I went to Ely to visit St Audrey

Flagstone in Ely cathedral - here stood the shrine of St Ethelreda

I lit a candle for her.

Close-up of the statue of St Ethelreda at the east end of Ely CathedralBut I don’t think she could’ve heard me over the din.

View from the transept of Ely cathedral - a christian rock band rehearsingRave in the nave. I kid you not.1

A signboard announcing Rave in the Nave

I have… complicated feelings about my own hagio-tourism. A lot of it’s historical curiosity and artistic appreciation. But then. I was raised in a really protestant environment. I developed a sense of connection to the past, to traditional liturgy and saints at the same time I was losing my faith. The faith’s gone but I still have a sense of connection to, say, St Audrey, one which doesn’t fit with either my upbringing or my current state of atheism. Maybe it’s just that I wrote an essay on her once. I don’t know.

I also don’t know why I’m telling the internet at large this.

Speaking of supernatural encounters on church grounds…

Transept of Ely Cathedral, with TARDIS, Daleks and Cybermen


1. In all fairness, Rave in the Nave seemed like a pretty cool production (it was being rehearsed as I came through). I’m just not sure that there’s any way to hit on more of my religious angst at one time than put up a mass youth event with what looked like a tilt toward the evangelical side, in a church dedicated to St Audrey, on the day I decide to pop in. Wait. I can think of one way, but fortunately, there were no truly vicious atheists around to mock these guys. If you feel like mocking in the comments, keep it gentle, OK? Yes, it’s incongruous and the name is ridiculous, but be gentle, as a favour to me.


Gratuitous Cathedral Post

One thing I hadn’t quite been expecting, when setting out to poke my nose in as many churches as possible, was that so few of them would be exhibiting a single cohesive architectural style. It makes sense, if you think about it – a cathedral takes a century or more to build, and then you tack new frilly bits later on as well, if you can afford it. A lived-in church is going to be a bit of a hotch-potch, and if done well the combination of styles can be attractive in its own right.

Nevertheless, in my head, hotchpotch ecclesiastical architecture is something I associate with antipodean church-builders who ran out of money and/or standstone for their neo-gothic edifices. I don’t have any good photos of the new part, but St Pauls Dunedin is a good example of what I’m talking about – they’ve managed to integrate a concrete chancel into a neo-gothic nave.

I think this is a product of the way architectural history is taught (at least the way it was taught to me – and bear in mind that I’m not a visual learner and shied away from art-history heavy subjects). Hey hey kids, Romanesque churches! *photo of a Romanesque ediface* Norman Cathedrals! *photo of the most Norman bits of a church with surviving norman bits* High Gothic! *photo of the flying buttresses of Notre Dame* I do remember one lecture which involved a lot of photographs of 14th-century additions to once-small parish churches in the wool-farming areas of England (they ended up looking like particularly horrendous wedding cakes), but I guess it hadn’t sunk in properly.

I’m not very good at differentiating between architectural or artistic styles, but seeing them all jammed up together in the one place is remarkably educational.

Consider Saint-Gatien de Tours:

Facade of St Gatien, ToursThis is, for my money, a rather obnoxious façade (and also not a brilliant photo). The church was started in the late 12th century, but I think (from wikipedia and the guide sheet, which I don’t have to hand right now) that it was the 14th century before they got so far as the main doors. Note the heavy high gothic decoration on the arches. The towers, on the other hand, are 16th century additions

Flying buttresses at rear of St-GatienThe chancel, which I think is mid-13th century, has the whole Gothic Spiderweb effect going on (although it’s quite hard to get a good shot of it, since there’s construction work all down one side).  Flying buttresses about to take off and fly away, methinks.

13-th century mural in St Gatien de ToursThe insufferably lucky sods still have some of the original 13th century murals – here you’ll see St GregoryMartin tearing his cloak in half and sharing it with a beggar.

Mural in process of restorationI couldn’t figure out what this mural actually depicts – it wasn’t signposted, and although I could follow the conversation of the people near me when they were discussing the restoration process, I didn’t pick up what the picture’s actually *of*. I think it might be a little older than St Greg, though – if you look above, St Greg’s halo is breaking out of the picture boundary into the text, whereas what I could see of thi sone seemed to be keeping within the frames. I learned something in the class I taught this year, and that’s that 12th-century figures stay within their frames, whereas mid/late 13th century sees figures creeping out of frames. Congrats to my supervisor, she managed to teach me *something * about art. Ten points to her.

Coming later – the cloister of St Gatien, a nifty progression from 12th century to renaissance.

What is it about York, that it has such cool Archbishops?

Wilfrid, Wulfstan… and currently, Dr John Sentamu, parachuting prelate extraordinaire.


Since when I started this blog, I promised myself I wouldn’t make one-sentence posts, let me use this empty space here to tell you a fabulous story about a fabulous person of my acquaintance.

Lounging in the courtyard one afternoon, waiting for the rest of a Reading Group to turn up, I was in the company of a gentleman who shall be known as the Venerable Philologist. You never quite know where a conversation with the Venerable Philologist will go, and this time, it went in the direction of church politics. After mutual complaints about the state of various churches these days, he looked solemnly at me and said:

You know, I think the Reformation was quite a mistake. It seemed like a good idea at the time, though.

We pondered the benefits and drawbacks of Protestantism, and I expressed my affection for the Uniting Church and it’s delightful inability to make a decision on anything, ever. The Venerable Philologist regarded me, and folded his hands, and remarked:

I liked the Uniting Church, really. But I had to leave them… over the filioque clause.

You’ve got to respect a properly trained medieval scholar who appreciates the importance of the filioque clause.1


1. Me? No idea if it’s in or out of the UCA-approved Apostle’s Creed. Uniting Church-goers, know their creeds? Good grief.
I can tell you we have some fancypants theologically unproblematic version of the Lords Prayer (in which God no longer leads us into temptation). I can also tell you that my elderly congregation stubbornly recite the old version. I, meanwhile, am the only one muttering all the ‘art’s and ‘thou’s under my breath. I have my reasons.

Fabulous Medieval Ideas 101

In the church I grew up in, we fussed around with PowerPoint and re-arranging the chairs to make things more interesting and engaging.

The longer I spend in Medieval Studies, the more I realise that all the really cool ideas for fun things to do in church were thought of half a millennium ago.

News for Medievalists reports on the singing statues of Wells Cathedral.

Speaking of Wells, the Bocera told me the other day that the Bishop of Bath and Wells is the only pontiff in England with a dual seat. There was a complicated reason for this, but I’ve forgotten it.