|Cloister - Salisbury Cathedral|
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.