The Story of the Unknown Church

William Morris

General Description

Date: 1856
Genre: Short story


◦ Boos, “Structure of Morris's Tales“.

◦ Georgiana Burne–Jones, Memorials.

◦ Mackail, J. W. Life of William Morris .

Scholarly Commentary

Guest Editor: PC Fleming


This tale was William Morris's (1834-1896) first contribution to The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, and his first published story. Morris visited Belgium and North France in 1854, and he and Burne-Jones spent the summer of 1855 traveling on the continent. Both trips certainly influenced this story, and the closely-related essay “The Churches of North France”, which appeared in the February issue of the Magazine.

“The Story of the Unknown Church” anticipates several tropes Morris would return to in his later works. The narrator is the long-dead master-mason of a church which itself vanished two hundred years earlier, and the narrative relies primarily on dreams and memories. The clearest images in the story are the gardens around the church and the flowers on the graves, and together these images emphasize the ephemeralality of the church itself. Morris combines these three images (the flowers, the graves, and the church) in the story's final line, as the narrator is found dead “underneath the last lily of the tomb” (33).

Textual History: Composition

Dixon reports that Morris read this story to the rest of the Brotherhood before the end of 1855, but was unsure of the exact date (Memorials 125).

Printing History

First printed in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, 1856.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: Morris001.raw.xml