where she came upon a figure lying asleep on the grass. Her gasps were of shock as the body was less a man but more a creature from the forest – emaciated, unkempt, and shackled in irons.
The dog soon quietened; its defensive posture replaced by a cheerless whimpering, almost as if it came to recognise the bedraggled figure. Confident that he was fully restrained, the girl went back to the Court and told her mistress what had happened.
The lady listened to the maid’s story and accompanied her to the place where the dog rested in the shadow of the recumbent stranger. The man, now stirring, greeted the lady with all the intimacy of someone returning to his wife; but not recognising him, she stepped back, alarmed at such impropriety. Seeing his beloved so afflicted, he took upon himself to confirm his identity, at once tearing a half broken ring from his pocket. The band, a symbol of their love, had been broken at parting, each keeping a half.
Overwhelmed by pounding heart, the lady found her fragment of the ring and lay it alongside the piece offered to her, now convinced that her long-expected husband had returned.
Joyous celebration ensued, and a smith was sent for to release the knight from his fetters. But such rejoicing at the return of the wanderer could not go without attention to the Crusader’s extraordinary adventures. Peering from the half-light, the soldier of the Cross told his tale: he had been taken prisoner, and held captive in a dungeon, till one night, as he prayed to be delivered from his wretched state, an angel appeared and spoke words of comfort to him, then he seemed to fall asleep, till woken by the barking of the dog, when he found himself not bound by the walls of captivity, but lying in the meadow below his own house in Wolverley. Though in transfixture, the Knight had a vague recollection of movement through space, but not to appear so possessed of his own importance he dismissed the notion of an angel winging him to safety declaring instead that a swan had brought him through the air.
To this day, Wolverley marks the miraculous liberation of the soldier: the meadow underneath Wolverley Court is called “the Knights Meadow”; at Wolverley Court the iron manacles, said to have been worn by the Knight, are still shown; and in the church, the mutilated fragments of the alabaster effigy – the head, body and the feet of the old warrior – still remain.