St Albans Cathedral

A cathedral is a hodgepodge of styles, designed to intimidate, perhaps, at best to inspire with awe. At St Albans, the Normans tore down the English cathedral to build their own. Nothing says “We are the masters now” quite like that. And different parts are from different ages: the brick tower, the stone nave, then the newer, faced stone porch, tediously symmetrical. You enter the west door then, unusually, climb stairs to walk down the “longest nave in England”. The important people are at the far end. This is intimidating.

It’s not the highest nave in England, because of the Norman arches in the north aisle. They cannot support the same height. Yet there are Gothic arches in the South aisle. I found that weird, ugly and unsettling when I first saw it. I wonder how the builders felt, when news filtered through to them of the new, fashionable Gothic arch.

The earliest of the mediaeval wall paintings dates from 1215.

All are faded, some almost unrecognisable.

So the curators have set projectors, which can indicate on the site what the original might have looked like. Between restoring with new pigment and covering over the original work, and leaving the faded originals, this is brilliant and beautiful. A touch on a tablet, and she is transformed.

This is “The Leaves of the Trees”, a touring artwork inspired by Covid.


This is the latest art added to the cathedral:

The shrine was broken up, and used as infil when the East end was walled off. When the wall was taken down, it was rediscovered. It has just been restored, with a new canopy. You can see the precise way it was broken, with pillars cracked and repaired in the same place. Here is the reredos.

That’s the best nourished dead Jesus I have seen. His head could be bowed in prayer, rather than death.

Here is the sculpture, which the priest would see, facing this altar:

It is Victorian restoration: the older screen was empty of statues. At the time, crucifixes were illegal in Church of England churches. The Reformers got at the older sculptures:

And here is a Chantry chapel, a bribe to God to get a rich man out of Purgatory early. What is so oppressive as religion enslaved to the interests of the rich.

Norwich cathedral

Norwich Cathedral is filled with Dippy the diPLODocus, and ropes, barriers and closed doors to distance it from the rest, which still has church-like aspects. My train was delayed, so I went to see the cathedral. Everywhere there are signs saying “No entry to Dippy here”. Gawpers are directed to a specific entrance at the south west corner of the cloisters, then through a guide with pictures of dinosaurs and parallels with the climate catastrophe, and finally into the nave. I associate the DIploDOcus (?) with Roman arches, because of the Natural History Museum.

I wanted my picture with it, and the man left out the head.

Initially I had no idea of the illustrious guest, and found a way in through the South door. Why can’t I get into the nave? I want to see the cathedral, not some dinosaur. A volunteer on guard at a closed door into the nave reluctantly let me through, telling me he should not really. The effect is to divide a museum, the nave, from the holy bit, transept and choir, which is normally big enough for any Sunday services. Yes the nave should be a public space for the city and landward areas, but why close off the worship bits? The restrictions inhibited my relaxation into timelessness. I went out into the cloisters, and there was another barrier, aimed at shooing the pilgrims to Dippy’s relics out. Again, the man there allowed me to step over the rope.

This is what a cathedral is for: commemorating important people.

This is a very important person indeed. His crest has a helm, meaning that he went out slaughtering peasants, and a coronet, meaning he told mere barons what to do. I have no idea who he was. I prefer the roof bosses:



The cloisters could be timeless, a place for aware contemplation. See, there is a labyrinth. There are also Dippy-seers, and photographers. I did not quite get in the mood. I feel a bit resentful.

Here are some dark works about refugees:


This one is trans- breasts, but no hips. Jesus was crucified at “the place of the Skull”.

I like this art work, an engraved door with lines from Eliot. It is hard to see the whole thing, but I take it by the handle, and move it back and forth to examine it. In the chapel I find some contemplation.

Ely Cathedral

The lady chapel has a powerful feminine energy, focused by a human Goddess above the altar. I love it.

Elsewhere, though, the chapel shows signs of Reformation: the original pigment on the figures, and the way their heads have been struck off. Beware men with hammers who know the Will of God. They will pick up guns if they can.

These hundred glass feathers, Solace by Layne Rowe, are inspired by the pandemic.

Cathedrals should commission new art. Here is Mary Magdalene recognising the risen Christ:


and here is Christ in Majesty:

In the chantry chapel, endowed by someone for monks to say masses endlessly to get him out of Purgatory quicker- hope he’s not in Hell, chantry-magic does not work for the damned- there are other alcoves without a figure.

This is the Octogon, at the centre of the building, above the altar. The nave is visible.

If I had not photographed it, I would not have seen how enthusiastic these thurifers are. With a long chain, the censer would normally not reach a higher angle than a swing pushed by a careful nanny. With a short chain, held by a priest, it can reach the horizontal, but never this high. Mercy!

The nave ceiling was repainted in the 19th century. Here is Christ in Majesty:

Here is a far more conventional Mary, left holding the baby:

I don’t like tombs in cathedrals. Christianity should not be about death and the dead- we are not ancient Egyptians- but I have a soft spot for this reclining bishop. He looks comfy:

This is the West porch. All its alcoves are empty. I wonder if they always were. See also where part of the building has fallen or been demolished, taking away symmetry, and how even the doors dwarf that tiny human, and my bicycle:

The arches both sides of the nave show their age:

The face of this chap on the floor looks Mediaeval in style, but I don’t think he would be that well-preserved if so:

Peterborough cathedral

Cutting it fine for my train, after lunch I dashed back to the cathedral. The sun would now be shining on its west end.

That lantern, and the “book” advertising that the cathedral is 900 years old, shows this view is not designed for the photographer. I cannot get the whole in the frame without those in the way. But the camera would not replicate the experience of seeing: you do not see it all at once, anyway.

The cathedral was begun nine centuries ago, and completed 120 years later. Then it was extended at the East end in 1500.

The newer part has fan vaulting. Looking from the East, you see the round Norman arches of the side aisles.

like the Norman arches, feeling solid, but the fan vaulting is beautiful. Finishing with the West wall,  the builders changed to the modern fashion for Gothic arches.

Around that  arch the carvings are simple and rural:

This is the view from the East end.

This is my favourite art work. The flash picks out her detail, but changes their visibility.

Taking a much younger Peter than older art usually shows without flash, I represent the natural light reflecting in his leg but not the detail of his face.

The Cross is from 1975. The gold contrasts with the skeletal figure. I did  not like that emaciation, but my friend feels he has a kind face.

She does not like the memento mori on one of the memorials, though.

Coventry Cathedral II

Coventry Cathedral is the most humane building I know. We enter through the shell of the bombed, burned out building, yet even here there are signs of restoration: that king to the left of the window, and the angel face

are too sharp for centuries of wear. There is the shell, showing the work of the Bombs and the fire, and also faces, people amid the devastation.

These people

have such wonderful erect necks, unbowed though their bodies are mangled.

These people kneel to each other. There is no sex in this embrace, but surrender-

They bury their eyes in each other’s shoulders, in trust and togetherness.

Ah- an Epstein. Nothing but the best here! He seems too proud to me. I have wondered what we read into that face.

This cathedral is filled with Words!

Hallowed be thy name in THE ARTS. God be in my senses and in my creating
Hallowed be thy name in SUFFERING. God be in my pain and in my enduring

It is worthy of that prayer. Here people have suffered, and have vowed that no other human should suffer. In the East end of the church, where the altar used to be, lies a bishop, who died in 1922, who rebuilt the church, and holds it, whole and strong, in his hands. Note the swastika on his mitre, at the time an unobjectionable, even Spiritual, symbol.

It is the way the land was, but we descend stairs going from the old to the new building. You ascend stairs to the older chapel at Fatima, physical labour to reach God, but descending is both going down into the dark and an easy motion, for God accepts us as we are. We enter on the South, and move towards the North, where the Sun never rises: we see God in the darkness, in all that suffering, God always with us, even in the worst we may bear. So keen had we been to photograph the old church and its new inhabitants that we entered a minute before last entry.

The South Wall. I love these engravings on the glass. They look thoroughly Mediaeval, and modern. As engravings, they can be livelier than the statues on the entrance-wall of cathedrals usually are. I love those exuberant musical instruments.

On entry, there is that glorious huge stained glass window on the East wall at the South end, letting the light in as to any church, but here above the Font, a bare rock with the shape of a shell carved into it. How wonderful to be admitted to Christ’s flock in all that Light!

But as we journey towards God in this church, we go North, into the dark. We pass more words:

A new commandment I give unto you + that ye love one another as I have loved you

Christ in majesty. He is seated, but that is not how knees would look in a chair. A friend thought it looked like the abdomen of a beetle, but to me he has wide, child-bearing hips: this is the closest the artist, in the 1950s, could get to the Christa, the female Christ. Beneath, from the back of the church, we see him hanging dead. Here it is from closer up, visible through bars from behind the High Altar:

The nails from the burned out cathedral are at the base of the Cross.

There is more lovely stained glass on the West wall:

This chapel is East of the high altar. Through the Crown of Thorns, we see the Angel Gabriel ministering to Jesus in Gethsemane, while to our right the disciples sleep.

There was a tour, and I dodged into the chapel. I wanted to take photographs, but just then I wanted to kneel. Then the tour guide pointed out the sleeping disciples, and I was so moved I had to go to see them.

After, the guide and separately one of the tourists, or pilgrims, came up to me to apologise. They had not meant to disturb me. I wanted to reassure them, I did not want them to regret, so careful, here, we are of each others’ feelings. The guide told me that when someone in the cathedral needs to speak to a clergyperson, they bring them here, and the weight on their hearts always lessens.

This stained glass is in the Chapel of Unity in the South end:

I love the light and dark, the long passage through solid concrete to the window, whose light suffuses the space between. It is the opposite effect to the North-East chapel, which is all glass, all light. But both are round, a symbol of the equality of Christ’s children.

Out. I find myself sympathising with Lucifer, under Michael’s feet. His feet are chained but his arms are free, but behind his back in surrender; and that face!

I don’t understand this figure, high above the cathedral. Perhaps I should not expect to understand everything at first glance.

Lisbon Cathedral

I really want you to look at my header photo. I have not seen a beggar like that in Britain. At least the Cathedral chapter allow her to be there, unlike St Paul’s Cathedral.

There are more decorative churches in Lisbon than its cathedral. Its facade is almost bare, its columns unadorned.

lisbon-cathedrallisbon-cathedral-from-the-galleryThe guide book said it was not worth seeing, with just “a couple of tombs”, but it has grandeur. I was glad to be there, after the great difficulty we had getting there. With few tourists it has a more peaceful, even holy, atmosphere than Jheronymus.

Here are the tombs. I love the dogs, and the thought of reading and contemplating while awaiting the Resurrection.

lisbon-cathedral-doglisbon-cathedral-readerThe West window is easily interpreted? Twelve apostles and Christ at the centre, smaller than they, for some reason.

lisbon-cathedral-west-window-1 lisbon-cathedral-west-windowI paid to go into the cloisters, which are being excavated. Some of the buildings uncovered are Roman, some Moorish, and there is a Roman sewer.

lisbon-cathedral-cloister-excavationsOutside, the trams shake and judder up the steep hill. They are a tourist attraction, he went to ride one while I was in Belem. Notice the English. I had not realised how quickly my camera battery would run down, and took the rest of my photographs on the phone.

lisbon-cathedral-tramThat beggar, again. Leaving, I handed her a 20c coin. She kissed it. I did not, as the Pope advises, look her in the eye and touch her hands, wishing her “Bom dia”- I looked away, embarrassed.

lisbon-cathedral-beggar

St Pauls

After seeing Serra, I touristed St Paul’s Cathedral.

There is a ban on photography. It irritated me, but H had been among huge crowds in Hagia Sophia, where most people did not look at the cathedral except through their screens, producing fifth-rate photos they might not look at again. The audio-guide irritated me, demanding that I take time to experience the spiritual presence, as if I had never thought of such a thing in my life. The Middlesex Regiment chapel in the north transept irritated me, with its Georgian and Regency memorials by public subscription to generals, still known to specialist historians, famous at the time for killing lots of people. The sculpted uniforms and drapery bored me, but then I saw the naked feet of an angel in a long robe and this tiny detail was enchanting, and the naked thigh of- Neptune, I seem to remember, bearing up some sailor or other- was exciting.

Under the Dome, it was too far away to see the monochrome pictures from Paul’s life, and I looked up as Christ descended from the Cross or stood in glory as the Vine, the branches growing from him, in glorious golden mosaic. Irritated as I am by the traditional churches, I would be poorer if I just ignored them.

I went up the dome. Having dispensed with the guide, I had not known that the Whispering Gallery is so named because if you sit precisely 180° across from another and whisper to the wall, she can hear you. I was quite shocked by a woman whispering into her hand “the guard has become suspicious of your activities”, and later asked a woman why she was talking to the wall. She explained, and exhorted her friend to “say something” though they had stopped. I did not experience it, and do not know if Wren intentionally created the effect.

David and harp

I took the photo clandestinely when there were no guards about. It is from north of the choir: David, I presume, with the harp, not well lit or well angled but the kind of view one might actually have, looking up without trying to get square on.

St Pauls- the saint blesses the Millennium Bridge

I took more photos from the Stone Gallery: I like St Paul blessing the Millennium Bridge, and if anyone wants to try the photo project of having two people, one in the stone gallery, one in Tate Modern, co-ordinating taking photos at precisely the same time so that the flash of each appears in the other’s photo, please let me know.

Topmost niche

I asked the guard if there were any plans to fill this niche in the lantern at the top of the dome, and she said I would have to ask the Premises Committee. I went round to get the niche in sunlight, and she got pushy about how you can’t go back on yourself. I only want to take a photograph.
-Is it for a specific project?-Yes, I said, thinking of this blog post, then she ceased her objection.

St Albans

Lovely day on Sunday. Peter drove me to the Quaker meeting, where I stated my affirmation to Kingsley, who loved it. I left early, walked to the station, and took the train for St Albans. I asked the ticket collector where the Thameslink train went from, and the man beside me answered. So I commented on the blurb on his book, and we were away. Sometimes people want to talk as much as I do.

He told me how much he liked books from the 1930s- this one is a reprint from the British Library- because of their innocence, and recommended one to me. Then he told me how he had grown up in Nottingham, gone to Brighton to University and stayed there ever since. However Nottingham was his roots, and Brighton could be a bit up itself. Nottingham is a vibrant city. He wanted to move back. That is so personal! People cry out for connection!

Suzy invited me a week ago, but I missed it somehow. I heard on Saturday evening. She picked me up at the station, and five of us ate together. It was relaxed and loving, and we might have known each other for years rather than met less than four weeks ago.

One of us (note the delicacy and inspecificity here) told us he would confront a demon the next day. In me, it would be my “What would people think?” demon, but in him I think it is one of shame. “Others will judge you” says the demon, “and they’re right!” “Rubbish!” says the man, and all other people with any empathy say, “Well done. Yes, I see your hurt. It is nothing to be ashamed about.” Not hiding, he will have been far more comfortable. He confronted it successfully. Triumphantly, even. I can see this with his demon, so much more clearly than with my own!

Ed- now I am specific and indelicate- continues to fight pointless battles he cannot win. He irked me on the first day of Essence by telling me that criminal defence lawyers “had to have flexible morals” in order to get criminals off- and on Saturday he had “got himself up to look like a penguin” for a singles night, and irritated a solicitor with the same argument. He put it to us on Sunday. He also told a property developer that she was profiteering off the suffering of rent-payers. They have not given him their phone numbers. “But how can I see a lawyer, and not say that?” he asked, bewilderedly. “Any working class person would admit it, but middle class people always weasel round it.”

Something he said on the Essence course- here there is clear confidentiality- made me think he might be ready for useful change. I discussed him on Saturday night with someone who thought he was just too comfortable as he is. Perhaps we should have a bet.

We sang Christmas carols before the Quaker meeting, and I decided: my baritone is my singing voice. My counter-tenor is just too reedy, quiet and wavering between sharp and flat. And nothing about me is more obviously trans. Suzy had two tickets for the Cathedral carol service, could not go, and I did not want to go alone because of this. In the candlelight, the cathedral is beautiful, transcending its gauche, asymmetrical mixture of Romanesque and Gothic. We had to sit there for an hour before the service started, it fills up so quickly.

Tapestry of the Cathedral's history

Romanesque tower

St Albans Cathedral pillar

That picture, I said to the man beside me: is it pre-Reformation, rescued from under whitewash, or modern? He thought pre-Reformation, but did not want to engage further. I loved the service. Oh! That bit’s Stainer!

Ed hated it, he told me after. He had been gritting his teeth, wanting to set light to my service leaflet with his candle. Ooh look, a Bishop! He’s got a funny hat and everything, I said- do you want to shake his hand? Ed did not, I did, perfunctorily. So I saw Ed’s sweet generosity and good humour, which if that lawyer or property developer had seen they would have been falling over themselves. He drove me to the station, and I got a late train home.

Wells Cathedral

Nave

The ceiling of the nave shows the Tree of Life design. You can see right through, past the altar now generally used- the priest stands behind the table, in full view of the congregation, as is fashionable, rather than far away, celebrating a secret mystery. Those arches, looking so modern, are internal buttresses put up when the tower began to lean.

nave 2

This shows Christ, and the ubiquitous fan vaulting.

I particularly like the heads, carved everywhere on the walls.

head 1

head 2

head 3

This is my favourite. He owns everything he beholds. It is new to him, and he is excited.

Tombs, now:

tomb 1

He has his feet on a snow-leopard, and an angel whispers in his right ear.

tomb 2

The Bishop had this carved before he died, and saw every time he came here what he would end up looking like.

tomb 3

Not a problem for the Jacobean.

organ

altar frontal

Chester certainly has the advantage of Wells on modern art. Their millennium addition was this set of altar frontals.

clock

clock 3

clock 2

But who needs modern art, when you have possibly the oldest clock in the world still telling the time with its original movement? The guide did not say that movement is now in the Science Museum in London, so I thought it was here. Wikipedia says I was completely under the wrong impression: that jouster has been knocked off his horse since the 14th century, said the guide. Hm.

capital

colour

The whole, including the West front, would originally have been brightly painted. Edward VI ordered all churches be whitewashed inside, and this is all the colour that survives. However I was surprised that the statues outside remain intact.

font

So now I don’t know whether to believe that guide, that the font is Saxon, and its wooden cover Jacobean.

fan vaulting

icon

window

“What moved you most?” asked Susan. I was intrigued, or fascinated; I was impressed; but what moved me most was the birds flocking on that stone cliff, and descending as one before rising again in a circular motion, back to their roosts.

West wall

Chester Cathedral

Jayne is at the garage, so I clothes-shopped, then touristed in Chester for a bit. The Cathedral, so close to the walls, is surrounded by trees, which prevent a clear picture; only now I think the strong sunshine was perfect for the building through the trees. I went in for choral Evensong, then looked round.

Here is the West window, dating back to 2001.

West window

And here, click to enlarge.

West window

There are icons in the chapels behind the main altar. Odd to have a lady chapel when prayers to the Mother are not supposed to do any good: Hooray for Anglicans!

icon annunciation

icon descent

I had to cross the rope to get a clear picture, with the light from the windows reflected on the surface. When I went back, I set off the alarm, which twittered and rasped at once. A man came to switch it off. “Oh dear, was that me?” I said, passing him.

Here is the fountain in the courtyard.

fountain 2

fountain

North of the choir stalls there is a monument for a 17th century bishop, a 19th century pastiche like the Victorian imitation of Elizabethan architecture outside.