Eilmer, high-flying monk of Malmesbury


Eilmer, high-flying monk of Malmesbury

Eilmer of Malmesbury was a Benedictine monk in pre-Norman England best known for his early attempt at a gliding flight using wings.

Eilmer was a monk of Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire. The story of his daring flight was written by the eminent medieval historian William of Malmesbury in about 1125., and inspired dreams of flight down through the ages.

Being a fellow monk of the same abbey, William almost certainly obtained his account directly from people who knew Eilmer when he was an old man - as Eilmer apparently lived long enough to see Halley's Comet twice and was described as an old man in 1066.

As a youth, according to William of Malmesbury, Eilmer was inspired by the Greek fable of Daedalus and the birds flying around the abbey. He strapped two wings to his arms and legs and tried to fly from the tower of Malmesbury Abbey in around 1010.

Eilmer glided around 200 yards, before a hard landing and breaking both his legs. He walked with a limp thereafter, but he survived and even wanted to try his luck again, blaming his injuries on the lack of a tail.

Traditionally, he is said to have landed in Oliver's Lane in Malmesbury. Modern aviation experts find the tale plausible. Launching into the southwest wind his initial descent would enable him to gain sufficient speed so that he could ride the air currents off the hillside. Then, losing speed would make continuing to head into the wind difficult and he would have been blown sideways to land where legend suggests – Oliver’s Lane.

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