Warning – Picture rich post! Also includes some more art!
I am uploading this on Monday 16th, as I was too tired and it was too late last night to start trying to get connected to the Internet for the first time in our new holiday venue, but I’ve kept the date of the post correct, i.e. Sunday 15th June.
This morning my hubby and I went to a service at Salisbury Cathedral. Today was a special day for me because it was my father’s birthday. Had he lived, he would be 91 today. We saw and did such wonderful things today and I know he would have loved them all. The service was almost like a memorial for him and I felt incredibly close to him.
On the way into Salisbury we got a bit lost, because the road we wanted to follow was closed all day. In our meanderings we found this old mill (now a hotel) at Harnham.
Today was Trinity Sunday in the Anglican church, and the contents of the service reflected this festival. I grew up in the Anglican choral church tradition and I always enjoy attending Cathedral services where the music is consistently excellent, and the traditional forms are followed. We began the service with a terrific sing – St. Patrick’s Breastplate - which is a marvellous old hymn – an affirmation of faith sung to what I call a really good strong, solid tune in a minor key. I was delighted by the sermon – most people try to explain the Trinity (unexplainable) with such metaphors as 3-leaf clovers, 3 bits of mercury in a dish running together into one, etc. but this man described the members of the Trinity doing a dance – the Dashing White Sargent! What a delightful picture!!
When we arrived, we were guided to a place where my wheelchair would not be in the way, and with my hubby beside me. We were told that another wheelchair user regularly attended, and I was placed next to his space.
When my hubby and I were married 28 years ago, we were married by a bishop with whom my hubby had close associations. When this man retired, he became a Benedictine monk and lived in an abbey. In recent years, their numbers diminished to four, and they closed the abbey and moved to Salisbury. My hubby had every intention of looking him up while we were here, but who should arrive to take up the wheelchair space but this man himself, using a mobility scooter! He is now 90 years of age, and was delighted to meet up with us in this way.
After the service, we had coffee, and who should turn up but my lovely teacher from yesterday! She is a regular attendee at the Cathedral and everyone I spoke to lit up at the mention of her name, and said what a wonderful lady she is.
For several years it has been my dream to see the new font in Salisbury Cathedral. The commission was won by one of my favourite sculptors – William Pye, who specialises in water sculpture. Visit his website and see the amazing things he does – his command of his medium is absolute, and he creates wonders with vortices and other water effects. His cathedral font is an outstanding work of art, and exquisitely beautiful, and absolutely in keeping with its surroundings. I am always impressed how quality works of modern art blend in so well in ancient surroundings like this.
The font consists of a large container filled absolutely to the brim with water, which is pumped up into the centre, and flows out through four spouts at the corners.
It is basically diamond-shaped, with curved insets where the officiating minister can stand to conduct the baptism ceremony. In each of these curved recesses is a phrase from a beautiful passage from the Book of Isaiah – I have created a photo montage of these, and they read from top left to bottom right.
Because the water flows so gently into the bottom of the font, it creates no discernable currents or disturbance on the surface of the water, which has a glassy, mirror-like appearance. This reflects beautifully the mediaeval vaulted roof of the Cathedral.
In a way, the reflection becomes part of the sculpture itself, and there is a melding of modern and mediaeval to create an entirely new form.
Here is one of the corner spouts. I love how the reflection is distorted as the water begins to flow over the curved lip.
The stream of water from each spout lands in a hole in the floor, filled with some sort of fibrous matting to prevent splashing and to reduce the noise. It is very quiet, but apparently they turn off the pump during concerts as there is some sound generated.
The interesting combination of straight lines and curves around the rim. I love the elegant curve from floor to spout at each corner.
For me, this is an intensely pleasing structure whose shape changes as it is viewed from different angles. The mirrored surface of the water and the spouts with their streams of water are quite compelling.
One of the Cathedral stewards told me a very amusing anecdote about the font (not so amusing for the person involved, though!). A Japanese party was being shown round the Cathedral, and one man thought the absolutely flat, undisturbed surface of the water was solid glass, and he put his camera down on it!!!
My hubby and I moved around the Cathedral, finding different things of interest. He found this delightful memorial to a young man killed in WW1 – no status or rank is given – just the excellent character of a very special young man. A touching memorial indeed.
This magnificent copper and brass memorial is to members of the Wiltshire Regiment slain in the Boer War in South Africa.
A goldwork embroidered banner depicting the Cathedral, and the words “Sursum Corda” – “Lift up your hearts.”
The stained glass windows in one of the transepts.
Beyond the high altar at the extreme eastern end of the Cathedral was a temporary installation by the sculptor Nicholas Pope. Last Sunday was Pentecost, the festival when the Church celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus, manifest by the sound of a rushing mighty wind, and divided tongues of flame alighting on the heads of each disciple. In this work, the disciples are depicted by large abstract terracotta figures, every one different, representing the diverse characters and occupations of the men Jesus chose to follow Him and to found His Church, and each figure is topped by a burnished disc of metal, in front of which is a lighted oil lamp. A recorded voice-over completes the installation, reading the relevant passage from the second chapter of the Book of Acts. It is an extremely impressive piece of art, and we were very glad to be there during the short time that it will be on display in the Cathedral.
I was keen to show my hubby the ancient tomb of St. Osmund, which so impressed me when I attended the Cathedral as a child. Originally this tomb was topped by an elaborate carved and painted wooden structure but this was destroyed (probably during the Reformation) and all that remains is the plain stone sarcophagus. What makes it unique is the perforated sides. There was a legend that the bones of the saint possessed healing qualities, and the sick and maimed would place their diseased limbs through the holes, to be closer to the relic. This made a huge impression on me as an 11-year-old!
The Prisoner of Conscience candle.
A modern stone carving. Could make an interesting Zentangle, perhaps?
Another interesting memorial plaque, this time surrounded by a beautiful gold mosaic.
The carved doors into the vestry.
In a side chapel we found an altar dedicated to St. Laurence, who apparently met his end in a most unpleasant manner – being burnt alive on an iron griddle!
The beautiful altar frontal, made with a combination of patchwork and embroidery, suggests this horrifying event very strongly. The first barbecued saint?
An ancient weather vane and the iron cross which were once on the top of the Cathedral spire. Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest spire in England. To replace the lights on the top, someone has to climb up a succession of worn stone steps, and then wooden ladders as the space inside the spire becomes ever more constricted, until there is no longer room for a man to fit, at which point the poor fellow has to open a little door and climb the last stretch on the outside!! Rather him than me.
In another side chapel was a veritable treasure trove. Firstly, this glass prism in memory of the artist Rex Whistler. It is a triangular prism with scenes of the Cathedral engraved on it, and it revolves slowly in its glass case, and the scenes transform one into another. It is absolutely beautiful.
Here are the three faces as the prism revolves. You can see that it is lit from within the glass case, and it positively glows.
Beside it was this curious prayer desk with oak trees on the top!
Here’s a detail of one of the oak trees. Beautiful wood carving.
There was an altar frontal propped against the wall, depicting a chalice surrounded by the crown of thorns which Jesus was forced to wear at His crucifixion.
Here is a close up of the focal point. The embroidery is quite wonderful.
The ancient cope chest. A cope is a large cloak, worn by the clergy for many centuries. It is semi-circular when laid flat, but hangs in folds when worn, and is secured across the chest by a fabric strip which is usually as richly embroidered as the cope itself. If you look carefully you can see a photo on the chest of someone wearing one.
Leaving the main building, we walked through the cloisters. This is a covered walkway surrounding a central grassed courtyard.
The Chapter House, where for centuries the clerical staff of the Cathedral have held their meetings and assemblies, houses one of several original copies of the Magna Carta (the very basis of English Law, so an extremely important document, not just for England, but for all those nations who have adopted our legal system). When we first went in, I took a couple of photos of the magnificent roof, before a guide politely asked me not to take photos – in addition to the ancient document, the silver treasures of the Cathedral are stored in the Chapter House, and photography is not permitted for security and insurance reasons.
The roof is supported by a single central pillar, from which burst like a fountain, a series of ribbed vaults which then divide for the windows. It’s absolutely exuberant! Here’s a detail of some of the rib work, which has also been embellished.
I was very sad not to be able to take further photos, because around the walls, just above the panelling and below the windows, is a frieze of mediaeval stone carving around the entire room, depicting scenes from the Books of Genesis and Exodus at the beginning of the Bible. These are quite charmingly executed and often quite humorous. Edward Rutherfurd’s mammoth historical novel about Salisbury, “Sarum,” devotes a whole section to the building of the Cathedral and the Chapter House, weaving a tale of jealousy, spite and violence around the carving of these little figures. I must read it again!
By this time we were both getting very hungry, and found a wonderful Italian restaurant for a late lunch. After this we had a little wander around the centre of the city (doing what my hubby calls “sploring”) and to my delight we stumbled across one of the city’s ancient churches, St. Thomas’ Church. We used to go there occasionally from school, and it is very unusual in that it contains a “Doom” painting which depicts Christ in glory at the centre, and the dead being raised at the Last Judgement, and the righteous being guided by angels to heavenly bliss, while the less than righteous are cast down into hell to be eaten by monsters and tormented by demons. The pictures are extremely graphic, and to an almost totally illiterate mediaeval population, were enough to instil the fear of hellfire and damnation into the most saintly individual!
It is a miracle that it survived. At one time, all our ancient churches would have been covered with brightly coloured wall paintings depicting the saints and scenes from the Bible, but with the Reformation these were considered to be idolatrous and Popish, and nearly all of them were destroyed. At St. Thomas’ the Doom was apparently whitewashed over and covered with boards and managed to survive the ravages of Henry VIII’s soldiers, and later, the Protector Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan army during the English Civil War.
Here is a detail showing Christ in glory, seated in judgement. He appears to be sitting on one rainbow and resting his feet on another! He is surrounded by various saints and angels. You can see above, a portion of the roof with its vibrant painted colours. Most painted carving in churches has been stripped bare, and it is a joy to see how rich the original must have been.
A detail showing the angels guiding the righteous up out of their tombs. They are all naked, but if you look closely you can see that one of them is wearing a bishop’s mitre – although he doesn’t have a stitch on his body!!! On the other side, it is amusing to note that there are several bishops and kings being thrust down into the maws of demons in hell! The populace were being forcibly reminded that power and position in this world are no guarantee of a decent place in the next.
St. Thomas’ Church is one of a few churches with a surviving angel roof. Perhaps the height of this particular roof deterred Henry VIII’s soldiers from climbing up and pulling down the angels!
After this we left Salisbury and made our way towards the Cotswolds, where we will spend the rest of our holiday. On the journey we stopped to photograph this beautiful house.