I saw someone posted a link (This link) about life in a boarding school and one of the things that struck me was that one of the punishments was to write an essay with titles such as ’50 facts you didn’t know about this blade of grass’ and I just thought to myself that it wasn’t in any way a punishment… It was sooo easy! So easy that I just had to give it a go… So here it is: 50 facts you didn’t know about this blade of grass.
Grass is green, it is eaten by cows and it has evolved to grow from the bottom upwards so that it is the older growth that is eaten by the aforementioned cows. But you knew this already and it is true to say that those factors are not unique to this particular blade of grass, rather they are universally applicable in so far as all blades of grass are concerned. Where this blade of grass is unique however, is in that it is a very special blade of grass with a long and distinguished history dating further back than anybody now living can recall. It is ancient, a Methuselah amongst grasses and it is said that it was already well established by the early thirteenth century. Indeed, King John supposedly once remarked that it was ‘a very beautiful blade of grass, particularly in it’s slender shape and the way in which it’s greenery outdid that of all other blades of grass.’ In the eight hundred years that have passed since that time the words of King John have only become truer and as it stands today this blade of grass is far greener and far more shapely than all others that have ever been found. This blade of grass is so special that in 1996 a team of expert scientists successfully lobbied the government for a preservation order to protect this important and unique piece of fauna. To add to this, in 2004 the blade was almost given the status of a UNESCO world heritage site, which would have made it as important as the pyramids, but it was rejected on the grounds that there was not enough evidence for the blade’s strong influence on human society and culture. Still, UNESCO status or no, the blade is still unique and visitors flock from around the world, from as far away as Australia and New Zealand, just to set their gaze upon it.
We can not be precisely certain of the blade’s true age but experts have put it at having grown somewhere between 650 CE and 890 CE. Certainly, it can be no older than 650 CE as an enviro-archaeological study recently demonstrated that before this time the local area was boggy marsh land, prone to frequent flooding, and conditions were hardly suitable to allow for the growing of a grass blade such as this. It was the ancient chieftain, Rhodri Ap Myrfa who first drained this land for use as agriculture and it has been suggested (most prominently by Professor A.J Higgins, Emeritus Professor of Botanics at King’s College Silbury, who is also president of the ‘blade of grass society’) that it was upon his orders that the grass seed was first planted. Others claim it must have come later as evidence from the Brut Y Rhodri Ap Myrfa (Document 450 in the archives of the University College of Historical Studies, York) demonstrates that the chieftain’s predominant agricultural policy was in crops and livestock, which would need grass such as this to graze upon, was an area he only ventured into on rare occasions and never in the vicinity of this blade. Likewise, we know the blade must have been planted by 890 as it, or rather the field in which it resides, is mentioned in the Icelandic saga of Magnus Blao whereby it states that upon arriving on this shores he ‘saw the most magnificent field he had ever laid eyes upon, all full of lush and tender grass that was far greener than all the envies of Loki.’ What this icelandic saga appears to also suggest, as you can see, is that originally this blade of grass was one of many and it was originally not alone in it’s beauty and that it was merely one of many. However, as the journeys of Magnus Blao have been definitively dated to the late 880’s (and the saga was written by 900 at the earliest) there is strong evidence that the blade was planted no later than that date. Most scientists are in agreement on this although several fringe studies have recently made the claim that the field was being used for barely in the early 900’s and therefore could not have been the same field as seen by Magnus Blao. However, as his saga is one of the most studied and the most detailed, there is little doubt that our blade resides in the same field as laid eyes upon by Magnus Blao.
It’s age may not be certain but what is is that for the many years which this blade of grass has been growing it has been continuously celebrated by both the rich and the powerful as well as the poor and downtrodden. Throughout it’s life many well known and lesser known faces have made pilgrimage to the site and in the half century leading up to the reformation there was even a small shrine where the pilgrims would come to give thanks for the blade of grass. This practice was stopped when Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1534 and the shrine was dismantled so that today not a trace of it remains except in engravings of the time but people still continued to flock to the site to see the blade of grass, regardless. Famous admirers of the blade include the above mentioned King John, William Shakespeare, Charles I (who expressed a desire to visit the blade of grass one final time before his execution, although it was denied,) Oliver Cromwell and noted diarist Samuel Pepys. Pepys visited the blade in 1668, coincidentally on the same day as Christopher Wren who included his own homage to the blade in the whispering gallery of St Paul’s cathedral, and he remarked that ‘it was a fine specimen of botany which all noble and true Englishmen should see at least once before they die.’ The fame of the blade reached it’s peak in the mid 1800’s when it was said that up to five thousand visitors would come to see the blade of grass every summer and it was so renowned that it was even briefly transplanted and displayed at the crystal palace during the great exhibition of 1851. It was at this time that many societies were founded to celebrate the blade, including the ‘Blade of Grass society’ which today is the most famous and the ‘worshipful church of the holy blade’ who venerate the blade as god and who preach that it holds secrets which offer salvation for all mankind.
Whilst the blade’s popularity declined throughout the twentieth century it was still seen as a particularly important part of British heritage by many, philosopher Bertrand Russel and poet John Betjeman amongst them. In 1996 the future of the blade was threatened by the development of a multi million pound retail outlet, proposed by the Basil-Holswig Group, and it was this development that spurred a consortium of experts, with the backing of both the Blade of Grass society and the worshipful church of the holy blade’ to lobby for a preservation order from the Major government. John Major was said to be a great admirer of the blade, becoming a fan after having visited the site on a school trip when he was nine, and he personally gave his full support to the proposal. (40) It was not an easy ride however as the bill that would have passed the preservation order was delayed by the Labour opposition with Tony Blair famously remarking ‘that it was just a blade of grass, nothing more… nothing less.’ On the day of the bill a three line whip was imposed by all parties but the bill still passed by a majority of three after the site was visited by deputy Labour leader John Prescott who was said to have been very impressed by the blade and led to his persuasion of several other Labour MPs to back the bill, much to the irritation of Tony Blair. After the passing of the bill Blair was persuaded to visit the blade and his subsequent remarks on the matter, most notably to David Frost in 2001, suggest that his opinions now differ somewhat.
Today, despite being rejected for UNESCO world heritage status in 2004, the popularity of the blade is once again on the rise with a new visitor centre due to be opened in the spring of 2015. The centre will include a museum detailing the history of the blade as well as a gift shop, tea room and conference centre. The age of the internet has, it seems, also been a boon for the blade. Last year the church of the holy blade reported an increase in membership thanks to their online video streaming of religious services at the mother church in Wrecsam and the Blade society has also reported an increase thanks to the introduction of their own website. A recent report on the health of the blade brought back nothing to be concerned about and it appears that the blade will see through the 21st century with as much love and admiration as it has ever had.