Monday, April 28, 2008

A lovely Tuesday evening: the perfect end to a perfect day

We have had quite the day. We started out wandering through the ancient heart of legal London and have ended up at a world famous Cathedral.

I would have some pictures, but no cameras are allowed. I have taken some images off of the interwebs for you. First the history and then a bit about attending service.

When most people think of St. Paul's Cathedral in London the image of Christopher Wren's magnificent classical church rises in their minds, but there was a cathedral dedicated to St. Paul long before the able Mr. Wren put his stamp on the skyline of Stuart London.

The first church on this spot was erected in 604 AD, just 8 short years after the first Christian mission under St. Augustine landed in Kent. This wooden church was established by King Ethelbert of Kent as home to the first bishop of the East Saxons, Mellitus.

That first church was destroyed by fire and rebuilt by St. Erkenwald, then bishop, in 675-85. Fire was not the only danger faced by buildings in those dark centuries of Anglo-Saxon England - the Vikings destroyed the second St. Paul's in 962 during on of their periodic invasions.

Once again, fire destroyed the church in 1087. The new Norman building, now called Old St. Paul's, took over 150 years to complete, the final touches being applied in 1240. Well, not quite final touches - a new Gothic choir was added by 1313, making St. Paul's the third longest church in Europe at 596 feet. The following year the spire was completed. At 489 feet it was the tallest in all Europe.

In the Tudor period an open-air pulpit called Paul's Cross was established by the south wall of St. Paul's. There crowds gathered to hear rabble-rousing Protestant sermons. In 1549 the preachers incited a mob to sack the cathedral itself. They rampaged through the interior, destroying the high altar and ravaging the tombs, wall-hangings, and tombs.

During the English Civil War, Parliamentary troops commandeered the cathedral and used the nave as cavalry barracks. They broke up the scaffolding and sold the material.

The fortunes of Old St. Paul's seemed to take a turn for the better with the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. Charles II appointed a young architect named Christopher Wren to undertake major repairs to the building. Wren had only begun his work when final calamity struck.

On September 4, 1666, fire broke out in a bakehouse in Pudding Lane. Fanned by a fierce wind, the fire spread through the close-packed streets of London, destroying everything in its path. For four days the fire raged, and when the smoke finally cleared, Old St. Paul's was nothing but charred timbers and rubble.

Inside, the space is huge and echoing. The pillars just vault to the ceiling. It is an odd mix of a church and a museum. However, it is a working church, which is wonderful.

This gives you some sense of what the ceiling looks like. Those are the choir stalls.

There is a bell tower -- an image just for you, Rowan.

So, to get back to the present -- Wry and I walked across the street, tummies full and refreshed, to attend services in St. Paul's Cathedral. There are really no words to express what this experience was like.

This is the shape of the church. We came in the main entrance and ended up sitting under the dome, listening to Evensong.

The church is gorgeous -- really. I think I would like to come back, just to look more closely at it. Every single inch is beautiful. We walked through the rows of chairs and I sat down. Wry kept going, into a roped off area for those who were not just there to observe, but to participate in the service. We got programs that told us what Evensong was going to be for that service.

This is pretty much the view that we got, but we were sitting on the right, not the left.

Almost the entire service was performed by the choir. The voices were unutterably beautiful, with the boy's voices soaring over the deeper voices of the men. There is a point in which it is all just too much, too beautiful, too powerful, too much history.

But somewhere, there is just you and your God. I think that most of the churches that I have been in do not begin to consider the beauty of God. This place does.

The present choir consists of 30 choristers (boy trebles), eight probationers (who will become choristers) and 18 adults: six counter-tenors (or altos), six tenors and six basses. At the heart of the choir’s very being is the monastic tradition of singing services in the Cathedral. Evensong is sung every day, and on Sundays there are three Choral Services - Mattins, Eucharist and Evensong. There has been a choir of boys and gentlemen at Paul’s Cathedral for over nine centuries. The earliest records date from 1127, when the Bishop of London, Richard de Belmeis, founded what was the first choir school and made provision for ’almonry’ boys to serve the Cathedral.

The service ends, and we return our programs and thank the attendants. We are allowed to wander around a little bit, but most of the areas are roped off. It is quiet and people's footsteps echo along. Mostly, people whisper.

We exit into the cold night. It is not yet seven o'clock and we have one more stop to make. Wry is freezing, because he lost a glove at the Tower of London yesterday. We go to a sporting goods store and get him a pair. I am making due with the handwarmers, which are still toasty warm.

This is the view of the Cathedral at night.

And one without the people.

We have a full moon and take advantage of it.

I liked the contrast of the moon and the architecture.

And a bit further away. It is funny how Wry and I will see the same shot. Each of us sees it and we both try to get it. That is why there are four shots. He did two and I did two.

Now, we mostly have been using the Tube, but it is cold and I am loath to walk all of the way to the Underground station. We make an attempt to follow the signs to the station, but get lost and decide to try out the bus. Our travel pass allows for unlimited travel on the bus as well as the train.

We stand in the cold, figuring out how to get to the next stop, which is Covent Garden. It is open late, and I think that Wry will like it. We finally figure it out and board the bus.

It is a night bus. Very cool. I thought that J.K. Rowling just made that up, but the night bus is different from the day bus. In California, we just have one kind of bus.

And for those of you who want to enjoy the experience first hand -- a video.

On to Covent Garden!

We get off of the bus and walk along the street. I say to Wry that he should just pick a play and we will see if we can get in.

We walk through the cold night, looking at the bustle of the city night. It is like a smaller Las Vegas. (I liked the streaky lights in this picture.)

We cross the street and Wry says that he would like to see The Magic Flute. That is an opera. I say that because that is the extent of my knowledge about opera. I only know about it because it was in the movie Amadeus.

We go to the theatre and the show is about to start. Providentially, a cluster of women huddled near the entrance have two extra tickets and we are offered them at half price. In we go.

The theater is very small, and it is intimate. I don't know anything about the play, but this is an interesting adaptation. It is South African and opera combined. The Japanese gentleman next to us is in raptures. He clearly is an aficionado -- he is almost moved to tears. The ladies next to us (the ones that sold us the seats) are also following the play closely. There is a toddler in the row in front of us. It is somewhat surreal.

The story is not easy for me to follow, but it is about the adventures of the young Xhosa hero, Tamino. The dialog is in Xhosa and English.

I do recognize some parts of the aria that the Queen of the Night sings.

The dancing is exuberant and the entire troupe is involved. If they are not on stage singing or dancing, they are playing the part of the orchestra. The overture tells you that it is going to be different, as it is played on marimbas. The the sound of Tamino's flute is a jazz trumpet.

There are a cappella parts with African harmonies intermingled with arias. The dancing is wonderful.

This is a clip of the rehearsal.

I am lost, but I enjoy the night. Wry seems very happy.

At the end of the play, we leave the theater and head to the Tube station. We are delighted when the theater troupe exits the theater with us, walking briskly along, speaking in Xhosa (I think). We follow them down the stairs and get on the train. We are just about replete with sound and color and movement and space.

However, we are hungry. In our cheap eats book, we find an Indian restaurant that is sort of near the train station. We walk through the cold night and enter with a sigh of relief.

This is our dinner. It was just delicious -- and full of veggie goodness. We had things that I have never seen before -- which made it seem more authentic.

We walked back to the hotel, exhausted, but content.

It has been a perfect day.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Very Busy Tuesday: The second leg -- a church crawl

Yeah -- I know that we should do a pub crawl as part of the London experience, but that would take about 15 seconds.

Yes, Rowan, that is indeed St. Paul's Cathedral in the distance.

So, we are walking up Fleet Street up Ludgate Hill. We get the first glimpse of St. Paul’s Cathedral, with its ornate dome. As Rowan and I missed it on the last trip, I am excited to see inside of the cathedral. I have been completely floored by the smaller churches, and cannot imagine what St. Paul’s will be like. I spy a familiar spire, and we stop at St. Martin-within-Ludgate.

That is St. Paul's at the end of the street. A sign on the front of the church reads "Cadwallo king of the Britons is said to have been buried here in 677". Cadwallo's image was allegedly placed on Lud Gate, to frighten away the Saxons.

It is half-way down Ludgate Hill. From the lower part of Fleet Street the steeple stands between the viewer and the dome of St Paul's. Wren probably planned to make a contrast between the spiky steeple of St Martin's and the circular dome of St Paul's.

It is "a curious combination of a lead-clad dome, topped by a lantern and on top of that a sharp obelisk steeple, somewhat like an exclamation mark." (The photo is not mine ... sadly I did not think to take one.)

The plaster work is just lovely. The chandelier dates back to the 17th century.

The church is set sideways to the street and we entered to the sound of music, leaving the bustle of Fleet Street behind us.

There is a pianist, practicing. The church is world-famous for its musical programs, and it is a privilege to sit in the pews and wander around, surrounded by such visual and auditory beauty.

Inside, there are coffered arches with elegant plaster work, and music comes from the original 1684 organ. It is thought that a church stood on this site some 13 centuries ago, but reliable records date only from the 12th-century.

The church was rebuilt in 1437, destroyed in the Great Fire, and subsequently rebuilt by Wren in 1684. He incorporated the remains of the old tower into the fabric of the new church.

The interior is magnificently decorated, and contains much carved woodwork by Grinling Gibbons, and a double 17th-century church warden's chair, believed to be the only one of its kind in existence.

Wry recording his thoughts.

A video of the interior of the church. You can hear the pianist ... the music just fills the entire church.

I really like the sense of space in such a small area. The white plaster is a wonderful contrast to the dark wood and captures the winter afternoon light.

The floors are covered with memorials, and it is touching, thinking of those who have died with the hope of the resurrection.

Under the organ gallery I spy the font. It is inscribed in Greek: NIYON ANEMHMA MH MONAN OYIN: "Cleanse my sin not only my face". It is a palindrome!! Fantastic! Such palindromes are found in several other English and European churches. The carved oak cover hangs on a counterweight. The pedestal is wood painted to simulate stone.

Wry is very fond of palindromes. He tried to have each of the children's names be a palindrome, but I put my foot down. As the person giving actual birth, I got the final say so -- the kids should be grateful to me.

There are bread shelves that date from the 17th century and came from St. Mary Magdelene Old Fish Street (a nearby church). After morning service bread given by more wealthy parishioners would be placed on the shelves for the poor of the parish to collect. The current bread displayed was fake. I checked.

As we get ready to leave, I spy a vase of daffodils. It is a lovely touch, the humble and reverent at the same time.

We walk up Ludgate Hill to St. Paul's.

This is the view, standing on the steps of the great cathedral. I am standing on the steps of the great cathedral. I am not going in. Because they are closing in a half an hour. What are the odds that I will come to London exactly twice in my life and both times miss seeing St. Paul's?

Pretty good.

However, we are told that if we want to come back, we can attend services at five. For a moment, I think that Wry and I just goggled. Attend services? Well, yeah! Of course!

We have about an hour and a half to occupy, so we take a walk up the street.

I liked this picture of St. Paul's reflected in the windows of the more modern building across the street.

Let's just say that, for someone who finds architectural details lovely, the exterior of St. Paul's is impossible to resist.

We walk slowly down the street, taking turns with the camera.

Such lovely contrasts of shape and detail.

Each surface has marvelous detail.

I imagine that there is a symbology of the flowers that I don't know.

To the right is the walkway across the Thames. The footbridge is crowded.

I found this other photo that shows the bridge from a different view -- across the Thames.

To our right, we see a pack of school boys fleeing school -- robes flapping like Harry Potter. I later found out that the members of the choir are educated in the school nearby.

St. Paul's churchyard.

A call box and daffodils.

A trash can! An actual trash can!

We don't have streets that date back to 1293 at home. There is no sense of enormous alligators lurking in the sewers here.

Looking back at the dome and spire of St. Paul's.

The detail is wonderful. Wry is amazed to see that there is a walkway at the top of the Dome of St. Paul's. I don't think it is open to the public. He says yes ... the website says no. It is impressive, though.

Wry enjoying getting a closer look at the top of the smaller chapel.

And closer yet ... The zoom is pretty good, is it not? If you click on the image, you can really see the detail.

A closer look at the phone box and daffodils. Spring is surprisingly evident, despite the cold. You can't tell by looking at this picture, but it is cold.

We wander across the street and into a small paved area with a garden. We are sort of following a group of school boys ... they find a corner of the garden to smoke in. We are just looking over the city, with the Thames just beyond us and we notice that there is a church with an interesting weather vane.

On the northwestern corner of the church is a square tower surmounted by a lead spire in the shape of an upside down octagonal trumpet. On each corner of the tower is a small flaming urn. The spire has two rows of lunettes and a small balcony near the top, resembling a crow’s nest. At the very top is a vane in the shape of a three-masted barque in the round.

I don't know why I really liked the idea of a flying ship, but there you are. (Both Wry and I took movies of this ... you can tell we have been married for a long time.

We have about a half an hour to go, and we are cold and hungry. We settle at a small cafe across the street from the Cathedral to rest and refresh. I read on on-line review that said that the food was expensive (it was) and basic (I guess), but the view just couldn't be beat. And the chance to finally sit down for the first time practically all day was not to be missed -- we had been on our feet for a while. I don't think we even sat down for lunch!

We enjoy people watching -- we are right in front of the bus station.

I had pain au chocolate with pear and Wry had what was advertised as a banana tart, but turned out to be apple. The water pitcher was filled with fresh mint and limes and oranges. It is really nice. The coffee was good. We relaxed and watched the clock. Just before five, we went out to the Cathedral, across the street.