Sunday, October 5, 2014

Stonehenge, Old Sarum, and Salisbury Cathedral

Our next field trip took us to see Stonehenge as well as the old fortification of Old Sarum and the Cathedral at Salisbury. Our first stop was at Stonehenge.We were greeted by this raven sitting on the fence. He didn't seem to mind us tourists, even when I started quoting Poe at him. 
 Stonehenge is in a fairly dilapidated state after years of neglect and people absconding with the stones. Now it is ringed round with an asphault path and ropes so that you cannot approach the stones*. To be honest, as many people have acknowledged, it was a little underwhelming.
 That did not stop me from taking many pictures. I enjoyed the challenge of a) capturing it without all of the mess of the pavement and ropes b) doing so without also having tonnes of people in the picture as well and c) capturing some of the eerie majesty the place inspires.
 Our second stop was Old Sarum, an Iron age fortification built as three consecutive mounds stacked on top of each other with a deep ditch at each new level. It protected against onslaughts by hiving successively higher grounds with difficult terrain. On the last tier was the fort, only ruins and foundations now.
 The fort was built of flint stones cemented together. I'm not sure what this spot is upon which I have perched myself, but it's in the Royal palace and it probably an alter.
 While the palace may have had it's own chapel and alter, a cathedral was built on the middle level in ca. 1070-1095 AD but was destroyed by lightening five days after completion. Oops. A second one was completed around 1130 AD. The foundations of both have been marked out in the ground.
 While nothing still stands you can see and stand in the spots where the huge pillars supported the roof. This may also be there I developed a Ginger Beer problem. (Don't worry, it's non-alcoholic.)
 Down in the town in the walls you can see salvaged stone from the second cathedral. When it was also destroyed the beautifully carved stone was recovered and used as any other stone would be in walls and other town construction.
 In the beginning of the 13th century the confines of Old Sarum were a cause of stress for the cathedral so plans for a new one were set out and moved into the town. Perhaps because of the cramped location on Old Sarum, the new cathedral was built with a very large churchyard.
The old story goes that the Bishop shot an arrow from the top of Old Sarum and where ever it landed they would build the Cathedral. Rather than striking the ground, it hit a deer who fled. The spot where the deer died became the ground for the new Cathedral.
The Cathedral was completed in stages, and is not quite finished. The tower is a later addition and had some structural difficulties. In various places you can find particularly lovely flying buttresses which support the wall like arched cobwebs.
A large baptismal font sits in the centre.
Water flows out of it continually. Having a continual presence of water is particularly significant for this cathedral, though I'm not sure if the run off goes into the foundations or not. The cathedral is build on very shallow foundations of rock which are on wet gravel. Should the water table drop significantly the cathedral would be in danger.
This is a particularly fascination gadget. It is claimed to be the oldest surviving clock, and may date to the 13th century, though it is up for debate. It sits in the main floor and ticks away the faceless hours.

We got to go on the tour up to the tour. It took us up this teeny-tiny winding staircase and eventually to the first level, pictured above. I am looking east toward the alter.
Through one of the small windows in the staircase. Heavy winds peeled some of the lead tiles away, if I remember correctly. The weight of the tiles is one of the many structural concerns of the cathedral, somewhere below making sure the water table stays high enough, and hoping the foundations and columns can support the weight of the tower.
Another example of a structural issue. The south-facing side of the cathedral expands and contracts with the heat of the sun so the support beams were put in on the diagonal in an attempt to leave room for expansion and to stay flexible.
Yet another structural concern. A cathedral, I think it was York Minster, with a similar sub-roof construction collapsed after a fire because the weight of the water was too great. In response, Salisbury put drains in the bottom of all the arches.
The most significant structural issue: the great weight of the added tower. It was added in 1320 and was a significant addition to the structure. The windows in the above and below pictures were filled in and the braces were added. Small staircases in the corners were also filled in and the wood staircase was added.
Below you can see the buckle in the columns created by the spire!
As we walked up we found several examples of this graphiti. I'm guessing it and others like it were left by stonemasons as they are deep and well formed while other contemporary scratchings are less polished.
When we reached the base of the spire we could go no further but instead walked out onto the ledge where we could see Old Sarum.
We could look up, up, up, at the spire, still a great height above us.
The weather was the epitome of a perfect English summer's day.

Perhaps a little sore, but no complaints, we came back down and they gave us these buttons: "I've reached the heights".
And what a height it was!
* Not long after I got back from Oxford President Obama visited Stonehenge but they took down all the ropes for him.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Saturday's Meander

My second Saturday there was fairly uneventful as I studied and worked up at the Vines. I decided to go for a meander around Oxford and Headington Hill. 
Through the foliage and the sun you could see the tops of the Oxford buildings. The light was just right and I swear I found Lothlorien for a moment.
I did find this lovely old church tucked away from everything and with a hugely overgrown cemetery on the north side.
There were also roses all over the place. I love how Oxford has them everywhere. It makes stopping to smell the roses a viable life path.
Around back I found tangled tombstones covered in prickers and nettles. There was also this little scene, two symbols of life combating death surrounded by the forces of evil.
I then meandered over to Headington Hill where I sketched for a bit and did this scene.
A more realistic representation follows, with me.
Back at the Vines as it got dark. Funny how the colours turned out in this picture. My room was over on the left on the 2nd floor.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Burford, Widford, and the DMV

Our second field trip took us to Burford and Widford towns outside of Oxford. Again we piled into a bus and drove our merry way out to see churches. 
We gathered at the bus stop for a while waiting for the bus. We waited a while until we realized that it had stopped at the girls school a little distance away.
We arrived at Burford and delighted in the ''quaint" village. It was an old wool town which is why it had the money to build a beautiful cathedral. Eventually the market slowed and it was bypassed by the railway which further made it a backwater. Now the town works to keep up its historical appeal.

Original wood trim on one of the houses. I think it was from the 15th century.
The cathedral. It's a jumbling of additions and was part of Christopher Wren's restoration of churches.
The porch, where the village would have done church and secular business.
The memorial to Edmund Harman, Henry VIII's barber, which features carvings of American Indians.

What a car!
Looking back at the church's spire.

We then traveled to Widford to see the DMV. To our amusement, we discovered that we were not, in fact, going to see the Department of Motor Vehicles but a Deserted Medieval Village. There was not much left, just a cow field with a stone church perched in the middle.
Inside we found this picture of a crest of England which obscured an image of probably St. Christopher. Such representations were usually placed opposite the door so that villagers could poke their head in and see it easily. Looking upon his representation was supposed to prevent dying that day unshriven.
Simon, our fearless leader, climbed into the rickety, crooked pulpit to deliver a lecture on the history of the church.
Original murals rediscovered under a layer of plaster and paint.
Contemplating running widdershines around this church.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Library Cards and Iffley

Our first Friday took us to the Bodleian Library to pick up our library cards. We cycled down over a path which would soon become familiar and into the heart of town. 
We stopped to talk about the Bridge of Sighs and continued to the Old Bodleian.
This room has been used to house Parliment, and it was where we swore our oath before being allowed to use the library.
"I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library."

That Saturday we piled onto a bus and drove not far away to the little village of Iffley. We passed thatched houses because England still thatches their houses. The church there was built c. 1180 AD and is fairly undespoiled by King Henry VIII and the Victorians and the change in taste and liturgy. Because the money from the church was sent a few counties away to support an arms house there wasn't enough to keep up with the changes needed by the alteration of the Catholic liturgy. This is why it has stayed with just the nave without any isles. The Victorians did add an organ over the South door, traditionally the main entrance, so we go in using the grand West door. 
Outside there is this stone basin. Apparently it was dug up near by but no one knows where it came from. One of the lecturers, after taking a closer look, thinks that it might be the original font and the one inside is a later addition, from the 15th century. It's just speculation, but it makes sense since the stone basin clearly had a lock on it,  likely to keep the holy water in.
This is the now unused south door. Churches were traditionally built facing the east, so the south door faced the sun and was considered the door of life. It was the common door for common people. The West door is usually more decorated.
I don't seem to have a picture of the full West door, but here is a good closeup of the detailed bird heads which cover the arch. As a design element it seems to have developed out of the classic Saxon chevrons which you see further in. The outside ring is the signs of the zidiac with a few more carvings tacked on the end to fill out the space.
Lastly, we saw a carving of a "green man". No one knows his definitive story or why he appears all over England, always with vegetation growing out of his mouth. I get that he is a fertility symbol of life and regrowth, but I would really like to hear his myth.
Just for reference, this is a Victorian Green Man on Rose Lane by the Rad Cam and Brasenose College. Man, with plants growing out of his mouth.