Under the Mercy

The grave of Charles Williams in an Oxford churchyard (Holywell*) is marked by a stone bearing his name and the terse description: Poet, followed by the words, Under the Mercy.

Under the Mercy is a phrase that appears frequently in his writings, as it did in his conversation. He liked to refer to the Divinity by Its Attributes: the Mercy, the Protection, the Omnipotence. In his personal life he seemed always to be clinging to the faith that, balanced as he was upon the knife-edge of his Christian allegiance in the world of myth and magic that his passion-inflamed imagination had conjured up, he would find at last, in death if by no other route, the stillness of the Love of God. It was his wife, Michal, in one of those sudden flashes of crystal-clear insight of which she was not infrequently capable, who chose the inscription on the stone. Nothing could have been more appropriate.

Lois Lang-Sims: "Letters to Lalange", page 16

Holywell cemetery is an extension of the St Cross churchyard, and is now a recognised wildlife area harbouring wood mice, foxes, pheasants, frogs, toads, butterflies, dragonflies and many birds. Snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils and summer wildflowers abound.

To wander around it is to stumble on famous names. Here is the great Walter Pater, academic, art-lover, aesthete, who died in 1934. The composer John Stainer was buried here in 1901. Here is Charles Williams, friend of Lewis and Tolkien, who died in 1945; “Under the Mercy” is his epitaph. Austin Farrer, priest, 1968. Maurice Bowra, classical scholar, warden of Wadham (I am a man more dined against than dining) 1971. John Dyson, another Inkling, 1975. Kenneth Tynan, drama critic, angry young man, 1980... and many more.

The nearby holy well was probably a pre-Christian worship site.