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PART IV: Chapter 1
PART IV: At Shaston
"Whoso prefers either Matrimony or other Ordinance before the Good of
Man and the plain Exigence of Charity, let him profess Papist, or
Protestant, or what he will, he is no better than a Pharisee."-- J. Milton.
SHASTON, the ancient British Palladour,
"From whose foundation first such strange reports arise,"
(as Drayton sang it), was, and is, in itself the city of a dream. Vague imaginings
of its castle, its three mints, its magnificent apsidal abbey, the chief glory of South
Wessex, its twelve churches, its shrines, chantries, hospitals, its gabled
freestone mansions-- all now ruthlessly swept away--throw the visitor, even
against his will, into a pensive melancholy, which the stimulating atmosphere and
limitless landscape around him can scarcely dispel. The spot was the burial-
place of a king and a queen, of abbots and abbesses, saints and bishops,
knights and squires. The bones of King Edward "the Martyr," carefully removed
hither for holy preservation, brought Shaston a renown which made it the resort
of pilgrims from every part of Europe, and enabled it to maintain a reputation
extending far beyond English shores. To this fair creation of the great Middle-Age
the Dissolution was, as historians tell us, the death-knell. With the destruction of
the enormous abbey the whole place collapsed in a general ruin: the Martyr's
bones met with the fate of the sacred pile that held them, and not a stone is now
left to tell where they lie.
The natural picturesqueness and singularity of the town still remain; but strange
to say these qualities, which were noted by many writers in ages when scenic
beauty is said to have been unappreciated, are passed over in this, and one of
the queerest and quaintest spots in England stands virtually unvisited to-day.
It has a unique position on the summit of a steep and imposing scarp, rising on
the north, south, and west sides of the borough out of the deep alluvial Vale of
Blackmoor, the view from the Castle Green over three counties of verdant
pasture--South, Mid, and Nether Wessex-- being as sudden a surprise to the
unexpectant traveller's eyes as the medicinal air is to his lungs. Impossible to a
railway, it can best be reached on foot, next best by light vehicles; and it is hardly
accessible to these but by a sort of isthmus on the north-east, that connects it
with the high chalk table-land on that side.
Such is, and such was, the now world-forgotten Shaston or Palladour. Its
situation rendered water the great want of the town; and within living memory,
horses, donkeys and men may have been seen toiling up the winding ways to the