02/08/2011

UK JULY 2011 - ABBEYS & CATHEDRALS WITH KINGSBRIDGE IN MIND


Cloister - Salisbury Cathedral
Here's another instalment of the travelogue of my recent tour in England. This is what I called "The Pillars Trail" .
They call it literary tourism - a type of cultural tourism that deals with places and events from fictional texts as well as the lives of their authors - and it seems it is precisely what we did  in that week in July. With Ken Follet's The Pillars Of  The Earth and its TV adaptation in mind  (have a look at my review of the book and at that of the series, if you want), it was such a stirring experience to visit impressive English cathedrals like York Minster, Salisbury or Winchester or their fascinating remains like at Fountains Abbey or Rievaulx.

Eddie Redmayne as Jack in The Pillars of the Earth

It was as if Tom the Builder's dream took shape under our astonished eyes and Jack's (his step-son), ambitions materialized in front of us. We could appreciate the efforts and pains to achieve such stunning achievements much deeply. It was a heart-felt journey into medieval history and architecture, but also into a book which we all had loved reading.
York Minster
York Minster, built of pale limestone, with its three great towers, dominates the city of York. From vantage points on the city walls to glimpses all around the narrow streets, the great Gothic cathedral, built to rival that of Canterbury, is with you wherever you walk. Several churches have stood here since AD 627, but the foundations of what we see today were laid in 1220. The work continued for 250 years. It seems incredible that, despite three major fires over the last 200 years, the stained glass in York Minster, much of it medieval, is still there,among the finest in the country.

Fountains Abbey
The charm of Fountains Abbey, with its incredible park and the remains of the impressive medieval cathedral, is undeniable. The 13 monks who got there in 1132 to start a simpler life indeed chose a wonderful spot where you can still soak up the spiritual atmosphere of tranquillity, peace and reflection. I come from a region where monasticism took its start, St. Benedict started his hermitage and founded his first monasteries just in the town where I was born and live, but being in the shadow of that unique, majestic relic was a very special experience, completely different from visiting well cathedrals which went over time in much better conditions.

Rievaulx Abbey
The same happened once we were in the peace and tranquillity of Rievaulx,  one of the most complete and atmospheric of England’s abbey ruins set in a remote valley in the North York Moors. Both Fountains Abbey and Rievaulx are among the treasures kept by the English Heritage and in both places you can learn about the monks in medieval times – how they devoted their lives to spiritual matters and at the same time established thriving businesses to create the wealthiest monasteries in Britain or simply wander about the place admiring the impressive blend of  architectrural and natural beauty.

Salisbury Cathedral
Visiting Salisbury Cathedral on one of the last days of our journey,  I was abruptly brought back to reality. The place was crowded with Italian teenage students, they were practically everywhere outside and inside the cathedral. "Are you here with your students, too?" - one of their teachers asked us in the souvenir shop - "No, just tourists" , we answered. And "Thanks God, I left them at home!", I thought. Salisbury Cathedral was one of the two Ken Follett had in mind as his Kingsbridge. So beautiful that beautiful sounds too trivial a word to define it. Stunning, majestic, incredible, amazing, astonishing, impressive and wonderful are, maybe , better choices. Here you can find Britain's largest medieval cloisters, earliest surviving complete choir stalls in Britain (c. 1236), world's oldest mechanical working clock (1386), Britain's tallest spire - 123 m (404 ft) and the finest of only four surviving original Magna Charta  signed by King John in 1215.

Winchester Cathedral
 The last stop in our tour was at Winchester Cathedral, as I have already written in my blogpost on My Jane Austen Book Club on occasion of Jane Austen's death anniversary.
In fact, the cathedral draws many tourists as a result of its association with Jane Austen, who died in the city and is buried in the cathedral's north aisle of the nave.
Another reason for its popularity is that the cathedral was the setting for works of fiction by Anthony Trollope, for example, his novels of 19th century church life known collectively as the Chronicles of Barsetshire. In 2005, the building was used as a film set for The Da Vinci Code, with the north transept used as the Vatican. Behind the cathedral a lovely  bookshop selling thousands of second-hand books , which we couldn't prevent ourselves from visiting.

6 comments:

onemorelurker1 said...

OMG, your trip to England must have been a dream, to visit all those places, be side to side with those magestic constructions, with so much history, must have been wonderful. It must have felt like being a little girl visiting Disneyland or something alike! *grin*

Thanks for sharing!

OML :)

Theresa N. said...

Beautiful! I'd love to take this tour myself, thank you for sharing it with us.
Theresa N
weceno(at)yahoo(dot)com

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@onemorelurker
You are perfectly right!If I hadn't taken all those pictures and bought all those books and taken back with me all those leaflets and brochures, I wouldn't have believed I really visited all those places in just 8 days. It's been wonderful and I'm writing especially in order not to forget!

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Theresa N.
You're welcome, Theresa. Start planning, then. HAve you seen this clip? You're invited! http://bit.ly/kn5ZxV

maribea said...

@Maria Grazia: thanks for sharing. I've visited some of these places, but many are still in my future plans!!! First of all I wish I could visit Jane's and Bronte's places...we will see.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@maribea
I hope you can go there soon and enjoy those places at least as much as I did. Thanks for your comments.