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Thy Selfe May Pas: A Stoic Reminder at Westminster Abbey

There are many famous names at Westminster Abbey. The ornate carvings on ornate carvings give a collective sensory explosion in the brain. We may have skilled artisans today, but there aren’t many stone carvers doing this kind of work anymore. Stunning detail everywhere you looked. Add in the throngs of people touring and it can all feel a bit much. The only blessing is they don’t allow photography inside, so the long lines weren’t subjected to selfie-taking vanity shots.

Deep into the tour at Westminster Abbey in the chapel of St Edmund, well-removed from the famous names, is a young man lost to history. Francis Holles died at the age of 18 in 1622 on his return from fighting in the Netherlands. His grieving family had an elaborate monument carved by Nicholas Stone to honor him and placed it here, amongst other members of the Holles family. Whether there’s any resemblance to Francis the world will never know, but no matter, the power was in the 1620’s English epitaph engraved below.

What so thou hast of Nature, or of Arts, youth, beautie, strength, or what excelling parts, of mynd and boddie, letters, arms and worth, his eighteen yeares, beyond his yeares, brought forth then stand and read thyself within this glas how soon theise perish, and thy selfe may pas.

Mans life is measured by the worke, not dayes, no aged sloth, but active youth hath prayse”

What parent doesn’t hear the story of Francis and not feel a pang of grief for both him and his parents? For all the famous kings and queens, writers and politicians who spend eternity at Westminster Abbey, this is the one person who stood out above all the rest for me.

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