If you visit Westminster Abbey in London in the hopes of finding Jane Austen’s final resting place in Poet’s Corner, you’re in the wrong place. Her actual resting place is much quieter and arguably a more agreeable place altogether. The now-treasured English writer lies beneath a marble stone in Winchester Cathedral. Just as her novels were published anonymously in life, the inscription in the stone fails to mention the one thing she’s remembered for- her writing. Standing at her grave, it almost feels as though to have arrived there you share with the author the secret knowledge of who she really was.
In Memory of
Youngest daughter of the late
Rev GEORGE AUSTEN,
formerly Rector of Steventon in this County
she departed this Life on the 18th of July 1817,
aged 41, after a long illness supported with
the patience and the hopes of a Christian.
The benevolence of her heart,
the sweetness of her temper, and
the extraordinary endowments of her mind
obtained the regard of all who knew her and
the warmest love of her intimate connections.
Their grief is in proportion to their affection
they know their loss to be irreparable.
but in their deepest affliction they are consoled
by a firm though humble hope that her charity,
devotion, faith and purity have rendered
her soul acceptable in the sight of her
Winchester, the next largest town near Chawton, is where Jane was brought in 1817 when her illness reached a point where she was convinced to see a doctor. She stayed at #8 College Street with her family, where sadly she passed away in her sister’s arms at age 41. Through later forensics work on a lock of Austen’s hair, a keepsake often kept in those days, traces of arsenic indicate she may have died of arsenic poisoning. Arsenic was often used by doctors at the time. Her doctor may have been trying to cure her malady and consequently killed her. Although it is not known exactly what she suffered from, some theorize that she may have had some type of lymphoma.
#8 College Street is located behind the cathedral. Although the house is still a private residence today so you can’t go inside, the walk to the yellow house is worth it. Once you leave the cobble stoned high street, watch your feet. Quotes from Austen line the sidewalks.
Standing outside the yellow house, I imagined the brilliant young woman’s last procession from here to the cathedral, surrounded by just four family members. The idea was quite sobering.
From here you can backtrack to Winchester Cathedral to pay your respects at the final resting place of Jane Austen. Her grave lies on the left side of the sanctuary. It was a family connection to the cathedral that allowed her this place of honor inside. On the wall nearby is a plaque that was installed many years after her death that credits Austen for her abilities as an author.
Inscription on the wall plaque:
known to many by her
writings, endeared to
her family by the
varied charms of her
Character and ennobled
by Christian Faith
and Piety, was born
at Steventon in the
county of Hands Dec.
xvi mdcclxxv, and buried
In this Cathedral
July xxiv mdcccxvii
“She openeth her
mouth with wisdom
and in her tongue is
the law of kindness”
Prov xxxi. v. xxvi
Above the plaque is a stained glass window with a Latin inscription created even later that also honors the authoress. Although now recognized and honored for her abilities, the memorials to Jane Austen are still subtle enough that you have to know what you’re looking for when you visit.
Staring down at the black inscripted marble slab before my feet, the sound of a choir practicing for Evensong prayer drifted around me. I stood alone in quiet contemplation. How different this place was from Westminster Cathedral. There the cathedral interior was filled with the echoey din of tourists pushing and shoving, pressed shoulder to shoulder, moving in mob formation over the memorials in the floor. Winchester Cathedral was quite the opposite. I’m glad Jane rests in a far less touristy place, where people aren’t constantly streaming over her grave and the din of people isn’t so loud that you can’t hear the choir or take a moment for quiet contemplation. She rests as she lived, quietly on the sidelines where you can people watch, and write about it later.