he[a]rd

March 14, 2014

 

Elvis the bull grazes fields in Mabe, above College Lake. He is a direct descendant of the white cattle that grazed there centuries ago, just after the Black Death hit Penryn in 1349, the year before the Ordinalia was composed at Glasney. 

 

From the first incidence of the disease, at Weymouth, its port of entry on the south coast, it took three years to wipe out half the population of England. Labour became a scarce commodity. Corn ripened then rotted.There were not enough people left alive to sow, to reap and then gather in the harvest. It was easier with a depleted workforce to raise sheep and cattle and it was these sheep and cattle that provided the raw material for the dissemination of ideas, portable ideas, which could be carried round the country, like the plague that had, in a sense, made the spread of these ideas possible.

 

Domesticated animal breeds were smaller in the Middle Ages than they are today. An entire sheepskin provided only two pages for the scriptorium. A herd of cattle needed to be slaughtered to produce the parchment for a single book. Elvis has a dim awareness of this holocaust, a kind of tribal memory of the sacrifice made by his ancestors.

 

Every year on the 29th of December, the feast day of Thomas Beckett, stigmata appear on the hide of Elvis, the white bull. Traces of text from the Glasney cartulary bloom luridly for several weeks before fading in the Spring. When the Black Death reached Cornwall, Trevisa was seven years old. Five individuals perished at Glasney and were buried in a lime filled pit below Glasney playing field. Trevisa was fortunate to survive at all.

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