Graveyard Anecdote, With Nuns

Fossicking in a cupboard the other day, I came upon a piece of writing I’d done late in the last century. It contains a splendid anecdote which I can now share with you:

In 1994 my sister, who lives in the United States, was on a visit back to England for a couple of weeks. One day we decided to pay a visit of homage to St Patrick’s Roman Catholic cemetery in Leytonstone, wherein lie buried the five Franciscan nuns whose drowning in the mouth of the Thames in December 1875 was the event which sparked Gerard Manley Hopkins to write The Wreck Of The Deutschland. It was an overcast day in late summer, and we trudged aimlessly around the stones, unclear as to what sort of tomb or edifice we were looking for. It is a fairly small cemetery, and after half an hour or so we were on the point of abandoning the search – I think it was beginning to rain – but as we were going back towards the gates we noticed that a light was on in the shabby one-storey building near the entrance. We went in, and were greeted by some sort of cemetery attendant. My sister began, rather haltingly, to explain that we were looking for the grave of some nuns who had been drowned and whom the poet Hopkins had written a… – The attendant held up a hand to stop my sister in mid-flow and, looking over his shoulder towards an ajar door behind him, called “Oi, Mario! Them nuns what drowned…” Enter Mario, another cemetery worker, who promptly led us to the plot, asked if we were German (as the nuns had been), and explained that “quite a few people come to look at them nuns”. My sister began a brief tutorial on Hopkins, but I think Mario had heard it all before – having delivered us to our tombstone, he rapidly headed back to whatever he had been doing before. Ever since, I have mentally subtitled Hopkins’ great poem “Them Nuns What Drowned”.


Photograph courtesy of findagrave

4 thoughts on “Graveyard Anecdote, With Nuns

  1. Mr Key, amusing as this anecdote surely is I am more interested by this fossicking you claim to have done in a cupboard. Could you kindly provide an account of this for those of is who have never fossicked. TW

  2. I’m curious about Mario.
    What’s an Italian plumber doing looking after drowned German nuns in a graveyard in Leytonstone?

    I’ll have to ask Linda if this scenario crops up in Mario-Kart or Super Mario World.

    O.S.M. B:52

  3. Memory is a strange thing – I am the sister mentioned in the anecdote and my account of the episode is a little different. I recall that the cemetery building was locked up but as we turned away we saw a group of grave-diggers standing around leaning on their spades in the manner of British workmen. I expected one to come forth with “Alas poor Yorick” at any moment. It was to them I began my question about the nuns and the poem. I don’t remember Mario per se, but here is where our memories are exactly the same: the phrase “them nuns what drowned” was uttered by one of them. Seeing the grave was actually an anti-climax after this wonderful encounter.

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