Thursday, June 12, 2014

Just Step Around the Sinking Stones, It's Only King Ethelbert

Pulteney Bridge Over the River Avon in Bath, England

If there were a competion between Florence, Italy and Bath, England for the most Retail Shops per square mile....Bath would come in second....but not by much.

This town has it goin' on. A very trendy downtown. Lots of bus traffic. Lots of tourists. Lots of gridlock. Lots of coffee shops. Lots of fun.

I enjoyed it all.

Bath Abbey

Every school kid in the UK who was not touring London, was touring Bath. Makaila and I cam to Bath to see the Abbey (not a Cathedral since the Bishop does not reside there. I suppose we could now call  us Dublin Abbey since the Bishop does not reside in Dublin. It sounds so...high church.)

This is a big place, but not a Mega-Cathedral like York and Lincoln (my terminology).

 The most unique aspect of the Abbey is that the choir does not have a back panel (my terminology) and thus it is not cut into three sections: Nave, Choir and back Chapel. So the affect is one long continuous aisle...front to back.

But, it does have my favorite ceiling design: fans. These are excellent.

We saw these in the Cloisters at Glouscester, which soundsa bit like a thriller from Dan Brown. Besides Cathedrals and Abbeys have bragging rights of dead King's bones, or a portion of the Magna Carta or the Mappa Mundi...lots of these cathedrals and abbeys talk about which Tom Hanks or Harry Potter movie was filmed in their church structure.

Holy Family?...not sure of the concept.
The Sacraments? I suppose we do those.
Ancient relics of the Benedictine Founder from 937 AD?......I guess they are around her somewhere but we lost track of them during the War of the Roses.

Which scence from which Harry Potter movie used which portion of the Cathedral? EVERYONE in town knows the answer to that!


Also, another curious thing about the Abbey. I have never seen SO many plaques on the walls and floors as I saw today.

The floors held more bones per square foot....even more than I ever saw in Florence. The result was that the floors were collapsing and they were on a major project to shore them up. I'd like to talk to the guy whose idea it was to bury the bones beneat the aisle stones because they are paying for that mistake right now.

Baptismal Fount in side chapel.

Main Baptismal Fount Near the back of the sanctuary.

The Abbey itself is in good shape, a tad cluttered but it did not appear as if there were major walls falling or the roof sagging. Granted the floor stones are shifting due to rotting bones...always a danger in Medieval Churches but a fine place.

Makaila and I took the train to Bath. We know have this ride the train around England down pat. We haven't climbed on board the wrong train for weeks....though in our defence....neither the signboards in the station nor the train crew announced the actuall name of the train.

But in the end. The journey is the goal. 

If so, we succeeded.

Peace,  Bob

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

I'll Take a De-Caf with that Organically Grown Whole Wheat Communion Bread

I have faced down my greatest fear and come out on the other side. 

In other words, I tried a true "English Breakfast"...which includes eggs, bacon, sausage and baked beans. It has been stated elsewhere by me that I cannot look at baked beans before 12:15 pm. But I have done so and I must admit is is not bad at all. I still prefer yogurt but in a pinch, I will go "English" and furthermore, I am now calling soccer "football" and have memorized the names of the grandchildren of the Queen, even though I do not like some of their hats. I know all the arcane rules to Cricket and prefer to drink my drafts outside of the pubs...even in the a good Brit.

Here is one I was not expecting. We had dinner the other night at a Punjabi Jazz Restaurant. Punjabi food and American Jazz. Surprisingly it works. The British Indian guy wanted to impress this American with his knowledge of jazz (he had Sinatra and Billie Holiday and Miles Davis pictures onthe  walls. Was not expecting that.) So he unveiled a jazz CD by Luka Mammutza. Very nice. Italian jazz and Chicken Tikka. It's a whole new world out there.
Time to track down those Christopher Wren Churches.

The great fire of 1666. London was 80% burned to the ground. With lots of wood and thatch, it was only a matter of time, I suppose. But this gave the King and Parliament and the great achitect Christopher Wren the opportunity to redesign London.

 St. Paul's Church is one accomplishment.

This is only the roofline of the great St. Paul's as seen from a nearby shopping complex. And Wren redesigned something like 80 churches that had burned down. Some, still stand today and so we went exploring. 

Most of them had a similar look outside like St. Magnus the Martyr.

Magnus was killed by his cousin in a power struggle but he was a devout man. He was declared a saint and several hundred years later appeared to Robert the Bruce in 1314 to promise victory at the Battle of Bennockburn. Like so many other saints, the brothers or monks hid his bones in the 1500's when Henry VIII was persecuting the Roman Catholics. They were no doubt good and devout men, but their short term memories were lacking and so the bones of St. Magnus were lost. 

Were there really so many bones of saints to hide that they would actully forget a set or two? Apparently there was 1950 until someone found them. Seeing as how much stuff of graves, markers, candles, pictures and statues and the like clutter the church sanctuaries, the bones could have been hidden and no one would have discovered them for centuries. 

Which is apparently what happened. 

St. Mary Abchurch was heavily bombed in WWII and rebulit.

Look at this ceiling...

And a couple blooks away, right next to the cemetery and and the acheolgoical dig was St. Stephen Walbrook. There have been buildings here since Roman times. The Romans walled up the brook and diverted it a bit. (Hence: Wall-brook...Walbrook) When they built the current St. Stephen Walbrook after the great fire, no one thought much of the underground water...but Mother Nature never forgets and as a result the church is collapsing on one end. But its current structure is stunning.

St. Stephen Walbrook

Many call it Wrens Masterpiece after the great St. Paul just down the street. It has a Henry Moore altar in the center.

Henry Moore Altar

No stained glass, just light and very little decoration; relatively speaking compared with other Christopher Wren churches. (It is said that Wren himself was a secret Puritan. Were that true, and were that known, I doubt he would have been given the task of redesigning Church of England Churches, but judging from this one church, St. Stephen Walbrook, I'd be inclined to believe he had some Puritan in him.) In London, this is considered non-elaborate. 
St. Stephen Walbrook

Down the street we go. 

Want Coffee with your worship? Try St. Mary Aldermary. Cappucino with your prayers.

And if you are not enough awake after the caffeine, just look at the Gothic details. Wren's only re-working with Gothic.

St. Mary Aldermary

How about contemporary stained glass windows to complement the redesigned after a WWII

 You will find it at St. Michael Paternoster Royal nearby.

Along with an elaborate Baptismal Fount at St. Michael Paternoster Royal (just like the Fount at St. Stephen Walbrook, which I'm sure you noticed)...but one more Christopher Wren Church
Count your blessings that you are not a cheerleader on the church basketball team..."Give me an S and an A and an I and N and T. Give me a P and an A....and ....oh, the game is over."

Many of these Anglican churches have behind the altar, three writings. The Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandment, and the Apostles Creed. Yet all of this church architecture and walking and craning of necks to see the details in the ceilings can make one hungry.

Problem solved at St. Mary Le Bow. Mass in the sanctuary.

and lunch in the Crypt.
Lunch in the Crypt at St. Mary Le Bow.

It gives a whole new notion to Communing with God. (VAT included in the check.)

Peace,  Bob

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"Bromley, Prepare for Hunting and High Tea and Be Quick About It!"

I'm talking to the gentleman at the gate to Audley End House.

"So...we have spent the day at Audley End. Just what does 'End' refer to in British terminology?" I asked the man.
"Well," he begins...and I can tell he is going to lean into this explanation..."You have just visited Audley End and that refers to the Audley Family who owned the estate."


"And the 'End' Portion of the name refers to.......?" I ask again, hoping against hope.

"It refers to the end of the name of Audley End." he helpfully replies.


"I guess it is time for us to leave now." I answer.
"Jolly good, Have a good day sir!"

It's impossible to get to Downton Abbey these days (Highclear Castle) so we decided to visit a country estate so we could get the feel of Being to the Manor Born. And I have decided, no both Makaila and I have decided that to be a part of the Aristocracy in the 1800's is totally a great way to live.

Today we went out of London to visit Audley End House. It is now owned and run by English Heritage and they have done a wonderful job of preserving and presenting this treasure.

But, let's back up a bit.

Like everything we have see the past two weeks...recorded history begins with the Romans, who probably settled on land which was that of another peoples. In any case, Rome rules and then collapses and the Christian Church steps in and on this land a Benedictine Monestery is built. Walden Abbey thrives until, like so much else of history in England....Henry VIII.

His dispute with Rome caused the Abbey to be suppressed and the land was given to his chancellor, Thomas, Lord Audley. He converts the monastic buildings to a house.

Unless I am unable to read between these lines, the King stole the religious abbey and gave it to one of his cronies as a reward, who then turned it into a house. Though it was and is a bit more grand than most houses.

It's good to be King.

Over the centuries the house grew and the house shrank. One occupant doubled its size and another could not bear the upkeep and tore down a large portion of it. The estate passed from one Duke to another Lord and back and forth. Gardens and stables were added and what we see today is essentially the look of the early 1800's though at that point the owner sought to recover the Jacobean character of the place.

We strolled the garden and forest and found it all to be remarkable. We saved the tour of the house for last.

For some reason, the owner of the estate or owner of the objects in the house won't allow photos and the explanation for that got all legal-y. Even the guide seemed a bit perplexed as to the ban on photography. 

Nevertheless, we carried on.

I liked that it had no one but two libraries, floor to ceiling books. And for some reason the dining room was on the second floor. I asked if that was a bit inconvenient for the staff to have to carry the food so far. (It WAS inconcenient for the staff...but they were only staff,) The kitchen was downstairs in back; not a part of the main house. This was because kitchens with their great ovens were always burning down and it was safer for the rest of the house to have it separate. So, the servants had 175 yards to traverse to get the cornish game hen to the table of The Lord and Lady. By then it was cold but the most important part of the meal was the presentation and not the tempurature or delictablity of the food. In other words, it was better to look good than to taste good.

The estate also had not one but two halls with cases of stuffed birds and estate game on display. I counted about 60 such glass cases with hundreds of animals. It's a wonder any game is left north of the Thames. The guide says that some people are upset by the display of the stuffed animals, which are really quite remarkable and well done. I asked the guide if people were equally upset about the hard lives of the servants. "I suppose not," he said.

There was one huge bird called a Great Bustard which was stuffed. It went extinct but was recently reintroduced to the area by some Great Bustards from Russia. Apparently the bird was slow to get flight and was easy prey to foxes and hunters and its greatest hinderance to longevity: "it tasted quite delicious" said the guide. Also in one of the cases was the tusk of a wooly mammoth which was unearthed on the property.

The master bedrooms consisted of sitting rooms, dressing rooms and bedroom. I was hoping for lots of secret passageways for the servants to appear and disappear into for dramatic effect but there was only one such passageway off the master bedrooms and that was added later.

King George III (Mad King George) was to make a stay at the estate many centuries ago. The house and staff prepped for weeks. They even purchased a new $70,000 bed (in current money) for the Royal Visit. Alas, King George took ill and did not show and the bed was not used for many years. 

One entire wing of the third floor was converted for the children and governess. Many families and children lived in the estate over the centuries and our tour included information about one family in the early 1800's. The eldest son Richard, when a child served as a Page at the Coronation of William IV. The boy's outfit cost more than the nursery maid earned in a year's time. Of the five boys in that family, two died in the Crimean War and one nearly died in the army in Canada. One inherited the estate and Latimer became a lecturer and clergy at a college at Cambridge. As the display said about him: he was a "good but dull man." His sermons were noted for being short and succinct. (There are worse things that could be said about clergy.)

The servants work area, laundry, kitchen, and countless other buildings indicated that the estate grew and fed itself. Animals were raised and slaughtered and smoked and served. Those animals and other food which did not serve the household were sold for a profit in the market. It was a self-sustaining village unto itself and was really quite fascinating.

But behind it all were real people who lived hard lives so that the Aristocrats could live lives of ease and importance. Said one of the guides, "They thought they were ordained by God to rule."  That's a rather universal trait, I assured her. The estate had a number of great displays on the workers themselves and how they lived and got along in life. The main theme was that life was hard, but these workers knew at the end of the day that they had a bed and the next day they would have food on the table. And that their sons and daughters would have work when they reached the proper age. It was a self perpetuating system fostered by a mindset of another age.

In the third floor of the house was the coal room. Named because it held coal which heated water there on the third floor. Hot water for baths was put in buckets and carried by servants to the rooms of the masters and mistresses. But in an odd occurance, the only working toilet was there on the third floor...for the servants. The Aristocracy did not have such item. 

It never occurred to them that they might need one.

After all...they had the servants to whisk their nightsoil away each morning.


Peace,  Bob

Monday, June 9, 2014

If Only You'd Started Ringing Your Bell

How can you go wrong visiting a little country Cathedral which happens to hold the remains of Jane Austen?

Maybe it's nice a little country town, but Winchester is a bit Southwest of London and taking the Underground across London during rush hour and then hopping on the Southwest Train out of Waterloo makes one appreciate the calmer and pastoral atmosphere (even buccolic) of a town like Winchester.

Like all cathedrals it trumpets its "biggest" or "grandest" or "whatever-est" as compared to other houses of worship. Winchester claims to have the longest cathedral in England. Not sure if I could tell, but it is amazing to see, like all the others.

And though we have been in countless cathedrals, some names come up all the time, like William the Conquerer. Once he took over and appointed a new Archbishop, things started moving least cathedral wise. Today we have a thriving small city called Winchester.

When they began the cathedral, they were missing one crucial component: laborers. So, like all  the time tested methods of securing labor...they "drafted" the peasants from the fields ("It's for the Lord's'll like it.") These guys were not stone masons and some of their early work clearly demonstrates that they and the cathedral would have been better off milling and harvesting and doing whatever they did with grain. 

So about a hundred or so years after the place was completed, a large section of a transept collapsed, but they forged ahead and in succeeding generations they had the skills to continue.

Like so many of these cathedrals, the architecture changed from Norman to Gothic duirng the succeeding centuries of building. The photo above is Norman Architecture. Smaller windows, not as much light and a lack of "soaring" arches and windows as the photo just above it which is Gothic.

Life was cruel in the Middle Ages (like being yanked out of the fields and tossed onto a scaffold to lay brick and stone) and the Black Death came along in 1100 and killed one in three people. Yet some of the work lasted through the ages in spite of the mishaps.

There is a wonderful fresco in the Holy Sepulchre in the cathedral. Painted around the year 1100.

We could not walk into the Sepulcre so I had to lean in. This was painted in the small room. Years later they installed the organ above it and years of vibrations from the huge organ pipes caused the room to crack and nearly crumble. No matter, they just plastered over the frescos (which were paid for centuries earlier by the grandson of William the Conquerer) and buttressed the walls and forgot about the painting. Then around 1950, someone discovered the frescos and realized they had a Middle Ages masterpiece right in to cathedral. They have been restored as much as possible and are a delight to see.

Like all good cathedrals, they have the bones of saints and this one also has the bones of some ancient kings and queens. But bones have a way of getting hidden and stolen and lost and its like any possession you own, it takes work to keep possessing it.

Case in point: Winchester has the remains of St. Swithum from the 9th Century. Many came to visit these relics and legend or truth has it that the cathedral was filled with crutches of the infirm who came and were cured. (They also have the remains of Alfred the Great, king of Wessex buried in 899. Bones and relics were moved and re-moved like chandeliers or plumbing, there was a constant updating and relpaciing. If you built a new cathedral, you would relocate the relics or scour the countryside for relics. Once you got them in the cathedral and declared them relics, who was to say that they were NOT relics. I think I'm on firm footing when making the previous statement.)

So, Winchester had the remains of St. Swithum, but then Henry VIII took charge of the Church of England in a dispute with the Pope in Rome. Henry's men went about attacking cathedrals and priories and confiscating the funds of said religious institutions and finally re-forming as the Church of England headed by the King.


The monks hid the bones of St. Swithum. They hid him well. To this day, they can't find St. Swithum. Probalby just as well, Henry's men came and tossed all the bones of the other Greats and Saints on the floor and left town. The Puritans were not displeased.

All cathedrals have stunning stained glass windows, but this one with its Medievel Stained Glass was a masterpiece until Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans shot it full of holes and detroyed it completely. The locals painstakingly collected all the broken stained glass, (like they did the broken relic bones) and the colors, but not the design were refitted into the cathedral windows. (Damn those Puritans!)

Some of the details of the cathedral are astounding.

And some of the detalis are whimsical. (Green Man carved into the choir seating)

The crypt is below the cathedral and yet it floods each winter because the building is built in lowlands (more on that in a minute). So, whatever bones they have, which have not been dececrated by HenryVIII, Oliver Cromwell or my Puritan ancestors would be stored down here. Yet, it floods. So, they commissioned a statue to stand in the middle of the crypt to demonstrate the rise and fall of the water. it is a stunning, solemn (and damp) place. 

Now, about that water source. It seems the Romans (of course, this cathedral is built over the ruins of a Roman church from the 7th Century.) were pretty smart and they diverted the river a few hundred meters west and bult. William the Conquerer came along a few hundred years later and built over top. It never occured to anyone (when you are out conquering, the finer points of cathedral engineering may be overlooked) that a huge, heavy cathedral might weigh a lot and that it might sink and if its built in what was essentially a bog, that disaster would someday come about. 

Long story short...the cathedrals one end is sinking, about to collapse. In the early 1900's they hire a great man named William Walker who was a diver (wearing that pre-scuba diver hard helmet connected to an oxygen tank via a rope type thing). He worked for six years, diving for eight hours a day, shoring up the foundation of one wing of the cathedral. How they got the cement under there though he was under water, I am not sure, but he save the whole cathedral with his bare hands (all the while underwater). He's a hero.

And then the Spanish Flu epidemic came long in 1918 and he died.

But, as you can see, here is the cathedral. It is alive and standing and thanks be to God! (and William Walker)

Peace,  Bob

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Up to the Underground

Makaila wanted to see this flower market over in some distant part of London and so we hopped on the Underground. But it's pretty hard to hop around the Underground on the weekend, they keep closing down lines for repair and upgrade and the result is a lot of re-routing. So we went from the Underground to the Overground....which I think is just what it is......but at one point we left the Overground and went up so we could reach the Underground.

Tube designed by MC Escher.

You want flowers...or Ostrich Feathers...this is the place to go in London. This is not a tourist destination and the locals turn out in force for house plants, trees, decorative items.

They take over the street and the sidewalks become tiny tunnels to the shops.

And every so often there are shops where there are no shops...a perfect  compliment to the Underground over the Overground.

We liked it, it was the closest thing to authentic city life that we have experienced in London.

There is also a certain irony in the fact that on Sunday we did not visit a church or cathedral. I think we're good for the moment and if we get extra stars in our crown for attendance, we are good up through Christmas after all that we have visited. We decided that after flowers we would go for Royalty. Word has it that Will and Kate live in Kensington Palace over in Hyde Park so we went. 

Hyde Park is lovely and the weather was lovely so we strolled the park like true Londoners. All the tourists were in Piccadilly, we were in in the park. After a short while we came upon this place.

I guess this is where Will and Kate reside. There was no name on the mailbox out front (and million dollar homes ALL have mailboxes.) but there was a man in a security box who for some inexplicable reason was wearing a lumbar support. The kind that workers at Lowes wear so they won't get a hernia. Were this sort of dignitary in the States, living at a posh residence, we'd have Navy Seal Team Six in front with Uzzi's. England is a bit more understated in these things and it's good to know that if things get frantic, no one around here is going to get a hernia.

Besides a great city park and wonderful grounds, there was a gift shop in the home of the Royal's all about the Revenue Stream.

But lunch called, and in this case lunch was called:
The Queen's Arms

You can't go wrong with a name like that and it was a slow day at the "Arms" as we locals have been calling it for years. I had some sort of fish cakes and we topped it off with a decadent cake. When I was in Liverpool, a phrase I don't believe I have ever used before, I thought I was ordering a beer but it turns out it was a Cider....not these cider tasting beers that are on the American market but a real cider that has heft but no alcohol. At least I don't think matter.....I rather like these cider brews. And that complimented the luncheon.

Final stops of the day included the tourist meccas of Piccadilly and Trafalgar. Both were tourist madness with folks in search of something. Best part of it all was Trafalgar where the statue of Lord Nelson towers over the area. Nelson defeated the French and Spanish at Trafalgar near Spain and as a reward they placed his statue on a pole, way up high that no one can see him. He is surrounded by lions and great words. I like it. Nearby are a few other statues but one statue on a plinth (another phrase I have never had occsion to use before) looked unmistakeably like a giant cobalt blue rooster. I went over closer to investigate. 

Turns out it was a giant aquamarine rooster which weighs about 600 kilos and stands 8 ft high. So the defender of British supremacy on the high seas is now flanked by a giant blue rooster in Trafalgar. I like the British, their sense of history and humor meshes well with mine. I glanced around at the thousands of tourists who inhabited the area and realized that majority were not noticing Lord Nelson, the Lions nor the blue rooster, everyone was checking their cell phones for things to do when in reality the thing to do was to look around at the naval heroes and farm animals.

A final stoll over the Thames to see the beauty of London from the Jubille Footbridges. 

The later it gets and the more you stray from the epicenter of tourism, the better I like this town.

We've got Winchester Cathedral in our sights for tomorrow, enough of this 2st Century life...back to the 12th.

Peace,  Bob