Thursday, May 15, 2008

An even busier Thursday! Parte the First

Just one of the magnificent things that we saw on Thursday -- the frontispiece of the Lindisfarne Gospel at the British Library.

Well, we have been packing in the sights ... it is really amazing how much we have seen. It has been so much fun. However, it is our last day in London, so we have to get cracking. I have made a list, complete with notations on the map and have planned out the whole day. With luck, we will be able to see all of the things on the list, because these are "must sees".

If we don't make it to everything, I guess we will just have to come back.

We get up and walk down Euston Street, past the train/underground station.

Great details.

And thence to the British Library. This is a statue of Isaac Newton bending forward to plot with a pair of dividers the immensity of the universe. We couldn't tell what it was at the time.

The Library is housed in a relatively modern building -- very unprepossessing. You would never know that some of the world's greatest treasures reside here, from the original scrawled Beatles lyrics to the Magna Carta. And Rowan's dissertation ...

Some facts from the website ...
  • The collection includes 150 million items, in most known languages
  • 3 million new items are incorporated every year
  • We house manuscripts, maps, newspapers, magazines, prints and drawings, music scores, and patents
  • The Sound Archive keeps sound recordings from 19th-century cylinders to the latest CD, DVD and minidisc recordings
  • We house 8 million stamps and other philatelic items
  • These require over 625 km of shelves, and grow 12km every year
  • If you see 5 items each day, it would take you 80,000 years to see the whole of the collection
  • The earliest dated printed book, the Diamond Sutra, can be seen in our exhibition galleries alongside many other national treasures
What I find really amazing, is that most Londoners have never been here. The owner at our hotel said that he hasn't ever been, despite the fact that he lives a stone's throw away. Europeans are so spoiled ...

Inside, there are some interesting busts. I don't know who they are, but I liked them. If you walk a little farther, on your left, you will enter into the exhibit room. We walk in and are immediately drawn in by the amazing books. In some ways, this is a very British place. First, it is completely unassuming. It is very quiet and pretty empty, which again, is really surprising. The fact that you can take your elementary school class and talk to them about geography and dragons and mythology from some of the most extraordinary books ever published is ... just ... mind-blowing. There was one group of ... oh, maybe first graders, sitting cross-legged in front of a huge medieval map of Europe, being encouraged to think of what exploration must have been like at that time.

You walk along the glass-fronted cases and can see anything from Leonardo Da Vinci's notebook to Shakespeare's folio to the originals of Handel and Mozart. There isn't time to describe here all of the amazing things that we saw. I am providing the link to the British Library here. It is well-worth a peruse.

After we had been wandering around a little, I discovered, to my delight a feature that is pretty amazing, if you think about it. It is called Turning the Pages, and it allows you examine an exhibit in great detail. You can literally look at something page by page, zooming in to look at a detail or border of an illustration. I was very happy to find that they had this feature on the website. Be sure to go and look at Turning the Pages at the British Library. Here are a few of the things that we were able to see:

The Luttrell Psalter is one of the most famous medieval manuscripts because of its rich illustrations of everyday life in the 14th century.

It was made in the diocese of Lincoln for Sir Geoffrey Luttrell (1276 - 1345) of Irnham, probably sometime between 1325 and 1335.

I also very much liked a little lovely herbal.

Elizabeth Blackwell's A Curious Herbal is notable both for its beautiful illustrations and for the unusual circumstances of its creation.

Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Aberdeen in about 1700, but moved to London after she married. She undertook this ambitious project to raise money to pay her husband's debts and release him from debtors' prison.

Blackwell's Herbal was an unprecedented enterprise for a woman of her time. She drew, engraved and coloured the illustrations herself, mostly using plant specimens from the Chelsea Physic Garden.

There was also an Ethiopic Bible, which was a lavishly illustrated 17th-century manuscript contains the first eight books of the Old Testament (the Octateuch), the four Gospels, and several canons of church councils.

Exerpts from Mozart's Thematic Catalog. Amazing.

A copy of the 'Diamond Sutra' is the world's earliest, dated, printed book (AD 868). A central text of Indian Buddhism, the Diamond Sutra was first translated from Sanskrit into Chinese in about AD 400. Carved wooden blocks were used to print this copy on a scroll made from seven panels of paper.

The Golden Haggadah is one of the finest of the surviving Haggadah manuscripts from medieval Spain. The Haggadah, which literally means 'narration', is the Hebrew service-book used in Jewish households on Passover Eve at a festive meal to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt.

The Golden Haggadah was probably made near Barcelona in about 1320. In addition to the Haggadah text itself the manuscript contains liturgical Passover poems according to the Spanish rite.

And then, there was the Book of Hours. The colors are unbelievable.

The Sforza Hours is one of the finest surviving Renaissance manuscripts. It is a Book of Hours - a volume, designed for private use by a private person, containing the prayers and offices to be said at the eight times of the day allotted by the church to prayer.

Like most Books of Hours, its pages are small (13.3 cm high x 10 cm wide); the manuscript was designed to be carried easily by the owner.

One of the most complicated illustrations was of the Last Supper.

The left-hand page shows Christ's last meal with his disciples is usually depicted in a strongly horizontal composition, with the participants arranged around a long table. Birago broke away from this tradition in his Last Supper, creating a sophisticated composition in which Christ and his disciples are grouped tightly around the central table, while servants are arranged in tiers above and below.

Christ instructs Peter and John how to find the house where Passover is to be celebrated.
Peter and John follow a man carrying a pitcher of water, as Christ had instructed them.
Judas Iscariot wears yellow. This colour was often used to suggest treachery and deceit.
Servants prepare bread and wine, which Christ and the disciples will eat and drink, providing the basis for the Christian rite of Communion.

As you can see, there is just too much to see, let alone describe here, but I wanted to show a little more about The Lindisfarne Gospels -- one of the world's greatest books. As I am less than ignorant, I am presenting the information as found at the British Library and various on-line sites. The only thing that I know of Lindisfarne is what I know from Rowan. She would be very happy here. Next time, this and the Natural History Museum will be tops on the list.

This is the world map of the time. The gospel was probaly made between 680 and 720, in the island monastery of Lindisfarne. It is the work of a very gifted artist who merged words and images to create a beautiful, enduring symbol of faith.

This is the cover.

The monastery at Lindisfarne was founded by Irish monks in 635.

It lies off the coast of the former Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria (NE England). Although remote, it was certainly not cut off culturally.

The Lindisfarne Gospels reflect many influences: native British, Celtic, Germanic, Roman, Early Christian, Byzantine, North African and Middle Eastern. The book contains the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John:

Of the four evangelists, only St John is shown facing out of the book, directing his gaze at the reader. He is not writing but appears to be expounding the contents of his scroll. He is accompanied by his traditional symbol, the eagle.

Recounting the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the Gospels are the core of Christian belief as contained in the Christian Bible.

The Lindisfarne Gospels is written in Latin, using the Vulgate version made by St Jerome, who died in about 420.

Bishop Cuthbert of Lindisfarne (634-687) came from the Northumbrian middle classes. Although he spent long periods as a hermit, he was a very popular man and noted healer of plague-victims. In 685 King Ecgfrith persuaded Cuthbert to become Bishop of Lindisfarne, an estate which had grown rich under his royal patronage. When Cuthbert died two years later the monastic community started a cult in his name.

Writing and painting sacred texts were seen by monks as acts of meditation, during which the scribe might glimpse the divine. It was a high calling but very hard work. This picture shows you how you can zoom on Turning the Pages.

Imagine what it must have been like to undertake the eye-straining, back-aching task of making the Lindisfarne Gospels by hand, in a hut on an island in the wild North Sea. It would have been cold and tiring. Monks attended eight church services every day and night, displayed humility by manual labour, prayed and studied.

If the artist-scribe was Bishop Eadfrith, he would have carried a heavy administrative burden as well. The Lindisfarne Gospels would have taken him at least five years to complete.

It also contains the oldest surviving translation of the Gospels into the English language. In around 950-960 Aldred, a member of the Community of St Cuthbert, added his Old English translation between the lines of Latin.

When it was finished it was a book to see and be seen. But it was also the maker's personal 'opus dei' - a work for God.

I think of what a life of contemplation would be like. I have often thought that Wry would have been well-suited to such a life of thought and creation, hiding humorous touches and puns in his illustrations.

I finally tell him that we have to go if we are to stay on schedule at all. After all, I have maps! And a list! We leave after about four hours. It is time for lunch and then off to our next destination.

Near the elevators on the upper floor are some wonderful murals -- an exhibition about the literary history of Bloomsbury (the part of London that we are in). We have gotten separated, and I turn the corner to see my husband, chatting easily with an elderly woman. I got a picture of him as part of the mural.

We get on the bus and head over to the Indian Student YMCA. It is a hostel near the University of London. We will travel down Euston Street and then hoof it.

The vantage from the bus is not bad at all.

A nice little pub, but we are not stopping. We are looking for Grafton Street. I remember it because of Kinsey Milhone.

Almost at the end of the street and about to turn left on Fitzroy, past Grafton.

Some of the University buildings.

We find the hostel, just as promised. I have read that this is a good place to get authentic, inexpensive Indian food. Student food is always a good idea.

From 1920 to 1940 there was a period of Indian Nationalism and Indian Renaissance led by Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru. The debate and discussion held in the YMCA ISH became the sounding board of public opinion of Indian affairs. It has been referred to as "a little bit of India in Britain". Mahatma Gandhi conducted an Inter-Faith dialogue programme in 1931 on the premises when he came for the round table conference.

When Rabindranath Tagore visited the YMCA ISH he gave the students the following message:

Be not ashamed, My brothers, to stand
Before the Proud and powerful with
Your White Robes of Simpleness.
Let your Crown of Humility, Your Freedom,
Build God's Throne daily upon the ample
Bareness of your poverty
And knowing what is Huge is not Great, and
Pride is not everlasting.

Sadly to say, we were mainly there for the food.

This is a picture of the dining room. We got there just after they had opened, so it was less crowded. It reminds me a lot of the dining room at Loma Linda. We sat up on the left, by the windows.

Not much in the way of decorations in the dining hall.

But you can go and wash your hands before your meal. Balancing our trays, we go and sit down.

Wry's lunch. I am sad that I did not see any naan, but had nice chapati. It is like a whole-wheat tortilla.

And mine. The food was good and just hot enough.

We finish and are off to the center of London. We walk up to the Warren Street tube station. Along the way, we pass what would be an Army/Navy surplus store here in the US. I have not had gloves, and my hands are a bit cold.

I am very, very happy to get some fingerless shooting gloves. I have been afraid of gloves for fear of dropping my camera. And they are a bargain at about five pounds. These are perfect. I only have the smallest quibble, which is that the velcro catches on everything. It takes some time to get the hang of not catching them on every bit of clothing that I own, but again ... they are well worth it. I look around for anything for our boys, but find nothing. We get back out on the street.

A nice big car.

A nice little car. I liked it and looked inside it. We are almost at the tube station.

I liked the feel of this station -- it is very minimalist.

A shot through the subway doors. We are on our way to Chancery Lane to see St. Ethelreda's church, the oldest Catholic church in England and one of only two remaining buildings in London from the reign of Edward I. We will also be able to see the Temple Church, which was closed last time we were down here.


rowan said...

OOOh Missus! a veritable feast for the senses. I asked for more blog, and look what appears!

The LINDISFARNE GOSPELS!! WOO HOO!! How very, very lovely. I have got to go see them. Got to. I have been to Lindisfarne though. Truly amazing, ancient place. You go across a tiday causeway, and can feel the history of the place. Aidan is named after st Aidan of Lindisfarne. he took over from Cuthbert, if my memory serves me rightly.

The British Library! Too, too cool. I would never leave. You would have to get a tranquilzer gun from London Zoo and zap me in the bahookie. I have never been there. Have been sent unread treasures from the vaults, whose pages I had to slit open myself. Didn't make a very good job, either, I have to say. Gak. Joanna Baillie's little two-hundred year-old book on the "Character of Christ." I would like to re-read it now.

My Ph.D thesis is in the British Library. It would be cool one day to go there and look it up. It is good to know if my own copy gets lost in my next removal, or Lena draws fashion shoes down the margins, there will always be a pristine copy in the vault.

Okay. We gotta stravaig to Lindisfarne next summer.

Man...that Indian food looks good. How do you smoke out these places? You two are rockin native guides.

rowan said...

Hey - more wonderful new pictures! The colours are just sumptuous. Thanks so much for sharing! My favourite is the "Last Supper" plate.

Dr. Bob said...

Happy to oblige! If you look again, you will see that I have been tweaking it a bit. There was just sooo much to include. I mean ... really.

You must go. We will wander around until we are in a glutted daze, only emerging to eat cheap student food.

Wry Mouth said...


I have read many a dissertation and thesis, in my work at a university library. May I just say: if Lena drew fashion shoes in the margins, most theses would be immeasurably enhanced.

Just my two farthings' worth.


I've got a list of stuff we saw. I may cross-post it at my site.

rowan said...

Hee hee! Wry, you have given me an idea. I shall try to get Lena interested in illuminated manuscripts. I am visualising her sitting with her felt-tip pens, illumimating industriously to the sound of plainchant, and I can turn off the wretched cable kids telly. Am even finding myself singing ads for "Lelli Kelli shoes" which is very scary. Lena just says I am grumpy, cos they don't come in my size....

Those pictures are jewels! Am so glad y'all saw the Lindisfarne Gospels. And I am jellis of the lunch.

Rowan said...

Bob - i am glad you liked the little car. they are called Smartcars. I wonder if they are so-called, because there is just room for a lassie and her smartphone. Or - mayhap - it might just BE a smartphone, with added wheels. Nifty. I want one! They come in yellow, lime and a sporty red.

I say a lassie and her smartphone, assuming a bloke would not choose to drive one. Mayhap this is not so.

I would really like one. But I can't drive. It would, however, make a lovely planter.

Dr. Bob said...

Planter! (snicker)