Saturday, October 04, 2014

More Adventures in the Land of the Angles

As another Saturday ends, I have chalked up a few more adventures in exploring London. This latest round started on September 21, when the "London Open House" meant that some of the city's architectural attractions would be open (and free) to visit. Among them was a location that was on my "must see" list: the Charterhouse.

Painting of the Trappists being led to Tyburn for execution.
They were held in such esteem that their capitulation meant
everything to the King. But that esteem was merited: they did
not (except for a final few members) give in to his will. 
The name "Charterhouse" sounds like it might be an old timey pub or perhaps a mapmakers, but it was actually the Trappist monastery on the London outskirts, and in its heyday (if a Trappist monastery can be said to have a "heyday"), it had quite a bit of terrain, along with the monastic chapel, the "chapter house" for community meetings, and the community living spaces (including the monks' cells). St Thomas More explored the Trappist vocation here for a while, before recognizing that his vocation was to be a Christian "in the world." He and the monks did not realize it at the time, but they did share a common vocation: that of martyrdom. For this Charterhouse was emptied, the monks condemned to ghastly executions, and the chapel torn down (its foundations lost until the bombing in World War II revealed them), all over the "King's Great Matter."

That little circle between the two
sets of window is the "squint."
The property exchanged hands a few times after the King gave it to one of his supporters (the one who tore the chapel down). Eventually, a prosperous Elizabethan businessman bought it and turned it into a charitable institution: on the one hand, a school for poor boys (with paying pupils as well), and on the other, a residence for poor, but respectable bachelors. By today's standards, a rather hideous situation, but it seems to have worked out for several hundred years. The school graduated such luminaries as William Makepeace Thackeray, John Wesley and Roger Williams (who went on to found the State of Rhode Island). Eventually the school relocated, but the residence continues on, and in the spirit of the home's origins, the residence call themselves Brothers, and commit to a simple form of community life. It was the Brothers who welcomed me and Sister Giovanna and the other visitors on the day of the Open House, and they could not have been more gracious. They were especially happy to talk about the martyrs to the visiting nuns (and also very proud of their association with the Benedictine sisters from the Tyburn convent). Each and every brother we met went out of his way to point out some of the hidden Catholic history of the place: "Did you see the painting of the martyrs?" "Sisters, look behind this panel in our chapel [the former Chapter Room]: this was the stone sink where the altar linens were washed."  "Did you see 'the squint'?" That turned out to be a kind of peep hole from the monastery office where the bursar could follow Mass from where he was: it looked straight down to the altar. Now it looks straight down into a grassy courtyard where only a stone outline marks where the chapel stood--and a commemorative stone where the altar once was honors the martyrs, with a plaque on the nearby wall listing them by name.

Sister Giovanna and I had planned to go to St Paul's for Evensong, but a headache ruled that out (it's still on the "to do" list!). London sightseeing would have to wait for another opportunity.

That opportunity came the following Saturday. I was on my own this time (not as much fun, for sure), but decided the time had come to visit the Royal Residence. Make that one of the Royal Residences.
Palaces abound over here. But you know what I mean: Buckingham Palace. I had a general idea of where it was, having crossed by the front gates a few times when walking to our Kensington book shop from Westminster, but I had no idea where to buy a visitor's pass. I figured I would wing it. The day started with confession and Mass in Westminster Cathedral, where a Saturday mid-morning Mass brings you the Westminster Cathedral Choir and a full serving of Palestrina. In other words, a perfect beginning! From there I found my way to the Palace and happened upon the very spot I needed to be. As I scanned the area to see where exactly the queue was, a woman with an Irish accent asked me, "Do you need a ticket to the Exposition?" Not even knowing what the Exposition was, but figuring it would get me where I wanted to be, I said, "Sure!" Turns out that she and her daughter had arranged with a friend to visit the State Rooms and the current exhibit on Royal Childhood, but the friend had to cancel. Lucky me! (Pray for the friend; she was quite ill.) So not only did I get to visit the main attractions of Buckingham Palace for free, I had company to share the experience with! And it was
No pictures allowed inside the Palace. Too bad!
quite an experience. You get a free audio guide with as much detail as you can handle by way of presentation (for more about the Green Room, press 1; for more about the princesses who used this doll house, press 2...). I loved the picture gallery where the first painting to greet me was a Rembrandt self-portrait, the second was a Rubens Assumption and down the line I discovered a Caravaggio I never knew existed (Jesus calling Peter and Andrew). The Royal Childhood exhibit was as sweet as you can imagine, with baby clothes from the 1700's up to Princes William and Harry, and the toys Queen Elizabeth and her sister played with. When I had made it through and thanked my benefactors (also promising prayers for David, the husband, who is also ill), I popped into the gift shop and got my sisters and nieces the most practical and inexpensive souvenir I could find. No spoilers, though. They have to wait for my return to see just how practical (and...inexpensive) I was!
Ah, modern art!

When that was done, I had hoped to see the London Bridge, but I couldn't figure out how to get there, so I looked on a map and decided to take in a little bit of the Tate Gallery, which turned out to be fairly close by. Passing under a modern art installation (can you see my enthusiasm?) and avoiding a gallery with some other modern art, I found a gallery of mid 1800's works. The first thing I came across was "Jesus Washeth Peter's Feet" by Ford Madox Brown, about which I have previously written in this blog. What a find!

The following day I was also free to explore, so I set off for the choir Mass at the Jesuit parish, Immaculate Conception, known as the "Farm Street Church." It is in a VERY posh district. (As I walked through the streets, I passed a parking lot with two Aston Martin convertibles in it.) The Jesuit church is lovely; built in the early 1900's in a lacy Gothic style, it reminded me of Holy Name Church where my parents were married--only half the size and twice as ornate. The choir Masses here are almost always in Latin, a kind of hybrid liturgy between the older rite and the contemporary missal--the readings are in English, the liturgy is mostly the "novus ordo" that we use in English, the altar is between the priest and the people, but instead of a Responsorial Psalm, the choir sings a couple of lines taken from the Psalms, and often the Sanctus is sung, but the Benedictus used either in addition to or before the acclamation of the Mystery of Faith! It takes a bit of getting used to, as does the Gregorian Chant prayer (in Latin) for Queen Elizabeth, graciously ruling over us.

Today, Saturday, was again my day on the town. Now, after Mass last week while I enjoyed the Jesuits' coffee, a woman from the parish welcomed me, and with great enthusiasm told me that I absolutely must visit Southwark Cathedral (the "w" is silent, as is usual here: Suthark is the pronunciation). It had been a convent as far back as 600 AD, then an Augustinian priory and then, with the King's Great Matter, it was "surrendered" to the Crown and since then has been used by the Church of England. It is now the Cathedral of the Diocese of Southwark. When I got home, Sister Giovanna told me that she had been, of all places, to Southwark Cathedral. She even brought me the brochure to encourage me to visit. So what else could I do today but go to Southwark? I took the Underground to London Bridge (yes! that London Bridge), and got a little lost--actually I got
distracted by the sight of the bustling Southwark Market: an open air (mostly roofed) market filled with produce stalls, fishmongers, cheesemongers, butchers and bakers (probably candlestick makers, but they interest me very little) and tons of little specialty kitchens--and thousands of foodies and tourists. This is FOODIE HEAVEN. All the good food in England wants to come here, and probably does. But I didn't have time for that: I wanted to spot check Southwark Cathedral and then zip off to the Catholic Cathedral (St George's, one mile away) for the 12:30 Mass, and then back to Southwark Cathedral to really visit...and probably catch lunch in that fabulous market. Which I did, dodging the raindrops and trying to protect my camera, hold my umbrella and follow the GPS app on my phone all at the same time. (It was a bit exhausting.) When I got to St George's, about a hundred people were gathered for Eucharistic Adoration. Benediction was a bonus. After Mass, dodging more raindrops, but less worried about the GPS, I managed to get lunch in and visit Southwark Cathedral, where the volunteers were exceedingly gracious. I paid the £2.50 fee to take pictures freely while the choir rehearsed for Evensong.

I'll let the pictures say the rest; suffice it to say that--as for the Market--I'll be back! (Besides, I still didn't see London Bridge!)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the guided tour - my husband and I enjoy all your adventures, makes us feel as though we're there seeing these sights, too.

The one thing I still can't wrap my head around is the fact that while Nazi plundered art, etc., has been forced to be returned to original rightful owners, the monastic holdings in the U.K. have never been returned to the Roman Church. Yet, any time I've mentioned the topic it's shut down pretty quickly by U.K. Catholics, as well, with "It was a long time ago." as though time heals all sin. All that land, all those buildings...doesn't seem right somehow. - Jean