Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Super Epic Cathedral Trip Day 2 part 2

Our schedule allowed us only 1 hour in Newcastle then we were off to Durham. Durham is another picturesque village the center of which is the university and the cathedral. I must admit the juxtaposition of open mouthed wandering tourists and nervous nail biting last seconds of revision before exam students was confusing and amusing at the same time. I also have to admit that I feel jealous for the stunning views the students get to enjoy and also that the top floor of the Durham Castle was converted to a hall of residence.

Durham castle = hall of residence
As for the cathedral, it was the first Great English Cathedral that we saw on the route and I was charmed by it its laid back, it’s easy going, and neither the cathedral nor its people are trying to impose themselves on the visitors.
Despite looking mammoth on the photographs up close it looks short and stubby; the exterior is by far less interesting than the interior and is fairly plain compared to Lincoln, York, and Ely.

The story of Durham Cathedral starts hundreds of kilometers away on Lindisfarne Island the monastery there was home to Saint Cuthbert. At the end of the 9th century the monastery had to move because of the continuing Viking raids the remains of Saint Cuthbert were taken with them. At the end of the 10th century the monks moved again as the legend has it they followed two maids who were searching for their cow as they came into a peninsula formed by a loop in the River Wear Saint Cuthbert's coffin became immovable and that is where Durham was founded.
Taking photographs was not allowed  but a managed to sneak one.
The columns of the Cathedral were fascinating - every second one was with a pattern, each pair had their own pattern. Yet there was one odd column in a transept whose pattern did not match its pair. I can not help to wander if this was dome intentionally or if somebody screwed up at one of the stages of its order or production. 

From Durham it was a bit of a stretch to Fountains Abbey and as it turns out the choice of radio stations is scarce in the middle of nowhere thus the background noise during the journey consisted of dubstep or white noise which were hard to tell apart anyway. 

Fountains abbey was my dream since I learnt about the place in second year of university. For some reason the idea of it seemed very Lord of the Rings to me – a ruined abbey in the middle of the forest, the skeleton of what was once there, a decaying testimony to great achievements. And when I write great achievements I am not exaggerating. The Cistercian monks who lived in Fountains enjoyed indoor plumbing and heating over 500 years before the rest of the world. What was even more fascinating is that half of the abbey’s building where built on a river.

Reconstuction of the Abbey.

As we left Fountains it was clear that we will not make it to York before it closes. Thus  we decided to go to Harrogate for the evening. We never made it there as I saw a church tower just as we were leaving Fountains abbey and being the navigator I navigated our way there. 'There' turned out to be Ripon Cathedral a jewel I have not heard of before. Ripon has been a site of worship for something like 1350 years. Interestingly it was also connected to Hexham abbey which we saw earlier that day through Saint Wilfred and to Durham through Venerable Bede. Indeed he was the one who founded a monastery on the site c. 660 and his remains found their last resting place in Durham. 

Also to my greatest pleasure the 15th century misericords were open to the public and they were awesome.
I found grape vine carriers with a blemmye and another monstrous figure.

A Siren (mermaid) carrying a hair brush and mirror - symbols of luxuria.

A Green man

And my favourite of all - the Wild man, you can just make out the hair covering the body and the huge club in his hands. 

After trading Harrogate for Ripon it was time to make our way to York. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Super Epic Cathedral Trip Day 2 part 1

Day 2 start from 'in the middle of nowhere near Haxham at 730-800; expected to visit - Hexham, Corbridge, Newcastle, Durham, Fountains, Harrogate, York. Night in York or Grimsby. ( I know we were deluded when planning)

Day 2 started with a lovely countryside view.

We were lucky that it was relatively dry as the great Hadrian wall stood in a middle of the field and to get to it we had to climb over one fence and then make our way through a herd of sleepy sheep.

The wall itself was different from what I expected. Considering it was built to keep the Scots out of the Roman Empire I was hopping more of it would be left. Now it is fit only to divide the two fields and sometimes becomes home to bunnies like the one we found napping between the stones.

Later the same day I came across a model of how the wall looked and the current one.

I have to admit it was fun climbing it.

From the wall it was a short drive back to Hexham – a lovely picturesque village.

To tell the truth I came across Hexham by accident when planning the trip and its abbey was a very pleasant surprised. The first building was built at the end of the 7th century as a Benedictine monastery by Wilfred but two centuries latter it was destroyed in Viking raids. The abbey we see today was founded in the 12th century for Augustinian canons. And like many other monasteries, abbeys and cathedrals it suffered greatly when the break with Roman Catholicism came during the reign of Henry the VIII.

The furnishing of the church is fairly simple yet has a couple interesting details some of which date back to Wilfred’s church (7thcentury) like the crypt underneath the church which was unfortunately closed when we were there .
To my greatest joy the choir stalls were open to the public this meant that I could have a close look at the misericords. In my experience the quirkiest decorations and details are slightly hidden and are small in detail. The misericords or ‘mercy seats‘ are a great example of this. A misericord is a small shelf on the underside of a folding seat. In medieval churches services happened standing up and could take hours the mercy seats were to ease the discomfort of the long standing as one could lean against them. In a way they are very similar to the seating now found on British subway and bus stops were you lean-sit against a small shelf. Thought hidden away the misericords are usually home to weird decorations in Hexham I came across two green men

A siren

And a monstrous Jew similar to the one in Rutland Psalter.

The bench ends showed a pelican feeding her young. A pelican is a common Christian symbol and is usually mistaken for an eagle on lecterns ( considering lecterns there is one easy way to check if the bird has a drop of blood somewhere on its body it’s a pelican). IN medieval times it was believed that a pelican is very attentive to her young to the point that if there is no food she would wound herself and feed her young with her blood and flesh. This self-sacrificial aspect connected the bird with the Passion narrative and the Eucharist.
From Hexham Newcastle was a hop and a skip. In eth original plan we were supposed to visit Corbridge before heading there however time was short and the main attraction in Corbridge were the Roman remains and Hadrians wall which was already seen.
The New Castle Cathedral and Castle Keep were different from what I expected as on pictures they look far better than in real life. The Newcastle castle Keep looked like any other from the outside– thick walls and almost no windows. Considering that it was built for Robert William the Conqueror’s son its tiny size came as a disappointment. Despite the minute appearance inside was a maze filled with halls and chambers. Whoever planned it did an amazing job; then again it was built for Robert William the Conqueror’s son.

The view on the city from the rooftop was also stunning.

The cathedral is right next to the keep and is significantly smaller in comparison to other English Gothic Cathedrals. The reason for this is simple – it was not a cathedral until fairly recently. The first mentions of the church on the site go back to 1080. From then till 25 July 1882 it was a humble parish church within the diocese of Durham.

The parish church turned in to a cathedral in 1882 explains why a vast majority of the church furnishing like the choir stalls date back to 1880’s. The scene on the misericords here thought entertaining are too politically correct compared to those at Hexham and less quirky.

Coronation of the virgin

St Margaret of Antioch does battle with an evil serpent- dragon.