Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Chester Cathedral

We had a day out to Chester yesterday.

It stayed dry for most of the day but wasn't exactly sunny, sparkling weather. Having carried the camera about all day taking what I expected to be (and what in fact were) dull uninspired photos of admittedly wonderful buildings most of which I have already photographed to much greater effect before, I suggested going into the cathedral.

Chester has two cathedrals in fact. The earlier St John's Cathedral is a ruin to be found near to the Roman ampitheatre.

At the Reformation in 1541 the Abbey Church of St Werbergh was saved from destruction by being designated as the new cathedral and it was rededicated as the Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

There has been a church on this site since the 900s and it is thought the place was a place of worship since Roman times. Most of the early Christian churches were built over places of pagan worship as it not only got rid of the opposition but people in the habit of going to the same place whether they liked it or not, now had to worship in a Christian setting regardless of which god their prayers were directed towards.

At the Reformation the shrine of St Werbergh was broken up and scattered about the cathedral, though it has recently (1993) been reassembled into the Lady Chapel and is a rare survival. She was a Saxon king's daughter, who brought a goose back to life after it had been killed, cooked and eaten! Not a girl to be messed with!

"But I thought it had a black band around its leg...?"
"Shhh... you'll annoy the king!"
"Ah... Yes... A Miracle!!! Look everybody! It's the same (burp!) goose! Oops...!"

The choir stall tracery did manage to survive not only the Reformation and Henry VIII's men, but the Puritans, who during the Civil War took hammers to everything they considered to be a bit Popist. A knight and his Lady had their hands smashed off their monument because one black-garbed zealot said to his mate, "Hey up, Jeremiah, do you think they look to be praying a bit Catholic-like?"

The tracery shown here was carved around the year 1380, probably the life's work of their craftsman.

We headed for the Refectory, as we both needed something to drink. The Refectory is that of the Benedictine monks, though these days there is no one sternly going Shhhh!!! if you want to talk to your companion or a neighbour at the next table.

I spied some dark blue glass bottles with a wired cap. Oh wonder! Fizzy sasparilla!!! I haven't tasted that since I was a teenager, taking my school dinner money and going into town for a bag of chips instead...

There used to be a shop in Heywood, Lancs in 1967 (where I went to the Grammar School) that opened bottles of Ben Shaws sasparilla, dandelion & burdock, cream soda and all the rest and would sell a glass full in plastic glasses for 6d (2.5 pence for you young things).

It cost considerably more than sixpence but it was with reverence that I pushed the wired top off with a startlingly loud pop (the monks would have had heart attacks!) and poured it into a wine glass (the only sort on offer).

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.... I didn't buy any to bring home. That sort of spiritual joy is fitting in a cathedral and should be an experience kept as a special treat at long intervals and thus Chester Cathedral is assured of my patronage at some future date! And the fact that it was in a small wine glass only added to the experience as I sipped it instead of glugging which, had the glass been a larger one, I may have been tempted to do!

We had a walk along the cloisters with their wonderful stained glass. These two windows were side by side, but I've taken the liberty of moving them closer together on the photograph to fit in a bit more detail.

There are 150 saints represented in the stained glass of the cloister. Shown here are an angel weighing human souls against a couple of demons and one of the archangels, Raphael, although his name is hard to make out, being broken by a cross member of the window's stonework..

We came out of the cathedral into a summer shower. That's all this summer seems to have been so far isn't it? Ah, well, not to worry as they say.

We walked back to the car under the cover of the Rows, Chester's famous 14th century double-decker shopping arcades.

Larger versions of the photos available - cathedral nave, choir stall tracery, stained glass.

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