And so to Brandeston – or Italy, or Greece or Turkey …
Charles Freeman - 2 August 2012
If you leave Stonham Aspal by the Stowmarket road, you will pass some ‘sixties’ houses on the right. Few people know that there was a Roman villa here but in the early sixties as a teenager I worked with the Ipswich Museum digging part of it up. I was working on the hypocaust, the underfloor heating system, and I was digging out the ashes from the last fires to be lit before the villa was abandoned, probably in the early fifth century as the protecting Roman legions left Britain. You can’t escape the excitement of uncovering the past and seeing things that have last been looked at two thousand years ago. I never became a professional archaeologist- why did my trenches always crumble in when everyone else’s remained so tidy? – but while I was at university I graduated to working during my vacations as a volunteer on digs in the Mediterranean, Turkey and Italy, and then later on the Nile in the Sudan.
However, this was no way to earn a living and for many years I was a history teacher working with the International Baccalaureate, the alternative to A levels that has proved so popular throughout the world. Until four years ago I was one of their international examiners and it was fascinating to see how all the different cultures of the world dealt with the past. Exam papers from schools all over the world might land on my desk and my fellow examiners- we met a couple of times a year- were a wonderful mix of nationalities and cultures.
By then I was working on other things. A lucky break with a publisher got me back to the Mediterranean, writing about it, and then in the early 2000s the Historical Association asked me to lead their Italian tours. They now no longer have a tour programme but I design and lead one tour a year of my own and lecture on three or four others. So over the next few months I have two tours of Turkey and four of Italy. One of my ‘own’ tours to Friuli in north-eastern Italy this October is now full but I have some places on my Turin tour, 20th-27th May, 2013, at £1375 for eight days. (A minibus from Brandeston takes us to and from Gatwick.)
Wandering around Italy a lot, I became fascinated by the relics that are still to be found in churches. Some still claim to heal you! My favourite medieval relic story tells of the wine from the marriage feast at Cana that could be found in the cathedral in Orleans. The priests gave it out on a set date each year, but then miraculously the pots refilled so they were as full again the next time around! That’s a really special kind of relic! My latest book has been Holy Bones, Holy Dust, How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe, out in paperback this autumn, and I am delighted to be talking about ‘Christians and bones’ with lots of good tales about relics, at Brandeston on 20th September 2012 for Church funds. I do hope you can join me and help keep this important part of our village in good order.
For details of my tours, please contact me on 01728 684819 or at Charlesfreeman@btinternet.com