Sunday, 20 March 2016

Rev Henry Austen’s resting place

This afternoon we located the grave of Jane’s Austen’s favourite brother Rev Henry Austen, in a lovely Victorian mortuary garden in Tunbridge Wells called Woodbury Park Cemetery.

Woodbury Park Cemetery, Tunbridge Wells
Six thousand Victorian souls lie in this quiet, picturesque garden in the midst of elegant Victorian villas on a hillside about half a mile from the centre of town. Only a tenth have headstones and a high proportion seem to belong to the daughters of clergymen.

Snowdrops - Henry Austen's grave is in the distance on right
Henry’s headstone is like the rest. He claims a couple of Scriptural texts as a statement of his hope in the afterlife.  Deciphering these is difficult due to avoidable mould growth. Disappointingly, there is no poetic verse and no spouse (she died later and is buried in London). Henry rests alone.

Headstone of Henry Austen - slightly greener than  others, second from right
Jane Austen would have been comforted that he lies in this garden of deep stillness and beauty which in spring has more than a hint of Resurrection and Easter life about it.

Spring in Woodbury Park Cemetery
I have a lot of time for Rev Henry Austen who encouraged Jane to publish her books. It is greatly to Henry Austen's credit that he published her great, mature novel 'Persuasion' after she died in her early forties, with a fine biographical note  in which he describes her in detail, saying that she had been a 'devout Christian'. He reports that at the end of her life she wrote, uncomplaining and praying for her family's blessings, that she felt her untimely death was the will of God: "I am getting too near complaint. It has been the appointment of God, however secondary causes may have operated". In other words, she had genuine Christian faith.

Paolo thought he could access The Chapel of Rest used for the last rites before committing Henry and the others to the earth - only find that it is a now a private house.

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