Monday, 20 July 2009
In the year 1010, a young monk by the name of Elmer, who resided at Malmesbury abbey, had a burning ambition to fly like a bird. As a young man he had read of the fabled flight of Daedalus and his son Icarus on waxen wings to Sicily. This gave him the idea that he too could design a set of wings to carry him skyward.
After much work perfecting (well he thought so) and assembling a set of wings he climbed to the top of one of the abbey’s towers or possibly the Saxon watchtower. Once there and with the curious gathering below he attached the wings to his arms and feet. He then climbed onto a ledge and dived off. Elmer managed, so it is documented, to glide a distance of some 200 meters (in today's money) before gravity took over and the Flying Monk of Malmesbury came down with a thump, breaking both legs. This would have put most people off, Elmer however, was undeterred, and during his lengthy recuperation, it was discovered that he was making plans for a second flight, which he announced would include much improved aerodynamics to his wings and the inclusion of a tail. News of his plans reached the bishop, who immediately forbid Elmer from taking part in anymore flights of fancy from the abbey towers, or anywhere else for that matter.
For many years (he lived till he was 88) Elmer would hobble about Malmesbury town dreaming of flying once more, alas it was not to be. He did however gain much notoriety as a distinguished scholar for his research into manned flight. His winged imaged can be seen inside the abbey render in stain glass.
Could it be the ghostly figure of a hooded monk, which has been seen many times amongst the headstones in the abbey grounds, be that of Elmer? The figure is said to move amongst the headstones, then suddenly raise its arms heavenward in a eureka gesture as if it has found something. Maybe Elmer is looking skyward at a passing aircraft and exclaiming joyfully, “we did do it in the end!"