|Anne Grimston's grave, as it appeared in 1904|
Born into a wealty and privileged family, Lady Anne Grimston was the daughter of John Tufton, the 2nd Earl of Thanet, and Lady Margaret Sackville. A woman who had a materialistic obsession for the finer things in life, she made her home at Tewin House, an immense mansion in Hertfordshire County, where she lived out her days in pampered luxury until her death in 1713.
Lady Anne Grimston was laid to rest in the St. Peter Churchyard in Tewin, and her grave remains one of the most visited in Hertfordshire, even though it is merely a heap of shattered marble and twisted, ancient iron bars. Some might even look at the grave and declare it an eyesore. But the thing that attracts visitors from all over England to the graveyard in Tewin is the story behind Lady Anne's grave. A story, some say, that proves the very existence of God.
Throughout much of her life, Lady Anne scoffed at the notion of a Higher Power and the possibility of life after death. But, although she was known to her friends as a staunch atheist, she prided herself on keeping up appearances, and so, every Sunday, she dutifully attended church services in St. Albans.
It is unclear what happened to Lady Anne to make her lose her faith, but records show that both of her children died at an early age; her son, Edward, died in infancy while a daughter, Mary, died at the age of nine. At any rate, when Anne grew old and her friends attempted to comfort her with talk of the hereafter, the dying woman is said to have declared: “I shall not live again. It is as unlikely that I shall live again as that a tree will grow out of my body.”
And, as fate would have it, that is exactly what happened.
Not long after her burial, it was noticed that the heavy marble slab marking her final resting place had shifted. Workers set the slab back into position and reinforced it, confident that the gravestone was strongly secured. But, before long, the heavy marble slab had shifted again. Upon further investigation it was discovered that there was a small crack in the marble and, much to everyone's surprise, a sapling was poking through the narrow gap. Workers sealed the gap with cement and once again set the slab back into its original position.
|The gravesite as it appears today|
By 1870, the sapling had grown into a slender, young tree, which had broken through the cement and shattered the marble slab in two. By this time the marker was beyond repair, and workers erected an iron railing around the gravesite to protect what was left of it.
Today, growing right through the middle of what had been Lady Anne's gravemarker, are not one, but four, trees-- all growing from the same root. The trees grew so quickly that they engulfed parts of the original iron railing, which are now embedded in the trunk, and the four trees tower majestically over the atheist's grave, the tallest trees in all of Hertfordshire.
The story of Lady Anne Grimston's grave has an equivalent here in America. When Ohio atheist Chester Bedell passed away in 1908, he declared, "If there be a God or any truth in the Bible, let my body be infested with snakes." And if you want to know what happened next, read our article about the Legend of Chester Bedell's Grave.