Wiltshire Tourist Guide

The Flying Monk of Malmesbury Wiltshire

The Flying Monk of Malmesbury Wiltshire may seem a rather unlikely and incredible tale but an eleventh century Abbey monk made an attempt at manned flight.

It seems strange that it was so many centuries later before others emulated his dream and made it a reality. Perhaps the eleventh century monk was inspired by the sculptured angels of the magnificent tympanum above the abbey doorway, thought to date from the Saxon era; or did he simply envy the birds as they circled the rooftops and then swooped downwards to skim the cool waters of the Avon far below?

Whatever his motive it was not fanciful dreaming alone that made monk Eilmer contemplate the exciting possibility of flight; he was renowned for his scientific knowledge. He made himself a strong pair of wings and then waited for favourable weather conditions before making his way to the top of the Abbey tower.

His fellow monks must have watched and prayed fervently as he stood poised for flight on the edge of the parapet. Then came the moment to for his courageous leap into space and with wings outspread Eilmer swooped away and flew for a furlong before the law of gravity brought him forcefully to the ground. Miraculously he was not killed but his legs were smashed in the fall.

The frustrated aeronaut was convinced that he had failed because he had neglected to make and wear a tail and he was quite willing to try again with the aid of that appendage. Perhaps it was as well for him that the Abbot forbade The Flying Monk of Malmesbury Wiltshire any further attempts. Eilmer was already crippled enough and limped for the remainder of his life.

When restoration work was carried out at Malmesbury Abbey in 1928 four windows were placed in the vestry at the end of the south aisle. One depicts Eilmer holding his wings in contemplation of his historic flight.

The above article was reproduced by kind permission of the publishers Countryside Books of Newbury from Tales of Old Wiltshire by Cecilia Millson price £6.95 available from all good Wiltshire bookshops.

The Abbey is open daily between 10:00am and 4:00pm (though times may vary during holiday periods, as well as for regular worship). The Abbey House Gardens are open daily from March 21 to October 21 11.00am to 5:30pm.

The Flying Monk of Malmesbury Wiltshire