Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A Proper Elephant and a Proper Castle

It was a tricky drive up to Queensferry in North Wales on Sunday. Every time I thought the sun was burning off the fog, the fog regrouped.  It was still dank by the time I reached Chester, having dropped Son the Elder off at his roboteering event, and the exterior of my destination - Chester Cathedral - looked more than a little forbidding.  My poor West Country eye, so used to the Cotswold stone, Bath stone, Ham stone,  granite, finds the blackened brick of the North and the South East difficult to accommodate.  But the leaves looked like fragments of stained glass hanging from the tracery of branches, so that was OK.
The Cathedral itself was closed to gawpers as there was a service in progress, so I had a sandwich and a cup of tea in the Refectory, enjoying the fact that this room has always been a Refectory, right back to when the Cathedral was an Abbey, pre Henry VIII and his murderous manipulations.  There was some exciting graffiti with serifs, quite high up on the back wall, dating from 1688.  Naughty Robert Hesketh and Joseph Saunders!


After that, I whiled away more time wandering around the cloisters, where, amongst the stone sarcophagi and carvings of mediaeval men playing bagpipes, there was a rather more modern memorial to two men of Chester, who 'adventured their lives even unto death'.  


Eventually I spotted an open door and nipped into the Cathedral itself.  For a moment I imagined that the fog had slipped in with me, but it was incense hanging heavily in the air.  Struggling still with the fabric of the place, I decided to concentrate on ferreting out quirk to delight the eye and there was plenty of that ... 


... like this fabulous fragment of mediaeval glass depicting the resurrection of a soul, we are told, though it looks pretty corporeal to me.  I thought at first that the line on its jaw was an exiting worm, which would have been brilliant, though in close up it's probably the hinge.  


Here on the St Werburgh's shrine there was not a resurrected goose, but this tiny carving of a dog scratching its fleas, which felt kind of warm and inclusive. 


There were also carvings of the mediaeval masons who originally worked on the building, literally holding it up, and a boss in the Lady Chapel illustrating the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket, which mysteriously survived Henry's decree for all such depictions to be destroyed.   



I'd got it into my head that I wasn't going to see any utter magnificence in such a grim-looking piece of heaven upon earth, but that was before I reached the Quire.



It was stunning, not just in its entirety, but with regard to detail also.   There was someone naughty, presumably, being eaten by a dog ... 










... and someone else having a pint ... 














... and look! A green man.




But best of all is this elephant and castle and I'll tell you why - first of all, it's been carved by someone who has obviously never seen one.  It's got hocks and hoooves like a horse.  And second, its howdah is like a castle which kind of knocks on the head all that nonsense about the Infanta of Castile.  We want proper elephants and proper castles!  








Feeling gloriously middle age-y (in both senses), I departed for a wander around the city walls, which, uniquely, are almost completely intact.  And it was sunnily autumnal. Hoorah!  



The sight of all the mediaeval buildings made me wonder how Bristol would have looked, had it not been for the Blitz and the depredations of our post-war city planners.


I stopped off to have a bit of a fossick around the Roman ruins.  I was particularly interested by the amphitheatre.  Look, there's the shadow of Nemesis, falling over her shrine ... no, wait, it's me ...
 


I also popped into the Church of St John the Baptist, which is so close to the Roman ruins as to make you wonder whether it was originally built on the site of the martyrdom of a very early Christian. My disappointment at the lack of guide books was ameliorated by this fabulous painting of yer man on one of the columns ... 








 ... and the beautiful grave slab of Agnes, wife of Richard de Ridleigh, who died in 1347 'on the Sabbath next before the feast of Philip and James the Apostle'.  

















A quick shufti at the River Dee and the Castle and it was time to return for Son the Elder.  As always, it seems, I need to return ere long for there was no time to see the three hares tile in the Grosvenor Museum owing to its truncated opening hours on a Sunday.  So, arrivederci, Chester ... 




1 comment:

  1. Once again, thank you for a wonderful escape into the quiet beauty and little revelations of history!

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