Sunday, June 8, 2008

Thursday: Parte the Third


Okay -- we have been on the go all day. Wry and I have visited the British Library, had a lovely meal in the student cafeteria at the YMCA, seen the oldest Catholic Church in England and are off to our next destination, the Temple Church.

This is what the interior looked like originally. I always think it is interesting that these old places (like St. Giles in Edinburgh) were so brightly colored. It completely negates my image of churches at that time -- joyless, punitive, and harsh. Faith as an obligation, not a delight.

How could anybody not be joyful in such a place as this?

As you may remember, when Rowan and I came to London last year, we had not even known about this place and I decided, if I ever came back to London, this was a place that I must see. Wry and I were over here day before yesterday, but it was closed ... so I am very excited to get here today.

The day is a little gray and cold, but it is nice. We are warm from walking across town.

This is a shot from the exterior. The round part of the building is one of its famous aspects. The history of the church is intertwined inextricably with the history of the Knights Templar. They were an order of crusading monks "founded to protect pilgrims on their way to and from Jerusalem in the 12th century. The Round Church was consecrated in 1185 by the patriarch of Jerusalem. It was designed to recall the holiest place in the Crusaders' world: the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It is a numinous space - and has a wonderful acoustic for singing."

The round shape of the church is symbolic and fundamental. "Jerusalem lies at the centre of all medieval maps, and was the centre of the crusaders' world. The most sacred place in this most sacred city was the supposed site of Jesus' own burial: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here the crusaders inherited a round church. It was the goal of every pilgrim, whose protection was the Templars' care. This was the building, of all buildings on earth, that must be defended from its enemies. In every round church that the Templars built throughout Europe they recreated the sanctity of this most holy place."

There are two different parts -- the Chancel and the Round. The Round was built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century. It is one of only three Norman round churches left in England. The Round is the oldest part of the church and the Chancel is slightly older. There have been many "renovations", mostly trying to eradicate any semblance of popishness, but more recently, the church is being restored to its former settings.

I liked this shot -- it is at the border of the two parts of the church. So we are going to look at the Chancel first, and then the Round, and finally, the Knights Templar in effigy. We have walked in the door and taken a right.

The structure of the Chancel has been described as a "large, lofty, and light structure, consisting of a nave and two aisles of equal height, formed by eight clustered marble columns, which support a groined vaulted ceiling richly and elaborately painted."

The Nave is lovely, "featuring colorful stained glass windows, an impressive organ, and a beautiful wooden altar designed by famed architect Sir Christopher Wren". The altar was designed for the Temple Church, but was mercifully in a museum in Durham when the Temple Church was nearly destroyed in 1944, during the German bombings.

It has now been restored to its intended position, where visitors can admire the woodwork and read the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed and the Lord's Prayer in handsome gold script.

The lovely curving pulpit.

The stained glass above the altar.

And to the right of the altar. Along the walls there are monuments and plaques.

Wry recording the moment.

One of the most interesting is a 17th century monument. My Latin is pretty rusty, so I could not read the inscription.

A carving off to the right of the monument.

The organ is just beautiful. Apparently, the church is famous for its acoustics and a number of very famous and popular recordings were made here. There is an ongoing music program, with noted visiting artists.

A little door tucked off to the left of the altar. I like these little doors -- I wonder where they go.

We were lucky enough to have waited out the crowd, and when it was almost empty, someone pulled up the carpets on the floor to reveal these inlaid into the floor. I could not read it, because they were rapidly being covered up.

Here is a closer look at the stained glass beside the altar. If you look very closely, you can see the double-seated Knights in the right-hand corner.

This is the image, a little closer up.

A nice winged horsie.

A picture of the church during the fires in London.

This is not a shot that I got, because there are not a lot of people in it. However, it is a nice aspect, looking into the Round with the Knights arrayed along the sides. I thought that you would like the perspective.

So, now we enter the Round. One of the things that strikes you first is that there are carvings of faces ... sort of everywhere. On the walls, hidden on columns, each with its own expression.

We did see a picture of a goat in a mortarboard, but I did not get a picture of that. The gargoyles are interesting, because sometimes they look silly and sometimes they look tortured. "The use of gargoyles to express masons' imaginations and irreverence through gargoyle sculptures is common in churches, but it is unusual for them to be placed indoors.

"The more these human countenances are scrutinised, the more astonishing and extraordinary do they appear. They seem for the most part distorted and agonised with pain, and have been supposed, not without reason, to represent the writhings and grimaces of the damned."

" Unclean beasts may be observed gnawing the ears and tearing with their claws the bald heads of some of them, whose firmly-compressed teeth and quivering lips plainly denote intense bodily anguish."

"These sculptured visages display an astonishing variety of character." They do capture the imagination. You wonder if there were models for each -- a hidden meaning in the carvings. Maybe some mason's disreputable brother in law or something.

"Over the western doorway leading into the Round, is a beautiful Norman wheel-window, which was uncovered and brought to light by the workmen during the recent reparation of this interesting building. It is considered a masterpiece of masonry."

Around the curved walls there are stained glass windows.

The stained glass makes a pattern on the floor and splashes across the Knights as they repose.

From what I can ascertain, this is a baptismal font, possibly from Norman times. I had a hard time even getting that information. If I am wrong, sorry about that....

Some detail on the side.

One author, in describing the Temple church said "the beauty and richness of the architectural decorations, and the extreme lightness and airiness of the whole structure, give us the idea of a fairy palace."

And there is something to that -- the church, for all of the stone and marble, is not a cold or dark place at all. There is a sense of light and space and dimension. The space is not empty, but even today, filled with light.

I liked the way that these vaulted like palm trees.

Every where you look, there are carvings of faces.

Along the curved walls.

I liked the sense of perspective. Now let's look at the floor and the marble effigies -- because on the floor are ...

the Knights!!

I am pleased by the idea of the warrior knight. I know that I shouldn't be, because as Christians, we are so self-effacing as to be practically invisible. However, when I was reading C.S. Lewis and following his analogies of actual and spiritual warfare, I was struck by the almost radical idea -- that, as a faith, Christianity is both ardently peaceful and staunchly prepared for battle. So, to me, the concept is a solid, foundational one.

"The Order was founded in 1118-9 by a knight of Champagne, Hugh of Payns, who led a group of his fellow-knights in vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. At their foundation they were deeply suspect: it was unnatural for one man to be soldier and monk together. A handful of such ambivalent knights had little chance, it might seem, of attracting support. In the twelfth century the significance of their seal was well known: Matthew Paris, monk of St Albans, explained that the two knights on one horse recalled their lack of horses and poor beginnings."

"All the knights are on their back, but are otherwise positioned in different ways: some have their legs extended straight out while others have their legs crossed; some wear tunics over their armor and others wear full-length robes; some clutch their swords, some pray, and some have their arms straight at their sides. One has no effigy at all, but only a trapezoidal sarcophagus lid."

"Our knights have good reason to draw their swords. For buried in 'Jerusalem', in Jerusalem they shall rise to join the Templars in the martyrs' white and red. Here in the Temple, in our replica of the Sepulchre itself, the knights are waiting for their call to life, to arms and to the last, climactic defence of their most sacred place on earth."

"This figure is the monumental effigy of Geoffrey de Magnaville, earl of Essex. It represents an armed knight with his legs crossed, in token that he had assumed the cross, and taken a vow to fight in defence of the christian faith. His body is cased in chain mail, over which is worn a loose flowing garment confined to the waist by a girdle, his right arm is placed on his breast, and his left supports a long shield charged with rays on a diamond ground. On his right side hangs a ponderous sword of immense length, and his head, which rests on a stone cushion, is covered with an elegantly-shaped helmet."

"This interesting monumental effigy is carved in a common kind of stone, called by the masons fire-stone. It represents an armed warrior clothed from head to foot in chain mail; he is in the act of sheathing a sword which hangs on his left side; his legs are crossed, and his feet, which are armed with spurs, rest on a lion couchant. Over his armour is worn a loose garment, confined to the waist by a girdle, and from his left arm hangs suspended a shield, having a lion rampant engraved thereon. The greater part of the sword has been broken away and lost, which has given rise to the supposition that he is sheathing a dagger. The head is defended by a round helmet, and rests on a stone pillow."

This effigy is described as having "a spirited appearance. It represents a cross-legged warrior in the act of drawing a sword, whilst he is at the same time trampling a dragon under his feet, It is emblematical of the religious soldier conquering the enemies of the Christian church."

It is clear that these images have fired people's imaginations. You can see the light from the stained-glass window splashed across this knight. The light dapples the floor and I wish I was there when the full light shines onto the sleeping knights.

"Our effigies seem to us frozen in stone, their figures forever poised to fight battles that ended 700 years ago. But these knights' eyes are open. They are all portrayed in their early thirties, the age at which Christ died and at which the dead will rise on his return. The effigies are not memorials of what has long since been and gone; they speak of what is yet to come, of these once and future knights who are poised to hear Christ's summons and to spring again to war."

And, as we left, I turned and got this final picture. It might be my favorite in the Temple Church. I liked the long shot from the Round looking toward the Chancel.

I found this Virtual Tour of the Temple Church in London. It is well-worth the trip.

So, we have one more stop in London and thence to Edinburgh and Rowan.


Rowan said...

Wow!! How amazing. I am so sorry to have missed seeing this church, but am very chuffed to see your great atmospheric pics and to read all about it. very intriguing, and most beautiful.

I will be back to comment in more detail later. By the way...I am yer 999th visitor.Woot! I aim to be the thousandth, and clain my complimentary bowl of pad see ew on a future stravaig.:0)

Rowan said...

I came back, cos I might have been pipped at the post for the fragrant soup. Jist sayin...

Thanks for all the great journeys, o photojournalisty one.

Later...gottuh go!

Rowan said...

I loved the virtual tour! It made me feel a little woozy in places, as the perspective changed, but what a great idea! I hope more historic interiors post similar videos.

It is unusual to have the stone effigies on the floor, rather than on a plinth. How did this feel? Was it a different sort of atmosphere? I wonder if it looked more like they had just fallen, and were laid to rest.

I am glad you were determined to go back and see the Temple Church.

Dr. Bob said...

hi! Glad you liked the virtual tour. I thought it was really cool. Re floor effigies, I don't know -- you ask a good question if there is a difference. I have to say that my experience with effigies is pretty limited.

(yes -- as 1000th visitor, you get a prize. As soon as I think one up.)

Rowan said...

Hee hee, and yo to a prize!

Yeah, i would be worried I might trip overan effigy, and become one myself. Until a burly curator helped me to my feet. So saying, curators in lovely old churches and castles tend to be on the unburly, elderly side, so i will just have to pick myself up, or tread carefully. Or wear my specs. I think I had a eye test and got new ones not that long ago, but have forgotten if so, and where they might be, if i did. So - have had another test, and am going for an additional peripheral vision test, and natty new specs, on Friday. There is this red pair: expensive, to die for. If I get them I will neither trip over, or become, an effigy. A butt of sniggers, mayhap, but there you go. If one makes a fashion statement, one has to stand by it. (Or I might just get the blue ones.)

The gargoyle faces are wonderful.Thanks for the great pics! I had two great gargoyle mugs for years, which were copies of real gargoyles on scottish churches. I wonder if i still have either of them. I love their quirky originality, though some are a little creepy. It is a subject I would like to know more about.

Dr. Bob said...

1) red ... no question

2) I like gargoyles

Rowan said...

The big museum/gallery in the centre of town is being refurbished and repointed.I just gotta be careful not to catch the eye of any perspicacious stone-masons as I shuffle by in my red specs...

Rowan said...

All the wonderful churchex you have visited will live in your memory, but I wonder which ones will come to mind most? I haven't experienced evensong at St Paul's, which is a 'must do', but the churches which stay with me most are Allhallow's, St John's, and the little ancient church in Aberdour. Allhallows had such a touching sense of being a working church, the glow of candles and rich colour at the Christmas fayre, the vicar and his group of helpers trying to raise a few pounds, and draw people in. I am glad you took the photo of that almost mediaeval scene. Just a little tableau, but saying such a lot.

St John's I loved for it's beauty, but also that it hadn't lost any of the sense of the beauty being for a purpose, as the Lindisfarne Gospels show in microcosm. Beauty in artistic skill, and for the glory of God. I am going to try to get to a service there during the school vacation. Wednesdays at lunchtime ought to be do-able.

You will love Aberdour. Small, ancient, intimate, beautiful.

St Eltheldreda's I would love to see. And Westminster Abbey. And St Andrew's. And the Temple Church. But visiting them here is almost as good. And you can come back as often as you like!

I would like there to have been a guide in Knight's Templar garb. Such an atmospheric place, and I have not even been there!

Dr. Bob said...

I think that authentic garb would be nifty, as well. We will do London and a church-crawl, my dear.

Rowan said...