Monday, May 26, 2008

Thursday: Parte the Second

What else we saw that day ...

We have just finished lunch (yummy!) and taken the Tube back to central London -- near Chancery Lane. Last night, I looked on line (yay for free wi-fi) and found out how to get where we are going. I am now aware of how difficult it is to find places in London -- and the directions actually caution us that we may have a little difficulty in finding the church.

We are to get off at the same station that we did on our Legal London tour. This is one of the buildings across the street from the station. I love the red sandstone bricks.

This time, we walk up to Ludgate Circus, which is a busy intersection. It is a largish roundabout. We are on our way to St. Etheldreda's church, which is very, very old. I am quoting heavily from the website here ...

"St Etheldreda's Church is just a stone's throw from the noise and bustle of modern day London ..."

"... and it is hemmed in by the glittering wealth of Hatton Garden, where gold, silver and diamonds are traded and millions of pounds change hands daily. "

"But amid the clamour of mammon, there stands this hidden ancient gem, a spiritual sanctuary of the Middle Ages, a haven of peace and tranquillity." We almost passed the small street that the church is on, but, map in hand, manage to arrive at the destination.

This is what it looked like in 1772. It is a nice reminder that London back then looked much different.

At the present day, you walk down a crowded street and can miss the church if you are not careful. This is a shot outside, from the sidewalk. To the left is the entrance to the church, and the wooden door to the right is the crypt. Crypts are neat -- if a bit scary.

We enter and walk along the narrow hallway. There are tables with leaflets and books to our right, and down the hall to our left is a little cafe. The wire book racks are holding used paperbacks. I restrain myself from buying one or two. I look to see if there is anything that my inlaws would like, but, alas ... no.

We peer into the window of the cafe and see that it is really small. I open the door and some lovely, steamy smells drift out. I think we might need to come here after wandering around. The place is bustling, for all that there are only six or eight tables. It looks like the kind of place that you will be elbow to elbow with your neighbor and might have nice conversation and wonderful food.

We walk up the stairs and enter the chapel. It is dark and quiet. There are people drifting about, looking at the stained glass and praying. With your back to the East window and facing the West, on your right is a little alcove with a statue of Mary.

"St Etheldreda's Church was the town chapel of the Bishops of Ely from about 1250 to 1570. It is the oldest Catholic church in England and one of only two remaining buildings in London from the reign of Edward I. It was once one of the most influential places in London with a palace of vast grounds. It was like an independent state, the Bishop of Ely's place in London or Ely Place as it is now called, and its chapel took its name from one of England's most popular saints of the day, Etheldreda."

"Princess Etheldreda, daughter of King Anna, a prominent member of the ruling family of the Kingdom of East Anglia, was born in 630. She wanted to be a nun but agreed to a political marriage with a neighbouring King, Egfrith, on condition that she could remain a virgin. When the King tried to break the agreement, she fled back to Ely, where, as well as founding a religious community, she also built a magnificent church on the ruins of one founded by the efforts of St Augustine himself but laid waste by war.

Etheldreda was quite a revolutionary. She set free all the bondsmen on her lands and for seven years led a life of exemplary austerity. After her death in 679, devotion to her spread rapidly, as people received help and favours through what they were convinced was her powerful intercession in Heaven. And when, through popular demand, it was decided to remove her to a more fitting tomb, it was found that even after 15 years in wet earth her body was still in a perfect state of preservation. When the Normans began building the present Cathedral at Ely and moved her body in 1106, it was again reported to be still incorrupt. That was nearly 450 years after her death."

It is here at Ely House that Shakespeare has John O'Gaunt making one of the finest speeches in the English language. It is the oration in Richard II, the first lines of which are known by heart by many English speaking people -

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This Earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-Paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This blessed plot, this Earth, this realm, this England.

And it was at St Etheldreda's that the Black Prince, brother of John O'Gaunt, kept the Feast of Trinity in 1357 and ordered 16 swans from the Thames to be sent to Ely House.

Medieval chronicles talk about the cloister and the gardens of St Etheldreda's, saying how wonderful they were with their fields of saffron and strawberries, which are mentioned in Shakespeare's Richard III, when the Duke of Gloucester says to the Bishop of Ely -

When I was last in Holborn,
I saw good strawberries in your garden there
I do beseech you send for some of them.

This in fact was part of a ruse to get the Bishop out of the way and in fact the following day the Bishop found himself in prison. Commemorating those infamous strawberries is the annual Strawberry Fayre held every June in Ely Place to raise money for charity.

The church has survived The Great Fire of London, neglect, and the Blitz. At one point, the saffron fields turned into some of the city's worst slums, becoming the location for Dickens' Artful Dodger. Seven years were needed to repair the bomb damage to the ancient Chapel.

The West Window, created in 1964 by Charles Blakeman, is reputedly the largest stained glass window in London, with a glazed area of more than 500 square feet. It is dedicated to The English Martyrs.

"Five martyrs, each holding a palm, stand underneath the Tyburn gallows."

"The cross, merging with the central upright of the gallows, carries a triumphant Christ." It is hard to describe the impact of the window. The figure of Christ is in shades of red, and it is a bold, striking image.

Down either side of the chapel are windows with various panels. Here are some pictures of the details.

At the back of the church is the East Window.

The East window is amazing. It is a marvel of color and rich detail.

"The great East window made by Joseph Lutyens and completed in 1952 reflects all the original medieval splendour.

Christ is enthroned as King, watched by his mother Mary and St Joseph.
The Dove symbolises the Holy Spirit and at the apex God the Father completes the Trinity.
St Etheldreda, the Church Patron, and St Brighid, Patron for the First Mission to the Poor Irish, stand at each side.
The four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John look down on them all.

There is also the scene of the Last Supper and high in the main traceries are the nine choirs of angels, breathtaking in their magnificence."

We sit for while, just thinking. Wry is scribbling in his notebook, pausing to reflect. Finally, we get to our feet and leave. There are still a few people scattered about.

We walked down the stairs into the crypt. The metal railings were coming out of the wall, and I was scared to touch them, for fear of breaking the church. It was dark inside, but after our eyes adjusted, we were able to walk around without bumping into things. At one end of the room, there were two alcoves ...

I liked the muted colors of the stone.

Stained glass windows are along the sides of the crypt, letting in a little light. The whole place had an unused sort of feel, maybe because of the stacks of items along the walls.

Along the wall, they had the Stations of the Cross. It was appropriate as Easter was coming up. As I am not Catholic, I don't know my stations as stations, but I know what each stands for. Wry spent some time here, tinkering with the camera, playing with different exposures. I sat on the steps, the cold seeping into my hindquarters, just soaking in the quiet.

The Stations are not as old as they look -- they are a more modern addition.

The interesting thing about this church is that it is a work in progress. There are ancient parts of the building, with more modern aspects as well. It is sort of summed up in the name of their cafe, The Cafe in the Crypt, which is good enough to draw people in for lunch, but then end up sitting quietly in a pew, in the cool colors of the stained glass. Discoveries are still being encountered:

"In the early 1990s, when parts of the ancient stonework were found to be crumbling, £300,000 had to be spent on yet more restoration. Archaeologists, digging in the area of the pantry, uncovered colourful Flemish tiles hidden for hundreds of years. They had stumbled across the original 13th century cloister."

Walking up the stairs out of the crypt.

Near the door there is a poor box. St. Ethelreda's is a Rosminian church -- an order devoted to charitable works. The founder had "two life-principles, written down at this time for his own guidance, and forming the true harmony of humility with confidence and passiveness with activity, were:

first, to apply himself to the amendment of his faults and the purifying of his soul without seeking other occupations or undertakings on his neighbour's behalf, since of himself he was powerless to do anyone real service;

second, not to refuse offices of charity when Divine Providence offered them, but in fulfilling them to maintain perfect indifference and do the offered work as zealously as he would any other."
I think it means that he was trying to help people without patting himself on the back too much.

As we walk down the street, we see the convent. I had not seen any nuns.

As we walk along Hoburn Street, we find St. Andrews church.

I really loved the ceiling.

Roman pottery was found on the site during 2001/02 excavations in the Crypt. However, the first written record of the church itself dates to 951, calling it a church on top of the hill above the river Fleet (a medieval spring from which is also to be found in the crypt, though usually not on public view).

"The medieval St Andrew’s survived the 1666 Great Fire of London, saved by a last minute change in wind direction, but was already in a bad state of repair and so was rebuilt by Christopher Wren anyway. In what is his largest parish church, he rebuilt from the foundations (creating the present crypt) and gave the existing medieval stone tower (the only medieval part to survive) a marble cladding."

I just like the garden ...

We start walking again, heading up the street toward the legal district.

Crossing over a neat overpass. There are interesting dragons on the lamp-posts.

Some workmen taking a break under the watchful gaze of Commerce.

A fine, handsome bridge lion. Even though he is probably a griffin.

More interesting bridge work. Wry does not enjoy hanging over the bridge, looking at the traffic as much as I do. After we cross the bridge, we see this amazing-looking building. Amidst modern London, it is a towering, brooding Gothic figure.

We decide to brave the traffic and check it out.

We get separated and I see Wry across the street. I am walking around the building, trying to figure out what it is.

It turns out that we are at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, otherwise known as St . Sepulchre-without-Newgate, which I think is a really great name. Newgate is where the prison used to be.

Originally founded in the 12th century, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was the starting point for the Crusaders en route to Jerusalem. This particular church was built in 1450, during the reign of Henry.

St Sepulchre is one of the "Cockney bells" of London, named in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons as the "bells of Old Bailey".

Traditionally, the great bell would be rung to mark the execution of a prisoner at the nearby gallows at Newgate. The clerk of St Sepulchre's was also responsible for ringing a handbell outside the condemned man's cell in Newgate Prison to inform him of his impending execution.

Despite walking around the building a number of times, I was not able to get it. It is now on my list of things that I must see sometime in the future. But for now, we are going someplace that I missed on my first trip to London, so I can tick that off my list. So, we are now off to the Temple Church.

Just a neat building. I wonder where the other half went. For whatever reason, even though we had a map, we got completely lost. All of my navigator points vanished with a whimper. However, there was a bonus in that we found the Old Bailey, something that I really wanted to see.

The Old Bailey is the criminal court in London. It conjures up images of bewigged judges passing sentence and manacled defendants pleading their case.

Well, you really can't argue with the sentiment.

Justice with her sword and scales on top of the building. As far as I can see, she is not blind at all. I wish that we had time to go in and see the court in action.

However, we don't. We have half a day in London left. We have to get to the Temple Church and the British Museum, get up really early and then make it to Heathrow.


Rowan said...

Ah... Such wooonderful windows! I am sitting back to enjoy for now, and percolating. The details are a delight! Will post more when my eyes tear themselves from the glorious colours, back to the keyboard. (lack of topuch-typing skeelz, ye ken.)

Rowan said...

There is just so much here. it must have taken ages to write this post! Will comment as I digest and cogitate.

Loved St Etheldreda's church. thanks for the tour, and the fascinating commentary. The stained glass is fabulous.

I would love to see the crypt. The atmosphere must be memorable. The alcoves with the delicate paintings look like they would have a really powerful impact, as you came upon them in the gloom and enduring silence. I would really like to go someday.

I love the panel with the martyrs, and the one with Christ, with the deep tones of red.

I nearly bought a stained-glass window once. An old church at the bottom of my street was being demolished, and the big rose window, which was gorgeous, was the last thing standing. I hung about the building site,plucking up the courage to ask, wondering how much it would cost, and if I had enough in my account to afford it. However, I had to slouch disconsolately away, when a math axon fired, and reminded me that it was actually twice the length of my tiny student flat.

Rowan said...

The St Andrew's ceiling is indeed lovely. It looks like wedgewood! You really made the most of your time in London. Like the city itself, one never knows what is around the next corner here! Whether ornate or quirky, it is all finely-wrought, and fascinating. I hope there have been backhanders forthcoming from the London Tourist Board. Jist sayin. I wanna go and see some of those luvverly places myself, before too long.

That Newgate handbell is pretty grim, isn't it? I mean, the great bell tolling away abin yer heid would have been sort of enough. Gak!

If i have my history correct, Ecgfrith was the guy thrashed by the Picts at the Battle of Nechtansmere in 685. It is comemorated on an a huge amazing carved Pictish stone, now in a churchyard in Aberlemno, not far from here. I wonder if Etheldreda allowed herself a snicker.

A mom in the 'burbs said...

Wow, almost to beautiful to look at.

1) I totally heart your camera. I think I am bordering on covetness. Posting this on your blog about cathedrals makes me feel very, very small...

2) The stained glass is magnificant! Wow! A must-see...

3) Crypts are totally creeeepyyy. *shudder*

Dr. Bob said...

I also heart my camera. It is my birthday camera. I wanted a good camera and to be taken to a place that I could enjoy taking pictures and practicing.

I got it at Costco -- it is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18. My camera makes me look like a better photographer than I really am ...