Leap Of Faith

February 29, 2020
John Holden

While visiting Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire we were intrigued by a stained-glass window showing a monk holding a pair of wings. Fortunately, there was a full explanation in the abbey literature; Eilmer was an 11th century Benedictine monk who was the first recorded person to have attempted flight. He was a scholar who studied nature and was particularly curious about the flight of birds and bats.

This was a story that had to be told. We mapped out the song elements on the drive home. Libby said it could be called ‘Leap of Faith’, which seemed a perfect title. It was also clear that it had to be sung by Peter Jones, not that he had knowledge of this decision. Thankfully Peter agreed and represented Eilmer and his brotherhood.

The opening music is the theme of ‘The Comet’. Eilmer saw Halley’s comet as a young boy and once again in 1066 shortly before his death, a remarkable lifespan for someone living at that time.  At the start we find the elderly Eilmer in reflective mood before we hear the abbey bells and his story is told, from his solitary studies to his ascending rise of the bell tower, his leap and fall.

“He was a man learned for those times, of ripe old age, and in his early youth had hazarded a deed of remarkable boldness. He had by some means, I scarcely know what, fastened wings to his hands and feet so that, mistaking fable for truth, he might fly like Daedalus, and, collecting the breeze upon the summit of a tower, flew for more than a furlong. But agitated by the violence of the wind and the swirling of air, as well as by the awareness of his rash attempt, he fell, broke both his legs and was lame ever after. He used to relate as the cause of his failure, his forgetting to provide himself a tail.”  William of Malmesbury : Gesta regum Anglorum, 1125

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