Tag Archives: Religion

Saxon Treasures, Viking Raids and Norman Houses of God

Lindisfarne Priory

Lindisfarne - Saxon Treasures, Viking Raids and Norman Houses of God

Following on from my previous post, The Saints of Lindisfarne, I want to expand on the impact that these saints, particularly St. Cuthbert, had.

St. Cuthbert had been laid to rest in Lindisfarne priory in March 687 AD, but eleven years later to the day, the monks exhumed his body to ‘elevate’ his remains in order for pilgrims to be as close as possible to the saint and his special powers.

Expecting to find just bones and dust in a small casket, the monks discovered a completely undecayed body, and so quickly made a wooden reliquary coffin which they placed on the floor of the church above the spot where he had been buried: Another miracle it would seem.

The enshrinement of St. Cuthbert appears to be the reason for the creation of the Lindisfarne Gospels, probably the most cherished illuminated book in the Anglo-Saxon world.

A 10th century inscription at the end of the original text states that the manuscript was made ‘in honour of God and St. Cuthbert’ by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne.

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The Saints of Lindisfarne

St. Aidan

The Saints of Lindisfarne

When the Romans left Britain, Christianity went with them and Anglo Saxon England reverted back to its pagan roots, or at least it did up here in Northumbria.

The Kingdom of Northumbria didn’t even exist until around 604 AD when Æthelfrith combined the two existing kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira, and although these ‘Dark Ages’ are not always easy to follow, we do know that when Æthelfrith was killed in battle his four children were sent to the island of Iona off the West Coast of Scotland.

Iona was in the Kingdom of Dalriada, which covered an area equivalent to parts of today’s Western Scotland and North-Eastern Ireland, and it was to Iona that the Celtic monk Columba came when he was exiled from his native Ireland.

Columba founded a monastery on the island around 563 AD and was made a saint for his work in evangelizing Scotland, and before I go any further, I have to mention the fact that Iona is another extremely spiritual place to come, in much the same way that Lindisfarne is.

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The Holy and Spiritual Island of Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne Castle

The Holy and Spiritual Island of Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne is somewhere special, and anyone who’s been here will know exactly what I mean.

Religion and spirituality come together on Lindisfarne and it’s not difficult to see why St. Aidan chose this spot to bring Christianity to the North of England.

At one time, I thought that to have spiritual feelings I needed to embrace religion – but then I saw the light.

Religion and spirituality are not necessarily the same thing. It’s true that you can be religious and spiritual, but it’s also true that you can be spiritual and not religious.

So now that you’ve realised I’m a non-believer, why do I find Lindisfarne such a spiritual place?

Well firstly, there’s no point in denying that the religious connection with Lindisfarne brings an air of peace and tranquility to the place, but there’s more to it than that.

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Marienviertel

Marienkirche and the Neptune Fountain

Marienviertel

The area on the north-east side of the Spree around Nikolaiviertel and Spandauer Str was the oldest part of Berlin. I say was because the events of the Second World War virtually wiped the whole area off the face of the map. Very little remained intact, and although the Nikolaiviertel district was put back together in a way that only the communist authorities could have thought looked good, the wasteland that was once known as Marienviertel, has been left more or less as an open concrete space between the river and the TV Tower.

Marienviertel is no longer known by that name, but literally speaking it means St. Mary’s Quarter, which pays homage to Marienkirche or St. Mary’s Church.

The church was the only building to be re-constructed in the quarter after the bombing and is worth visiting if only for its historical connection. The original church was built in the 13th century and now stands isolated on the edge of an unnamed square and adjacent to Karl-Liebknecht Str.

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Rosslyn Chapel

Rosslyn Chapel

I’ll be the first to admit that until I’d read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, I’d never heard of Rosslyn Chapel, and although the book had its critics, it obviously captured the imagination of plenty of other people too.

When the book was written in 2003 the chapel was receiving around 45,000 visitors a year, but in 2004 the numbers were nearer to 70,000, and by the time the film had come out the annual figure had shot up to 159,000.

All this extra interest had substantial financial benefits for the chapel and the St. Clair family who own it, but it also had some drawbacks as well, one of which was the banning of photography inside the chapel to prevent inconvenience to others.

To be fair, it is a fairly confined space and the restrictions are understandable in a way, but for somebody like me it’s a big disappointment because I can’t show you the interior of this magnificent building.

“A picture paints a thousand words” as they say, and I could have taken scores of pictures in here, but as I’m someone who need a thousand words to describe something that should be said in just a few, you can see the problem that I have.

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John Knox House

John Knox House

Anybody coming here for an insight into the life of John Knox may well come away disappointed. Having said that, I think it’s still worth a visit as long as you’re not expecting to see a building closely associated with one of Scotland’s great historical figures.

The John Knox House is also part of the Scottish Storytelling Centre which is quite apt really because it’s not entirely certain that the famous reformer actually ever did live here. If he did it was only for a very short time. I think it would be more appropriate to call it the James Mosman House.

James Mosman was the owner of the house in the mid-1500s when he was jeweller, goldsmith and keeper of the Royal Mint for the Stuart kings and queens. He was a staunch Catholic and supporter of Mary Queen of Scots at the time she was forced to abdicate in favour of her baby son James VI.

He joined a revolt that took Edinburgh Castle, but in 1573 was arrested and hanged at the Mercat Cross next to St. Giles Cathedral for treason.

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St Giles’ Cathedral

St Giles' Cathedral

Hovering over the top half of the High Street is the crown shaped steeple of St. Giles’ Cathedral.

Technically speaking it’s not a Cathedral at all as there is no Bishop, so officially it’s known as the High Kirk.

Architecturally, it’s not one of Europe’s outstanding ecclesiastical gems even though it’s been here since 1124. The main reason for that is because what we mostly see today is just a couple of hundred years old after some major restoration in the 19th century.

That’s not to say that it’s not worth visiting because this is the church where John Knox was minister when he helped bring about the Scottish Reformation during the 16th century.

It’s also the church where King Charles I decided to introduce the Anglican Book of Common Prayer to the Scots in 1637. Fury erupted and the following year the National Covenant was signed which reminded the King that he may have been the King of Scotland but he was definitely not the head of the Scottish Church. The outcome of his interference led to the English Civil War and ultimately his life when he was executed in Whitehall in 1649.

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A Wander around Winchester Cathedral

The Nave

A Wander Around Winchester Cathedral

What I like about Winchester Cathedral is not just its wonderful architecture, but also the human stories that have accompanied it throughout the centuries.

Architecturally, as soon as you set foot inside the West Door the magnificent perpendicular Nave stretches out in front of you right down to George Gilbert Scott’s ornate choir screen.

It didn’t always look like this though because the original Romanesque Norman church suffered badly from subsidence, and it took alterations from the 14th century onwards, firstly by Bishop Edington and then William of Wykeham, to produce what is my favourite style of church architecture.

If you can avoid the temptation to continue on down the Nave but walk down the North Aisle instead, you’ll soon come to the grave of Jane Austen, the author famous for writing such classics as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey.

It’s not surprising that many people want to see where Jane Austen’s final resting place is, but they would miss a gem if they went straight past the nearby 12th century black Tournai marble Font. It’s not just old, but unusual and interesting as well.

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Winchester Cathedral – From the Saxons to the Normans

Winchester Cathedral - From the Saxons to the Normans

People who read my pages can be forgiven for thinking that I’m a religious person as I often seem to be writing about cathedrals, abbeys, and churches in general. The truth is that I’m not at all religious, but I am interested in the historical significance and architecture of these fantastic buildings and Winchester Cathedral is a perfect example.

In this article I’m delving into the background of the cathedral from a time when England became Christianized under the Anglo-Saxons to when William the Conqueror needed Winchester to consolidate his hold over the rest of the country.

The Romans initially brought Christianity to these shores, but after their departure in 410 AD the country reverted back to paganism.

In 597 Pope Gregory sent Augustine to England to re-introduce the Roman version of Christianity, but he wasn’t able to convert the whole country on his own of course and it was St Birinus who came to Wessex in 635 and converted Cynegils, King of the West Saxons.

King Cynegils established a cathedral church at Dorchester-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, but soon after his death in 643 his son, Cenwalh, built a minster church in Wintanceaster near the centre of his kingdom.

In the 670s Bishop Haeddi transferred his Cathedra (Bishop’s Throne) from Dorchester-on-Thames making Wintanceaster both the Royal and ecclesiastical centre of Wessex.

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Wandering Around Winchester

The Deanery

Wandering Around Winchester

The good thing about Winchester is that a stroll around the city centre can be accomplished comfortably in about an hour and a half. This doesn’t include visits to the Cathedral, the Great Hall or the pub mind you, so you’ll need to allow extra time for visiting some of the things that will hold you up on the way around as well.

On the map opposite I’ve compiled a trail which covers most of the interesting things that can be seen. Some places will occupy just a few minutes of your time and others considerably longer, and just a quick reminder for anyone who may be interested, you can always print out this post by clicking on the print icon at the bottom of the page. The map can also be printed out by using the ‘print map’ feature within the map itself.

I’ve chosen to start the trail at the King Alfred Statue in the Broadway (No1 on the map), and if you’ve read my introduction to Winchester – The First Capital of England, you’ll understand why I’ve chosen it as the starting point. I’m not going to describe his achievements here as this blog is mainly about what there is to see.

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