Walking in the World

History

Unexpected Pilgrimage

I love it when a pilgrimage finds me. Usually the pilgrim goes off in quest of the the pilgrimage, with the destination firmly in mind, but once in a while, just when I need it most, I stumble on to a place or shrine that seems to have called me in.

A 15th century stained glass roundel from the Abbot’s Palace

King Edmund was the king of East Anglia from 855 to 869 when he was martyred by invading Danes because he refused to renounce Christ. The Danes beat him and shot him with arrows, then beheaded him and threw his head into the forest. His head was later found when searchers heard a wolf calling out to them in Latin. A great Abbey bearing Edmund’s name was established, and his shrine attracted pilgrims from around the world for over 500 years.

Bury St. Edmunds is a lovely city about an hour and a half north of us, Its welcome sign proclaims it as the jewel in the crown of Suffolk, and I’m inclined to agree. I had heard the name before, but knew nothing more about it. The old city centers around the grounds and gardens of the ruined Abbey of St Edmund, and would probably still be recognizable to the pilgrims of old.

A medieval pilgrims badge commemorating having arrived at St Edmund’s shrine.

After wandering through the gardens, we spent some time exploring the Cathedral, a beautiful building which began life as a parish church in the 12th century. A series of renovations has brought it to its present size and glory. Even now, there is still scaffolding down the nave as new work is being carried out. We tiptoed in just as Sunday Worship services were ending and the choirboys were processing out; I was touched by the friendly welcome given to two camera-toting tourists. I hadn’t realised how much my soul needed a pilgrimage experience, even just a brief encounter with the spirits of pilgrims past. Finding this unexpected pilgrimage gem so close to home felt like a gift.

And yes, there was a labyrinth, too, with time for a walk…

 

03 Jul 2017

We Will Remember

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The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. We will remember.

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(Button memorial in St. Martin’s Church, Little Waltham, Essex)

11 Nov 2016

Southend After Dark

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The nights are drawing in but the weather has been dry, so we’ve wanted to be out and about. Last night we had a wander along Southend seafront to enjoy the lights without the crowds.

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Never Never Land was a popular children’s park back when Jeff was a child – he remembers going with his parents some 50 years ago. People tell me about the model train and the animated characters that were as scary as they were fascinating, especially to young children.

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It’s been closed for some years now, but it’s never been forgotten – the only part that remains is the fairy castle.

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Still, it was fun to see it standing humbly in the moonlight, below the Royal Terrace where Princess Caroline visited in 1803, and just along from the modern arcades and attractions, a faded memory caught between the pages of time.

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If you’d like to see some vintage footage of the seafront as it was in the late 1950’s, this video is worth watching. Never Never Land appears at the 20 minute mark.

 

04 Nov 2016

Assandun

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Leaving Paglesham the other day, we were happy and full, but we still didn’t feel quite done with our day. Not far away is St. Andrews church in Ashingdon, set up on a hill overlooking the fields and marshes – the best vantage point for miles around. We had to drive all the way around the hill and into the village itself to get to the road leading up to the church, which added to the anticipation.

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Built in 1020, the church is one of the oldest in the area. Originally called Assandun, the village is the likely site of the Battle of Ashingdon where the English fought the Danes in October 1016, and the church was then built on the site where King Edmund’s camp was believed to have been situated. Seriously old!

The church wasn’t open that afternoon, so we spent some time walking around it to see the walls and the surrounding graveyard(s). Jeff is always particularly interested in the walls of the these old churches as their contents give a good indication of where the building materials came from. As a geologist, this is one of the ways he makes sense of both community and culture.

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Can you see the little triangular flint embedded here (bottom left)?  And the dark brown cement stones? These tell him, for instance, that the materials probably came from Butts Cliff, four miles away, on the banks of the adjacent River Crouch. The red rectangle is most likely a slab of Roman brick also found in the area.

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We soon spotted two Mass dials, simple sundials marked with the hours of the masses, embedded in the wall, one at the front of the church where it would probably have been easily seen and used, and one at the base of the back (north) wall where it was probably part of an earlier wall that was later re-purposed:

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And just as Jeff looks to the land for his stories, I look to the people. As we walked around to the back of the church, we met a couple sitting hand in hand on the bench looking out over the landscape. They had been married in the church exactly 60 years before, and had come to reminisce before heading home to celebrate with a bottle of champagne. The husband, they told me, isn’t well, so coming back here was how they were choosing to celebrate. I found their story incredibly poignant, and was deeply moved as I later watched them help each other back down the path to their car. For me, this is the peopled meaning of these village churches, and the reason I am drawn to explore both the buildings and the graveyards.

 

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29 Oct 2016

An Essex Gem

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While I was working on Tuesday evening, my sweetie was planning a Big Day Out to take advantage of Wednesday’s predicted good weather, probably one of the last warm days of 2016. Once the schools traffic had died down we drove out into the countryside, past picturesque buildings and farms. (Yes, that seriously cute barn really does have a thatched roof!)

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Our destination for the morning was the tiny village of Copford in northeast Essex. We’ve been researching some of the churches in the area, realising that some of them contain some very interesting and unique features. The parish church of St. Michael and All Angels is one of those gems. Constructed around 1130, the church was probably built as the chapel for the early Norman bishops.

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Exquisitely decorated, and famed for its stunning wall frescoes it manages to be both extremely beautiful and completely welcoming. There are some 34 works of religious scenes from the 12th century which cover most of the walls, including this amazing Zodiac panel arching overhead. Each image is its own little masterpiece:

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Similarly, the modern kneeling cushions are works of art in their own right, some of them replicating the scenes from the frescoes overhead.

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In addition,here are also small 20th century carvings on the choir benches that show the reverence the congregation still has for the small creatures of the natural world. I found these particularly touching in a way that brought balance to the magnificence of the ancient frescoes. For me, Spirit should permeate our daily lives as certainly as it does in our cathedral moments – and this little church manages to reflect the wholeness of Creation with its splendid artwork that bridges the centuries.

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Along with its art, this church clearly houses an active and interesting congregation.The informational signs are welcoming and stand amongst indicators of regular worship and fellowship activities, including my favourite, Father Fred’s bookshelf where donated books are offered to new readers for a small donation to the church. I felt welcome.

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29 Sep 2016

Ancient House

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I’ve lived in England for quite a while now, but I’m still not past the thrill of seeing something like this when I’m walking down the street. We visited Ipswich again last week, and en route to our favourite restaurant for lunch, we walked through town for a bit of shopping. Imagine my delight in seeing that Lakeland, our national kitchen gadget store, is housed in a 15th century Grade 1* Listed building! Wow! Yes, we went in, and yes, we bought a few little goodies…. but the real delight was exploring the building. I was too awed to take many photos, but we’ll go back again.IpswichLakeland2w

The appropriately named Ancient House is adorned with an intricate pargeted facade that was installed in 1680 by William Sparrow, and features the English version of the United Kingdom’s royal coat of arms. Inside the building, Lakeland’s modern gadgets are laid out amongst beautiful woodwork and authentic architectural features, including a fireplace lined with Delft tiles. I definitely need to go back for photos… in the meantime, this is a view of the Church from the windows:

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Just look at the sweet little angels perched high overhead:

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I like the idea of them watching over the town and its people.

23 Mar 2016

Hatfield House Revisited

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We don’t know how many more perfectly autumnal days we’re going to have this year, so we took advantage of the weather and our willing house guest to make the trek to Hatfield House and the adjacent palace and gardens. We especially wanted to photograph the gardens and the maze now that the foliage has reached its peak, before the leaves fall and winter sets in… and oh, what a lovely day it was! The gardens were amazing, and we especially enjoyed Renaissance, the magnificent water fountain in front of the main house. It was still under construction when we were there in April, so we were taken quite by surprise as it the entire structure shifted, flowed, emerged and submerged before our eyes. It is a surprisingly successful positioning of new and modern amongst the old and traditional.

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The old Hatfield Palace, as I explained in my April post, was where Queen Elizabeth I spent most of her childhood, and where she was living when she learned of her succession to the throne when Henry VIII died in 1558. The grounds are huge and lovingly maintained, with a large number of historic garden features and plants. As one who is more fascinated by daily life than great events, I was once again intrigued by the personality that pervades the estate – we met up with and exchanged pleasantries with the current owners as our paths crossed out in the garden — Hatfield House is their home, not just a monument to people long gone.

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I found that the personal touch extends to the shops and small businesses that make the estate feel like a small village. One shop, for instance, was selling small jars of medlar marmalade, and we spoke with the woman responsible for collecting the medlars each autumn. She told us about needing to wear a hard hat to keep from being conked on the head by falling fruit as she reached up into the trees, and we visited with the beekeeper who explained that the honey we had just purchased would taste of the lime trees we had been admiring in the park. The marmalade and honey will taste all the sweeter for having met the people who love the garden enough to keep its history alive by making use of its bounty!

(If you are reading this post in an email, you will need to click through to the website in order to see the gallery of photos below. Enjoy!)

26 Sep 2015

Silent Street

 

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The internet is a wonderful thing! (Obviously, or this blog wouldn’t exist…) After my post about our morning in Ipswich, a reader did a bit of research and sent me an update on the naming of Silent Street. Now why didn’t I think of that? I had googled Ipswich, but didn’t take it any further. I’m glad she did, though, because the reading gave me good food for thought.

When I first saw the sign, my innate pilgrimage/monastic mindedness lead me to assum that it had to do with something prayerful or meditative, something in conjunction with Ipswich being a medieval pilgrimage destination due to its local Marian shrine, Our Lady of Grace, also known as the Madonna of Ipswich.

A website about the historic public lettering in Ipswich gives a short history of selected street names, and suggests two possibilities for Silent Street, neither of which is quite so rosy-tinted or pleasant. Borin van Loon writes:

…. there are two commonly-believed sources of this name. 1. The street became unnaturally quiet due to the large number of deaths from plague in 1665-6 (one week 34 out of 64 burials were deaths from plague). 2. More likely explanation is that straw was laid down on the street to deaden the noise of passing horses and carts when Curson House (known as King’s Hospital – the building no longer exists) was used as a hospital for sick and wounded seamen during the Dutch wars of the 1650s, 1660s and 1670s. However, Robert Malster’s ‘A-Z’ book points out that the first recorded use of ‘Silent Street’ as a name wasn’t until 1764.

One of the blessings of this blog has been the brief research I’ve done into many of the things I see, and this is an excellent case in point. I like to make up stories in my head (which I fortunately don’t usually share publicly), and need to stay committed to searching ever deeper into the truth of things and not be tempted into promoting romanticized imaginings, something that Jeff and I run into frequently in our work as editors and labyrinth historians (we have written about it here.) This Ipswich website may take us closer to the street’s history, but the fact remains that my hermitly soul continues to be intrigued by the thought of a silent street, whatever the reason for the silence.

Silent Street

18 Sep 2015

Ancient Ipswich

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We had an appointment in Ipswich this morning which gave us the chance to have lunch and explore the old town for a bit. Located on the estuary of the River Orwell, Ipswich is one of the oldest towns in England, dating back until at least Roman times. In the hour or so that we had in town, we barely scratched the surface of its rich history. This tile of St George is on the wall of what is now the Conservative Club, across from the church that now houses the tourist information office.

During the Middle Ages, the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Grace made Ipswich a popular pilgrimage destination, though the statue disappeared during the Reformation. Chaucer wrote about the merchants of Ipswich in Canterbury Tales. Clearly this is a place I want to know more about!

I was intrigued by the name of this street near the center of town, and want to know how it got its name:

Silent Street

Sounds like my kind of street!

 

15 Sep 2015

Long to Reign Over Us

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At approximately 5:30 this afternoon, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in British history, outliving her great great grandmother, Queen Victoria. At her request, the celebrations have been low-key, but the day has been well marked, and I’ve certainly been aware of it within my psyche. As an American school child in the 1960’s, I was taught that no one need bow (literally or figuratively) to a monarch, but since choosing to take citizenship here 10 years ago, I’ve accepted that in my adopted country we have a queen whom I’ve grown to love and deeply respect.

God save our gracious Queen
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen.
Send her victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the Queen.

The BBC website features a moving tribute of photos from her 63-year reign, with one photo chosen from each year.

09 Sep 2015

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