In 1811 it rained unnaturally hard for about a week, in the lands to the south of Buentoille, in the hills where the Moway has its source. Buentoille only received the edge of this weather directly, and things continued much as before, but indirectly the river swelled up, flooding some of the City and severely damaging some bridges and buildings. Buentoille was rebuilt in much the same way as before, but in amongst the debris were items which had not been there before; as well as the branches and river stones thrown onto the banks were ornately carved statues of children at play, statues that nobody remembered seeing before.
These cherubs were gathered up and closely studied. They were mostly damaged in the deluge, but here and there a full statue seemed to have remained unscathed. The stone they were made from is thought to be a kind of red-veined marble only found in the Hoodsworth foothills, an area somewhat downriver from the Moway’s source. Obviously some riverside ancient settlement had been uncovered by the rain, dragged from the earth and washed down the river, yet perhaps not; there were no other items of civilisation found, none of the detritus of life, of broken combs, pieces of pottery, any masonry or metal. Perhaps these pieces simply did not settle on Buentoille’s banks, or perhaps the masonry became mixed in with that of the partially destroyed Buentoilliçan buildings. An archaeological party sent up river failed to find the source of the statues.
But there were others who had a keen interest in the statues. In the week before the flood many of the fishers who laid nets in the waters of the Moway started pulling out smaller statues of children, possibly better described as trinkets as they could fit in the palm of your hand. Unlike the statues, these trinkets were made of a kind of obsidian, and depicted the children asleep, either curled up, or laid out flat with their arms at their sides. Perhaps they were supposed to be dead, not sleeping. According to the fishers, these trinkets were warm to the touch, even after they’d just been pulled from the river. Most were caught in nets, although at least two were cut from fish stomachs. The fishers began to demand access to the statues, but were consistently rebuffed by the Royal Buentoilliçan Archaeological Company, who were holding the larger stone children for study.
Quite why the Company denied these fishers access to the statues is disputed. At the time there were accusations of classism; the Company was primarily made up of the upper-middle classes, whereas the fishers were working class. The Archaeological Company’s justifications, given to the Buentoilliçan Record three weeks after recovering the artefacts from the river beds, centred around the ‘aggressive and threatening behaviour’ of the fishers. When this was disproved by calm and considerate letters sent between each side shown to the papers by the fishers, the Company changed tack, complaining of the ‘worrying cultish behaviour’ of the fishers, who had apparently begun building shrines to their own small figures, where they worshipped them and made offerings.
These claims were clearly intended to provoke a sense of discomfort and religious zealotry towards the fishers, on the part of the more hard-line Chastise Church-goers and those who were simply wary around the term ‘cult’, envisaging moral depravity and child sacrifice, something hinted at but not directly accused by the Company. This tack was effective in some quarters, to be sure, but mostly it backfired because it made the Archaeological Company look somewhat absurd. More importantly, it gave the fishers an effective line of attack which eventually allowed them to gain ownership of the statues: religion.
This is not to say that the Company were wrong when they suggested there was something of a nascent cult building around the little child idols, or the Children of Stone, as they became known; whether the Church of the Children of Stone was formed as a result of the Company’s claims or not is a point of contention. There is certainly something strange about the determination of the fishers to gain access to the statues which cannot be explained by mere curiosity. According to Senelios Buffe, a cultural historian who has written various articles about the formation of the Church of the Children of Stone, the fishers ‘felt some connection to these little children that warmed the palms of their hands, and by extension their larger cousins, a connection which possessed them in ways that perhaps they themselves did not recognise.’ Whether or not the fishers got the idea for the Church from the archaeologists, there was certainly something beyond curiosity or a desire for class justice driving them.
Even back before the Revolution, religious freedom was an ideal to which Buentoille held true, and once the fishers had established their Church, which met in a specially adapted boathouse, they found it easy to get a court order which granted them access to, and later on ownership of, the Children of Stone. That court order came through on this day in 1814. Today they celebrate that court order, which itself has formed part of their religion, by staging a mock trial, a kind of pantomime, in Uer Deame’s Square. The Royal Buentoilliçan Archaeological Company is vilified perhaps more strongly in this retelling than it once was, due to its absolution after the Revolution, and the modern dislike of all things royal. After this ceremony, another is held, this time in their main church building, a far larger version of that original boathouse, where the statues are ‘bathed’ in the river by the faithful.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Festival of Dark Promises
- The Festival of Enduring Musical Accompaniment
- The Dangerous Beetle Festival