Before you have ever been to Edinburgh, Scotland, people will tell you, “Edinburgh is a beautiful city.” You think to yourself, “why does everyone say that?” I wondered if I would come away from my trip saying the exact same words to others. I do.
My simple explanation is that the architecture is beautiful. As you walk the city, you may find yourself pausing to admire architecture right and left. Before we even left our hotel, I was enchanted with this view out our window.
The curve of the street leading to the Cathedral in the West End makes lovely leading lines. This photograph was taken in late evening dusk, around 10pm.
*With apology to E. M. Forster for using the name of his book title.
Roaming around Durham Cathedral in Northeast England, I was busy learning about Norman architecture, the imprisonment of the Scots in the Cathedral and the bishop-princes appointed by William the Conquerer. But there was over a thousand years of history made here, and scores more facts to absorb.
Then, my attention was drawn to some unmarked tombs just outside the Cathedral.
Later research on the web provided the names of a bishop, a priest and a dean of the Cathedral buried outside the walls, but there are many more tombs than three, leaving the mystery of the tomb’s identity or date unsolved.
Perhaps it is better to consider this site a place for meditation and prayer. The questions raised by death and the what happens to each of us after death have vexed the human mind for millennia. It may benefit us more to reflect on the human condition and our questions about life after death than to seek the identity of any one particular grave.
When you compare the meaning of “sanctuary” in 12 c. England to 21 c. America, you might wonder about 21 century America under President Donald Trump. This year migrants are cross the American border from Mexico, seeking sanctuary from unsafe conditions, and are met with incarceration and separation from their children. Many of us Americans oppose this policy and wonder what has become of American values, in particularly freedom, individual rights and the pursuit of happiness. With these current events in mind, I was particularly touched by the mercy demonstrated in this tidbit of history from Durham Cathedral.
In 12th century England, criminals could seek sanctuary in Durham Cathedral by knocking on this bronze knocker and hanging on to it until they were admitted. “Fugitives were given 37 days to organize their affairs. They had to decide with to stand trial or to leave the country by the nearest port.” (Quote from a sign on the Cathedral wall.)
Please note, the Cathedral provided sanctuary to criminals, not migrants, but the concept of sanctuary and mercy is cause for reflection.
I spent the day exploring Durham, England. I caught the train from Newcastle, and walked into town, finding the central square and market. Strolling up the road, I took some photos of lovely storefronts and stopped into a few shops. (I should have titled this piece “Shopping Durham,” as my “shopping” blog posts are the most popular!)
I explored the beautiful Castle and Cathedral – more on those in the next few blog posts! One of the outdoor cafe tables at Cafe on the Green, between the Castle and the Cathedral called my name. My guidebook and journal kept me company during lunch. Then, I had the good instinct to cross the River Wear and walk along the far side, looking up at the town and the Cathedral in its summer greenery. Why? I realized that the Cathedral facade would be lit by the afternoon sun.
I was even able to position myself just right so the construction cloth over the tower that is under restoration was blocked by the leaves. It was a beautiful and peaceful afternoon, part of an unusually sunny summer of 2018.
In the Middle Ages, stained glass windows taught the Scriptures to the illiterate, but today the educated admire them for their beauty and artistry. Saint Giles Cathedral in the heart of Edinburgh features some stunning stained glass as well as a beautiful architecture.
In St. Giles Cathedral, the leader of the Scottish reformation John Knox preached and converted the church from a Catholic to a Presbyterian place of worship in the 16 century. Knox had the stained glass removed, as he opposed anything that separated one from God, according to travel writer Rick Steves. Nineteenth century Victorians installed the stained glass we admire today.
I photographed these windows by propping the camera on the pew, and setting my Sony a7rII camera on ISO 2000. The images were lightly processed in Adobe Lightroom. I found the Sony performed quite well in dimly lit church interiors.
The ruins of Saint Andrew’s Cathedral might tell stories better than a perfectly restored monument. Wandering through here on a quiet afternoon, one cannot hear the organ or the choir. One cannot see the stained windows that glimmer in other Cathedrals, or gaze up the columns to the arches in the high ceiling.
But you can walk up what was the center aisle, now overgrown with grass and feel the breeze off the North Sea. You can wonder what happened to the missing walls and ceiling.
The town’s people plundered this enormous 12th century Cathedral to build the town? Yes, they did. The 16-century Scottish reformation inspired zealots to dismantle and destroy Catholic churches and abbeys. Today 40% of Scots follow the Church of Scotland, while 20% of Scots are Catholics. Most Catholics are Irish immigrants who live in the Western Highlands.*
My observation is that religion plays a far smaller role in the life of most people today.
The relics of martyr Saint Andrew, who was crucified on a diagonal cross, made Saint Andrews an important pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages. Today, we mainly know of Saint Andrews for its fine university and its 19 century golf course.
If you want to see and hear more about Scotland and northern England, go ahead and subscribe to my blog. There is much more to come from my recent trip there.
I’ve been busy reading and preparing for my upcoming trip to Edinburgh, Scotland and Newcastle, England. Ideas were swirling ’round and ’round in my head as I was trying to fall asleep last night. How many castles, cathedrals and closes will I explore? Will I rely on the train, or will I be bumbling ’round Northumberland on the left side of the road? Will I have time to see the Firth of Forth, or will I be distracted by cashmere on Princes Street?
If you haven’t subscribed to this blog, now might be a good time. I’m feeling inspired!