I shall begin with a disclaimer….By now you are aware that Eric and I have visited a number of places of worship starting with Stonehenge, then Salisbury, then Glouster, then the temple at Hadrian’s Wall. There was no place of worship at Carnarvon Castle or we probably would have gone there. While getting to these auspicious places we drove through the most astonishingly beautiful countryside. Yes, the USA is beautiful and I am patriotically going to say that it is more beautiful. But…the countryside around Hadrian’s Wall and that around Haltwhistle and somewhat beyond, Northumbria I think, was hills beyond hills, valleys and streams, just breathtaking vistas.
Another guest at The Gray Bull in Haltwhistle told us we must visit the cathedral at Durham witch is on the way to York….so we did, consistent with our policy to go where the locals point us. Durham Cathedral is Norman architecture, not ornate. The architect who designed it tried a new roof style that allowed this stone roof to sore many stories about the floor of the nave. Columns six meters in circumference and six meters in height supported somewhat smaller columns going up and up. The wider bases were all decorated with carving, rather simple but effective. The thing is, no photos were allowed inside the cathedral ….none at all…so I got a couple on line. You can see the carving on the posts and the pews for size comparison. No photo can do any justice to these immense churches. There was no charge to go into the building either as there mostly is in these big churches. The national lottery gives money to help these cathedrals…and smaller churches. It is the only way to preserve them as it costs so much to run them (18,000 pounds a day at Salisbury and 20,000 at York). Even British people are surprised at this cost. We do our bit here just as we do at First Parish.
Besides being stunning, Durham holds the earthly remains of St. Cuthburt and The Venerable Bede. Maybe you have heard of them. Both were ascetics and both were heads of their church’s..more than one. Cuthburt was a pious, gentle, generous man, a true friend of the poor and did much to spread Roman Christianity in Anglo Saxon times and also ministered to the Danes who came to English shores to pillage and stayed to worship and raise families.
The Venerable Bede (his tomb to the left) is famous in religious and secular worlds because of his extensive writings. Two of these stand out, the famous Historia Ecciesiastica gentis Anglorum…translated as the Christian History of the English People. completed in 731 and that garnered him the title “Father of English History”. He also wrote “De Temporum Ratione”, “The Reckoning of Time”, in which book he delineated the method of determining the date of Easter (first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox) which was accepted at the Synod of Whitby. He also, building on an earlier genius’ work developed our dating system A.D. and B.C. (Now a bit changed but essentially the same) because before that it was a mishmash of dates according to the reigns of various kings. He also, based upon his belief that the earth was the center of the solar system, developed an entire computational apology for the phases of the moon, tides, eclipses, etc.. A bit misguided but a man of great intellect. And for the record, a man who did his best to bring harmony to the fractured times he lived in. I met this guy in seminary so I was amazed and filled with wonder to be standing before his grave.
Then on to York (which I am always trying to spell, “yolk”) which has the magnificent York Minster. Called that because originally it had no cathedra, Bishop’s chair, and therefore was not a ‘cathedral’. The official name is The Cathedral of St. Peter but people still use the older name. This cathedral, like all the others, was a center of learning and employment.
There is a dragon in York Minster that is actually a balance beam lift. The diagram of how it works is on the left and the dragon on the right and they probably used it to lift the lid off the baptismal font…they had some really large ones.
I love this cathedral. I wanted to see Salisbury Cathedral but it didn’t capture my heart and York Minster did. (The refurbished window in the Mary Chapel).
We have been at Evensong in Salisbury and in Glouster and now in York Minster. If I lived in York I would be there then as often as possible. The service was just as lovely as the others, (the choir master in Glouster was better) but the organist! He did not stint with stops. The postlude was the Allegro from the Sixth Symphony by Widor. You can google that but your speakers won’t do it justice. It shook the cathedral! I could almost feel it in my bones and I had the fantasy that the sound waves were penetrating my body and reverberating there. The organ loft…Since I was there last, in 2007, they refurbished the window in the Mary Chapel. (The quire is behind the lecturn…we sat on the left). (Wall memorial to the men of Patton’s army with whom Eric’s dad served as Chaplin in WWII). All the cathedrals are putting thermal glass on the outside of their windows to help preserve them. Some of those stained glass windows are around a thousand years old and rebuilding them and saving them is, besides expensive, difficult and time consuming and so worth it. Durham is a World Heritage site just as Stonehenge is. There are the ruins of a Roman garrison beneath York Minster and the surrounding old town. This garrison held an entire legion of 5000 men, five times the size of the fort at Hadrian’s Wall. This was a major Roman center from which they deployed men to various areas to ‘keep the peace’, which, until they were recalled to Rome, they did admirably. These remains were found when, back in the ‘50s, they excavated to find out why the central tower was sagging. It was built on the remains of previous foundations which were not adequate to hold up any part of York Minster. (Here is an archeologist in the ‘50s finding the rubble holding up the tower and a picture of what they were saving). Under that they found the garrison, which in its hay day was many times bigger than the cathedral enclosure.
It was getting late and we were hungry so we walked down to a street called The Shambles, which is the oldest intact street in the country. It is narrow, the buildings are small and I can see it being used for movie scenes. We ate at an Italian place and I have to tell you that Papa Razzi and Maggiano’s are both very much better…and this place wasn’t all that bad. We’re just spoiled.
Then we drove back to our room to sleep so we will be rested for our long drive tomorrow to….