Friday, May 2, 2014

Making history and movies

For someone who has never been a history buff I’ve done a great job of inundating this trip with historical information. One of the oldest places we visited was Stonehenge. On the bus to the area we passed field after bright yellow field of blooming canola plants. This spectacle was enhanced by the ever-present sheep with their lambs. Stonehenge is surrounded by fields of grass and oodles of sheep and lambs. In the past you could drive up to the site, walk across a road, and then among the stones. Because tourism has increased, there is a new visitor center with shuttles that take visitors out to the stones. And Stonehenge was everything we expected, particularly since we could get closer to the stones than we anticipated. The audio guide gave lots of information about the site, the culture that built Stonehenge, the geology of the stones, and a host of other facts, suppositions, and theories supported by research. Of course, we spent as much time as possible with the stones and almost missed our bus back to London!

Map Room
And back in London there was more history waiting for us to explore. The Winston Churchill Museum and War Cabinet Rooms was another place in which we enjoyed spending longer than usual. If you read everything presented and listen to the audio guide, you’ll spend at least four hours at the site. However, it’s easy to get lost in the museum or to miss it entirely, which I did the first time around. Rather than being laid out in a grid pattern, the museum is a tangle of time lines and presentations; once I actually found the museum rooms, I got lost and finally gave up and went back to the war room exhibits. The weird thing about the war rooms is that they didn’t need much restoring. When World War II was over, people simply picked up their personal things, put on their coats and left. Whey the rooms were re-opened the restorers actually found they had very little to do. It seemed odd to me that in all of this focus on the war there was a frilly, homey bedroom and formal dining room for Winston Churchill’s wife. But Mrs. Churchill never slept in her room in the bunker and it’s not clear if she ever ate in the dining room. The most intriguing room was the one containing the maps. They are still on the wall with pins showing the locations of troops, ships, and other groups.

Slide Rule
You know that a group of geeky professors can’t possibly be in England without visiting at least one university, so we caught a train to Oxford. As expected, this is a college town with the requisite plethora of pubs, bookstores, t-shirt shops and students everywhere. It’s also a good walking town and there is much to see ~ I had a list. The Museum of the History of Science is a petite gem (yep, I’m a science geek) reminding visitors of a scientist’s storage building, although nicely arranged with exhibits well labeled. One of the most fascinating exhibits was the variety of slide rules made from such materials as copper, ivory, wood, and even plastic; and they came in the normal horizontal variety, spiral, and round shapes. Once we finished with the museum, we hunted for and found the Bridge of Sighs, a replica of the famous bridge in Venice, Italy. However, in front of it and blocking a really good picture was a horse trailer. An entire camera crew, directors, extras, stars, horses, carriages, bicyclists, and a Model-T with driver were in the process of shooting a period movie, ‘Testament of Youth’. Instead of heading right to the historic library we were to tour, we spent an inordinate amount of time watching the actors go through their parts and gaping at the beautiful 
Actors in Testament of Youth
Bodleian Library
horses and car. And speaking of movies, many of the library scenes in the Harry Potter movies were filmed in the Old Bodleian Library; we had to give it a look. The quadrangle in front of the library is enclosed and is a lovely area to take photos of typical Oxford architecture. The library, itself, is extraordinary. The librarians and readers have access to books published since the 1400s. These are still out for study and are chained to the library shelves as they were when the library was established. To use the library, you must still take an oath 'not to remove from the Library, or to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document, or other object belonging to it or in its custody; nor to bring into the Library or kindle therein any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library’. According to our docent, this library can request any book published in Great Britain free of charge for permanent use in the Old Bodleian. Needless to say they have several warehouses full of books; thanks to computerization, they can more easily manage their collection. 

St. Mungo's Cathedral
English history not being enough, we continued visiting the past but in Scotland. We had planned to see the old merchant city in Glasgow, but DM decided he’d rather see the Glasgow Cathedral, also known as St. Mungo’s Cathedral. What a good idea that was ~ although finding parking meant several turns through the roundabout and a back street adventure or two before actually getting to the parking lot that was, of course, across the street from the church. This cathedral was built and dedicated in 1136 and holds the tomb of St. Mungo (a.k.a Kentigern). It is an amazing place made more so by the wonderful antique docents who have more to tell about the church than you can possibly believe. This husband and wife team greeted us and immediately ask DM what his Scottish background was (his grandmother was a Holt and his step grandfather an Anderson). We were then shown monuments and grave markers that related to his family before being sent on our way with a handful of postcards and an information sheet that they thought we needed to have as gifts. They were two very kind and gentle people who made our visit memorable. The church, itself, is a treat of stained glass windows that have been installed since World War II, the oldest in 1947 and the most recent in 1999. This church withstood the Protestant Reformation, but did have several features of a catholic church ‘cleansed’ from the building, such as statues of the Madonna and child and of the disciples. Across the square from the 
Sculpture in Religious Life Museum
church was The St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art. While we didn’t really know what to expect, we were pleasantly surprised at the well-produced exhibition of comparative religions. The bases for the religions were presented as were how religion was incorporated into family life, coming of age issues, and leaders of religious sects. What appalled me was a picture of an American woman putting her hands on the television to get a blessing from a TV evangelist.

St. Andrews Cathedral
The village of St. Andrews is now best known for a golf course that sits on the sea, but there are two other historical sites that I wanted to see. The Cathedral of St Andrew must have been jaw-dropping when it was intact. As a ruin, it is overwhelming. It is just up the hill from the castle and commands exceptional views of the North Sea. This church was built in 1158 as the center of the Medieval Catholic Church. The only parts that remain intact are the East Tower and St. Rule’s Tower. During the Reformation all catholic ornamentation was stripped, the church was abandoned and allowed to fall into ruin. The view from the top of St. Rule’s Tower was spectacular, particularly looking across the water to the St.
DM at the Morris tomb
 Andrews golf course. However, the climb up and down the very narrow spiral staircase was harrowing at best and meeting anyone on those stairs left one person hanging out over open space while the other negotiated passing up or down the steps; I fondly embraced the center post of the stairs on several occasions. All around the ruins of the church is a cemetery. Since this is one of the original places where golf was developed, it’s not surprising that many golfers are buried in this cemetery; three generations of the Morris family, all pioneer golfers are here.

Cathedrals, chapels, abbeys, minsters and churches: these are all names for places of worship, but DM wondered how these designations are different or alike. A cathedral is presided over by a bishop, so it serves as the central church of a diocese, conference, or episcopate. A minister is the church of a monastery even though the monastery may have ceased to exist. An abbey is a specialized building under the direct supervision of its abbess (the spiritual mother) and/or the abbot (the spiritual father); the abbey is where the religious (i.e. monks or nuns) live, work, pray 
St Giles Cathedral
and/or receive visitors. A chapel is part of a larger place of worship or a private area for worship within some other building such as a home. A church is a place of worship for a single congregation. So while all of these serve a purpose within religions, their designations are not particularly based on size nor are they are not synonymous. The High Kirk of Edinburgh, or Saint Giles Cathedral, is the Mother Church of Presbyterianism and the official Church of Scotland. It stands on the Royal Mile half way between Edinburgh Castle and the Holyrood Palace and may have been built in about 853. It’s a great landmark for finding your way around Edinburgh since the streets are not in a grid and most maps we found were not to scale. The open crown on top shines in the sunlight and is exquisite. Adding a bit of extra interest to the area was a guy trying to get out of a straitjacket and a set of chains.
And if the places we’d seen weren’t old enough, we had to see Hadrian’s Wall. It was built by
Hadrian's Wall
 Romans in about AD 122 supposedly to keep the Scots out of England so it runs from Segedunum at Wallsend on the east coast to Solway Firth on the west coast. In areas there are milecastles along the wall that were used very much like customs stops to let people in and out and to collect tolls. We saw the wall in Northumberland in the rain. There is a large restoration project in progress all along the wall, but in Northumberland it is also a great tourist site. Folks are allowed to hike down to the restoration area and talk to the workers. Of course there are sheep all around, some even on the wall giving us a rather disapproving look as we passed by.

The last church we visited was York Minster and what a great place to end! This amazing 
York Minster Clock
Gothic edifice has a wonderful museum under it showing the construction of the church and the levels of usage including Roman barracks. Also in this museum is one of the first illuminated manuscripts of the Bible. Another highlight of this visit was being about to interact with technology that explained parts of the church, including stained glass windows that are being restored. In coves around the church are informational centers that tell about how the stonework is being redone, and allowing hands-on experimentation for carving stone. There is also a section about the glazing of the stained glass. There are of the treasures of the church such as a Roman communion cup, records for those who are searching through their family backgrounds, and a library holding information about theology and local history. The church, itself, was built in the 4th century and has been in use ever since. The chapter house, with its gorgeous ceiling, was added in the 13th century. As we stepped out of that part of the church we realized how silent the cathedral had become and that we weren't seeing anyone. We spent such a long time in the church that when we left, the only other people there were the ones who were supposed to be locking the doors. We left just as the clock was chiming 6:00PM; at least we didn’t get trapped inside!

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