Thursday 29 May 2014

Malmesbury Abbey

It would be impossible for me to visit  Abbey House Gardens and not include the Abbey itself. Malmesbury Abbey was built in 1170 AD but founded as a Benedictine Monastery in 676 AD. Much of the building was destroyed when its crossing tower collapsed in the early 16th century destroying both the crossing and the chancel. Then in the 17th century the Gothic west tower fell, taking with it the three west bays of the nave. However, enough of it still remains today for it to be the home of the local parish church. 
The large porch has within it some of England's most outstanding Anglo-Norman sculpture
The outer Norman portal has eight arches, including three of sculptured reliefs set in roundels. These depict the Creation, scenes from the old Testament, and the Life of Christ
 In its day it must have looked magnificent, now sadly degraded having being subjected to hundreds of years of weathering
The inner doorway is crowned with a tympanum showing Christ in Majesty surrounded by a rainbow supported by two angels
Most remarkable of all are the glorious carvings along either side of the interior walls of the porch. Each side showing six apostles at Pentecost, with an angel flying overhead
The 12 apostles are all shown seated in exaggerated poses with sinuous draperies. They are big highly expressive sculptures carved in situ, and are great treasures in what is now the local parish church of a small town
Inside further treasures are to be found
 Beautiful Norman galleries - the arcading originally  would have been open
A celebration of both early and late Norman stonework
The lower arcades are late Norman. These show the period when Gothic builders worked on the abbey and added decorative details such as heads, naturalistic foliage, and pointed arches 
The abbey's proudest possession is the tomb of the Saxon King Æthelstan - died 939
Æthelstan 'the Glorious', grandson of King Alfred the Great
A great military and political leader he expanded his kingdom by winning battles, marrying off his half sisters and striking deals with other kings. By 927 AD he had united and created the kingdom of all England, then ten years later he led his English and Welsh forces to a decisive victory over the Scottish, Danish, Norse and Irish at the great Battle of Brunanburh. His coins were inscribed with the words "Ruler of the whole of Britain".
Looking down from the south gallery and resembling  an opera box is an abbot's oratory. The window is by Morris & Company
The figures were all designed by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones for an earlier Morris & Company window. It commemorates 2nd Lieutenant William Scott Luce who, aged 20 years, was killed in action at Diamond Hill, South Africa during the second Anglo-Boer War.
England's earliest aviator - Elmer - the 11th century flying monk. 
He made himself wings, and took off from one of the abbey towers. In his youth he had read and believed the Greek fable of Daedalus. He made himself a pair of wings for his hands and a pair for his feet. He flew for a furlong (201 metres) if you can believe that, but agitated by the violence of the wind, the swirling air, and awareness of his rash attempt, he fell, broke both his legs and was lame for ever more. He blamed his failure on forgetting to provide himself with a tail!!!
In the 11th century the abbey contained the second largest library in Europe and was considered one of the leading seats of learning. As a religious centre it rivalled both Canterbury and Winchester and had a continuous history from the 7th century to the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  Fortunately Henry Vlll spared the abbey any further damage during the dissolution.

The abbey as it was and the small section as seen today.
Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest spire in the UK, Malmesbury's spire was 23 feet taller. It just so happens that I am visiting Salisbury Cathedral today (Thursday) with my Fine Art Society. I have scheduled this Malmesbury Abbey post to publish whilst I am absent, so if you are reading this it has succeeded. Hopefully I will have some photos of Salisbury's spire on my return.

Sunday 25 May 2014

Special Offers - No. 1

Discounts have been arriving via the 'in-box' containing bargains that read me like a book.  No! not a 50% reduction on a Gucci handbag nor even a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes, but for me, irresistible visits. A buy one get one free offer came for the Abbey House Gardens, Malmesbury. I last visited about 17 years ago soon after the owners first opened their gates to the public. It is a veritable Garden of Eden, transformed by the infamous 'naked gardeners'!
However, immediately upon purchasing the vouchers, I discovered that all is not well in paradise - the owners are splitting up and going their separate ways, the house and gardens are going on the market. Our intention had been to go later in the season but armed with this new information it seemed prudent to visit post haste.
Abbey House Garden
Abbey House dates from the 16th century but was built on 13th century foundations. However, there is evidence of a house on the site as early as the 11th century. The current house was extended substantially during the Tudor period by a local clothier, William Stumpe, who bought the house from Henry Vlll. 
The gardens created from scratch during the last 20 years are overlooked by the ruins of  Malmesbury Abbey, a benedictine monastery. The original house is  thought to have once been the home of the Abbot.
This Saxon arch may have marked the entrance to the Abbot's house from the abbey. If this ancient arch stood in my garden the ivy would be taken off to reveal and expose the lovely stonework.
The garden design compliments and celebrates the history of the site. The knot garden features a Celtic cross, the herb garden replicates a description given in a 9th century monastic poem, and the stew pond is a reminder that the monks would keep fish in a holding tank near the kitchens to await Friday's meal. In the garden handout no description was given concerning the clipped head. I view it as a Benedictine Monk wearing his hood - H sees it as representing the Green Man!
 Herb Garden
 Walking under the arches of laburnum and sweetly scented wisteria leads to several steep pathways that head off down to the river at the rear of the house
A footbridge crosses the River Avon not to be confused with the river of the same name running through Stratford-on-Avon
The timeless River Avon gently meandering and merrily gurgling as it flows along the bottom of the garden making its journey to the mighty Bristol Channel courtesy the Avon Gorge 
This waterfall was made from the spoils of digging out several ponds and has been created since my last visit 
There is much more to this garden than I have shown. If you want to visit 'Paradise (almost) Lost' then this could be the last year that it is open to the public. The intention is to keep the garden open daily for the rest of the season until the last day of October. On the other hand if you have a few million pounds to spare, you might like to become the owner of this historic house once owned by King Henry Vlll and its special garden.

Saturday 24 May 2014

Glasgow School of Art

I can't believe that Glasgow School of Art, a Rennie Mackintosh building that I love so much, and which I showed recently here went up in flames yesterday. Flames which started in the basement and travelled right to the top of the building and then out of the roof. Although much of Mackintosh's original furniture and art works have been rescued by the firemen, I am fearful that his fine Japanese style library may be lost. 
What a sad day for such an iconic building!

Thursday 22 May 2014

Petralona Cave & An Abandoned Turkish Mountain Village

Petralona Cave lies on the west side of Mount Katsika in Chalkidiki, Greece, and it is where the oldest European hominid was found. The consensus of opinion puts the date of the skull at around 700,000 years old.
For some reason no photos were allowed inside the cave even without flash. These two pictures were taken from a poster which does not do justice to the caves cathedral like proportions. It takes about an hour to travel along the walkways - the interior roof is a mass of spectacular stalactites with stalagmites meeting them from the floor forming interesting sculptural shapes - similar to the photo below.
Leaving the cave we headed off to a small mountain village beautifully situated 350 metres high on the Sithonia peninsular. An abandoned and forgotten Turkish village called Parthenónas, which was rediscovered in the 1970s. A programme of restoration was begun which is now almost completed. 

Sitting beneath the wisteria in the village taverna we could hear a nightingale singing its heart out 
This concludes our happy visit to Greece ♡