On my second day Katherine was able to come with me, which was much more fun and less intimidating. (I sort of like and sort of don’t like the riskiness of traveling in a strange city on my own…) But there was still risk involved — for instance, when I kept crossing the street and forgetting which way to look for cars, and was nearly hit by a bus. Killed by a double-decker bus in London, what a way to go.
We went to see the London (or Brompton) Oratory, which meant…
We were in Newman country.
I LOVED the Oratory. It is neo-Baroque and pretty imposing.
Another reason I loved the Oratory is because it felt so distinctively English. I don’t know if it comes across in the pictures — the gravity and the crispness of this church, so different from German Baroque. (Maybe it’s part of the difference between Baroque and neo-Baroque? There’s a sense of “distance” in most 19th and 20th century revivals of earlier styles, I feel.)
But this wasn’t the kind of antiseptic crispness there seems to be in lots of neo-Gothic or neo-Romanesque churches; it was rich and colorful and sedate. It conveys some of the somber attitude that English Catholicism of the 19th and early 20th century was steeped in, being under pressure by both establishment Anglicanism and a newly vigorous secularism to appear less wild, backward, superstitious, lower class, or anyhow less Irish or Italian.
At the same time, it is certainly not minimalist, and this kind of building was (and is) also a kind of confident self-assertion. It embraces the traditionally Catholic architectural style and elaborates on it with gusto. This is part of the heritage that Newman and the Oxford Movement Anglo-Catholics brought to England in the 19th century, and it also lives on in Victorian churches inspired by the Anglo-Catholic movement (one of which we’ll get to in a moment!)
Basically as soon as I walked in, I thought: this is the world of Brideshead Revisited. And I think as we left, Katherine said something like, “this place makes Brideshead make sense!” And actually, I just read now, Waugh based the Marchmains on a family who (although Anglican) were Catholic-sympathizers who sometimes attended Mass, and one family member was married here. The Marchmains of the novel, in contrast, were Catholic Recusants.
“Out of shadows and phantasms into the truth.”
St Thomas More and St John Fisher on the sides, and in the middle, I assume a scene showing persecution of Catholics during and after the English Reformation. (It might be “Tyburn tree.”) I include this painting firstly because I think most people think mainly of “Bloody Mary” or Foxe’s Book of Martyrs or the Puritans when they think of religious persecution in England, whereas actually more Catholics than Protestants were killed for their faith during the 300 years between the Reformation and Catholic Emancipation in the 19th century. (Though this is not a numbers game.) And secondly, because we’re going to the Tower of London pretty soon, where much of the “action” of the English Reformation went down.
Farewell London Oratory, on to Victorian Anglicanism. But first…
Read about this statue here… I only Googled it.
And we visited the TS Eliot house, where, according to tour guide rumor, his much-younger wife still lives… It’s a shame now that I never went to see where TS Eliot was born when I lived in St Louis.
Wandering on our way to see the house where my sister Heidi lived when she lived in London, we found St Mary Abbots, a 19th century neo-Gothic building with a longer history.
This church is just one of the fruits of the Victorian Restoration in 19th century England. I think the churches are beautiful, but they did destroy a great deal of actual historical architecture in the process — “restoring” a building meant something different than preserving it.
This baptismal font by George Gilbert Scott does not mess around.
Katherine pointed out this gravestone inscription. After a very complete list of the titles and accomplishments of her family members:
“She was born June 5, 1647, and on April 14, 1730, had an easy conclusion of a long life spent with great dignity and virtue. She was adorned with rare faculties of the mind, singular acuteness sagacity and Judgement, with a generous heart, full of piety and devotion to God, full of modesty candor diffusive charity and universal benevolence to mankind, beloved admired revered by all as well as by her relations, as being confessedly the ornament, and at the same time the tacit reproach of a wicked Age.”
This lady was no joke. The ornament and the tacit reproach of a wicked Age!
The choir. Apparently this church is a revival of the early Decorated style of English Gothic. I don’t really know the varieties of Gothic styles that well.
Side chapel. I love the altarpiece.
There’s a primary school attached to this church. Right before I took this picture, a kid started to run past me, but he saw me with my camera, stopped short, and waited until I nodded at him before giving me an apologetic smile and running on past the doors. He was wearing a uniform. He was probably eight or nine. And he was so polite. I was charmed.
And here is where Heidi lived when she was a nanny!
And very close by is…
Okay, now buckle your seatbelts, because we’re going to the Tower. And this post will be long.
The Tower of London: the first thing you ought to know is that it costs £ 19 to enter. And then they even try and fool you into paying an extra £1.50 “voluntary donation,” which you have to explicitly opt out of. Of course I opted out. I’m an American, dagnabbit, and I know my rights!
These are the Queen’s Tower Guards who will, together with the Yeomen Wardens, perform the Ceremony of the Keys every night.
The White Tower was built by William the Conquerer; in 1066 (THE OTHER MEMORABLE DATE) it was built out of wood (like most early medieval castles), but over the next two or three decades it was built in stone as you see it now. It’s the oldest stone keep in England.
Inside the White Tower are mostly big empty halls with exhibits built into them — the coolest part is the Romanesque St John’s Chapel, from 1080, supposedly the oldest surviving church in England. You weren’t allowed to take pictures and there was an elderly guard watching to make sure you didn’t. But well… you know me…
Groin vaults in the side aisle. Real Romanesque churches (as opposed to neo-) are so small and compact. I love them.
There are big exhibits with armor and weapons and the medieval warfare stuff I just can’t develop an interest in.
This was the Tower in the 13th century. Currently the walls go back behind the White Tower, and the hall in the foreground is gone. There must also be more outer walls. I haven’t looked at it closely.
Part of the inner courtyard.
In the towers they’ve set up various exhibits — like this recreation of King Edward I’s bedchamber.
With attached chapel.
And similarly the 13th century throne room in the Wakefield Tower, which is one of the oldest parts of the castle.
And another chapel with more lovely tiles — “By Tradition King Henry VI died here May 21, 1471” while at prayer.
In the courtyard, part of the Roman city wall remains.
In one of the towers was also an exhibit on the mysterious disappearance and probable murder of the two princes that occurred in 1483, which is unsolved.
Now we’ll get on to the prisoners!
A recreation of Sir Walter Raleigh‘s cell in the 17th century. It’s pretty nice!
There is graffiti carved by prisoners on the walls of their cells, which were in the outer towers along the wall. The Tower, like most medieval fortresses, held some prisoners during the middle ages, but once it was no longer a royal residence, the number of prisoners kept in the Tower increased. Most of them were imprisoned in the 16th-17th century, during the formation of one of the first truly modern states — Elizabethan England. Don’t forget that amidst all the Shakespeare and the romance of Tudor England, Elizabeth’s reign saw the first known instance of a secret police. Early modern states were much more repressive than medieval kingdoms.
Passageways inside the walls lead to the towers.
“Do not rest your hopes on these vain things that all men desire, but follow the sure road which leads to the highest good.”
An inscription by Giovanni Battista Castiglione, Elizabeth I’s Italian tutor, who was imprisoned by Mary for plotting against her. He later brought letters to Elizabeth while she herself was imprisoned in the Tower.
The “Thomas Rooper 1570” on the bottom left, complete with a picture of a body in a grave, was probably related to William Roper, the son in law of Sir Thomas More. William Roper was a briefly a Lutheran and provokes one of my favorite speeches in A Man For All Seasons.
“EXTREMA CHRISTUS,” carved by Walter Paslew. And just to the right you can see the name of Robert Dudley. This is for all you people who love Tudor history!
And finally, a long inscription from William Rame. Nothing certain is known about him, but his imprisonment probably had to do with Elizabeth I’s Act of Supremacy the same year.
“Better it is to be in the howse of mornyng then in the howse of banketing : the harte of the wyse is in the morning howse : it is better to have some chastening then to have over moche liberte : there is a tyme for all things and a tyme to be borne and a tyme to dye ande the daye of deathe is better then the daye of berthe : there is an ende of all things ande the ende of a thinge is beter then the begenyng : be wyse and pacyente in troble for wysdome defendith as well as mony : use well the tyme of prosperite ande remember the time of misfortewn. xxii die Apriles, ano 1559 [April 12 1559]”
Here is the tower where Thomas More was imprisoned. From here, nearing the end of his 14-month imprisonment, he saw the Carthusian monks (executed by Henry VIII) taken from the Tower to Tyburn, and wrote to his daughter: “See how the blessed fathers go to their deaths as cheerfully as bridegrooms to a marriage.”
Here is the part of the courtyard where the gallows was erected, adjacent to the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula (St Peter in Chains).
With a memorial to the few prisoners executed here — most had public executions on Tower Hill.
In the 19th century, the chapel was restored, and it was discovered that the many remains interred under the nave had been disturbed… they then tried to identify the more well known remains. You can read a bit about it here.
Inside the chapel.
A list of some of the most well-known people buried underneath the chapel — going down the list you see Thomas More, John Fisher, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard (queens #2 and 5), Thomas Cromwell, Thomas and Edward Seymour (brothers of Jane Seymour, queen #3), John Dudley, Lady Jane Grey, Thomas Howard, and for a while his son Philip Howard, although his remains were later moved. After Thomas More and John Fisher were killed, their heads were stuck on poles where they could be seen by the public. But John Fisher’s head was apparently so ruddy and lifelike that they threw it into the Thames — whereas Thomas More’s daughter managed to bribe her way into regaining his head, and it is probably buried in the Roper family grave.
Roses growing outside one of the towers.
Now to transition a little…
We walked back up (down?) the Thames to London Bridge (this is not London Bridge, it is Tower Bridge), crossed, and had a look at Southwark Cathedral.
Southwark Cathedral was an Augustinian Priory from 1106 until the Reformation, and the church was called St Mary Overie. (No, it did NOT refer to Mary’s ovaries, it referred to the church’s location over the river, cough cough.) The canons (th priests and brothers of the priory) built a hospital and named it after St Thomas Becket – which still exists, although now it is located across the river from the Parliament buildings.
Nearing the end of his conflict with Henry II, Thomas Becket entered Southwark (the suburb) on his way back to Canterbury in 1170, just days before his murder. He was greeted by crowds of people, maybe 3000, including a procession of the Augustinian canons from St Mary Overie and poor scholars and clerks of the surrounding churches, who upon seeing him began singing the “Te Deum;” when he reached the church itself more of the Augustinians met him and “with pious tears” sang the “Benedictus.” By this time in the showdown, everyone was more or less aware of Becket’s precarious position with the king. The same eyewitness/biographer wrote: “A certain foolish, shameless and prattling woman called Matilda… cried out a number of times, ‘Archbishop, watch out for the knife,’ so that everyone wondered what portents or treachery she had heard of…”
Sadly, I didn’t know any of this before I went. But this is why I love doing these posts — they make me do so much more research after the fact.
The building that Thomas Becket visited, however, burned down in 1217 and was rebuilt in the Gothic style…
The main structure was built starting in 1220, making it the oldest Gothic church in London (says Wikipedia, but I have grown to distrust all these “oldest church in X” statements. However, the entire nave was destroyed “seven feet from the ground” in order to “restore” it in the 19th century, and so this portal is not actually medieval. That statue makes it glaringly obvious, if you take a good look at it. It might even be later 20th century, it’s so ugly.
Looking down the nave toward the altar. Avert your eyes from the silver Jesus with needles stuck in him. Yes, Jesus getting acupuncture on the cross.
We walked in right as Evensong was starting, so I got to enjoy that. I hadn’t been to Anglican prayer services since I was 16 and I went with my family to Compline at St Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle (it was also my first liturgical service period). It reminded me that I am not at all familiar with the Anglican version of morning and evening prayer. I somehow didn’t realize it was arranged so much differently than the Catholic Divine Office. But I really love Anglican chant, and also the elevated richness of the language that is so lacking in contemporary English translations of psalms and liturgy. However, the… I don’t know what you call the main person leading prayer… the one holding the stick? … was a lady and and when she intoned the collects the pitch was so high you couldn’t really hear the words at all.
The south aisle.
At the crossing looking into the choir.
The choir itself.
This awesome medieval tomb is for John Gower the trilingual poet (1330-1408). From the nearby plaque:
“Poet Laureate to Richard II and to Henry IV, Gower has been called “the first English poet” because, when most literary people wrote in French or Latin, he wrote also in English. He had a house and chapel within the precincts of the Augustinian Priory, to the north of this Cathedral Church. He left money for the founding of a chantry chapel in which he was buried. This chapel which stood on the north side of the nave was destroyed but the present tomb stands on or near the site on which it was originally built. The head of the effigy rests on three books. Gower wrote Vox Clamantis in Latin, Speculum Meditantis in French and Confessio Amantis in English.”
Another famous person associated with the church is Lancelot Andrewes, one of the men mainly responsible for the King James’ Version of the Bible. Just THINK about that. He practically invented English.
Here’s a plaque explaining some of the history of Southwark/St Mary Overie, and a list of the priors from 1106 to 1539.
Well, by now it was dark, and Katherine and I tried to decide whether to eat then, or go home and eat, and then pack up to leave for Oxford on the train. It was a bit difficult since it was a Friday during Lent and neither of us were eating meat. We decided to go home, but first I got a snack in the train station, and it was, wait for it,
A PASTY. LIKE IN BOOKS. Cheese and onion! So good!
At home, I got to relax while Katherine made some really good salmon for dinner — because have I mentioned yet that she cooked me dinner not once but three times on this trip??? It was awesome and so homey. Plus I just got to lie down and transfer pictures off onto my laptop while she made me yummy things to eat. Then eventually, with only a few hangups, we got on the train to Oxford from PADDINGTON STATION yes:
PADDINGTON LIKE THE BEAR, and so we finally got there. It was late and we were tired enough that we got a taxi, one of the cute little black ones. And then we got to her friend A.’s apartment and crashed.
And when I woke up in the morning, I was in Oxford, and my trip went from awesome to ridiculously awesome. That will be next post (or two).