A World of Wonders in a Closet Shut

Text on the top of John Tradescants sarcophagus
Text on the top of John Tradescant's sarcophagus

Even though the Museum of Garden History is closed for refurbishment, one can still sit meditatively in the Elizebethan knot garden and contemplate life south of the river.

Mike and Hadyn and the Knot Garden.
Mike and Hadyn and the Knot Garden.

The museum is in a church whose yard holds some fascinating relics which push all kinds of archetypal buttons. For instance, the oruborous egg urn. Or the sarcophagus of John Tradescant the Elder, the naturalist, collector and traveler who built the “Ark,” a cabinet of curiousities and one of the first museums open to the public.

The text of Tradescant’s sarcophagus, penned by John Aubrey, is a lichen-covered whisper to those willing to tip-toe to read it:

Know, stranger, ere thou pass, beneath this stone
Lie John Tradescant, grandsire, father, son
The last dy’d in his spring, the other two,
Liv’d till they had travelled Orb and Nature through,
As by their choice Collections may appear,
Of what is rare in land, in sea, in air,
Whilst they (as Homer’s Iliad in a nut)
A world of wonders in one closet shut,
These famous Antiquarians that had been
Both Gardeners to the Rose and Lily Queen,
Transplanted now themselves, sleep here & when
Angels shall with their trumpets waken men,
And fire shall purge the world, these three shall rise
And change this Garden then for Paradise.

It is interesting to note that only the father, son and grandfather are included in this resurrection (“…these three shall rise..”). The two women also buried in the tomb are presumably unawakened by the angelic brass.

Hydra and skull on Tradescants sarcophagus.
Hydra and skull on Tradescant's sarcophagus.

4 thoughts on “A World of Wonders in a Closet Shut

  1. Funny I just wondered if you’d be posting soon.

    I’ve wanted to go to this museum since I worked in a Landscape Architecture library years ago. It’s a bit far now, but someday I hope to make it.

  2. Hi Stacey– thanks for reading the blog and linking to it. London is so full of seemingly secret places like this– on better days it does seem to be one big wonder cabinet.

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