Wednesday 26 June 2024

Muchelney Abbey lies hidden away deep in the heart of the Somerset Levels

"The place is not easy to access; one can normally get there in summertime on foot or by horse, but in winter never." 
Monk and historian William of Malmesbury (c1090-1142)

A stone fragment showing a monk carrying loaves of bread in his left arm and a costrel on his right arm - a container used for holding ale. 
The head of a lady - most of the statuary found is incomplete, probably damaged during The Reformation.
The King of Wessex, first established a monastic community at Muchelney in the late seventh century, however, the minster was destroyed during the ninth century by Danes. In 939 the monastery was refounded by King Athelstan and soon adopted Benedictine observance. Starting around 112o the entire monastery was rebuilt on a grand scale with a magnificent church, as well as a cloister, chapter house, dormitory, latrine, refectory and lodging for the abbot. There was also an infirmary, an almonry and agricultural buildings.
The two-storey thatched roof Reredorter (latrine) is a rare survival. The latrines are on the upper floor which was originally adjacent to the Monk's dormitory from where it could be entered. At ground level there are several small arches giving access to the inside drains from the outside for cleaning.
This is the South Cloister Walk - the windows are now partially blocked but fragments of the elaborate stone window tracery, once filled with stained glass, can still be seen. 
Stone stairway to the upper floor.

Although running short of time we are keen to visit the local parish church of St. Peter and St. Paul which is just visible through the right-hand side of this window. 

The church has a wooden, arched, and ribbed ceiling painted during the early part of the c17th. In the centre there are ten angels all wearing Jacobean style dresses along with cherubs painted around the four borders. The painting has a colourful, cartoonish character which creates a dramatic scene viewed from below. Each angel looks out from a frame of thick creamy swirling clouds, a central sun along with stars set in a blue sky all create a celestial backdrop.  

The Angels all hold message banners - 

"All nations of the world" "Praise the Lord" 

"We praise thee oh God"
Some of the angels have immodest necklines, which, it has been suggested, symbolise innocence and purity. However, it is impossible for us today to really know the exact nature or thoughts of those Jacobean patrons and painters.

"From the rising of the sun"
"To the setting of the same" 
We arrived safely at our destination with just sufficient time to refresh before the evening meal. 

Thursday 20 June 2024

The Somerset Levels

Whilst making a return visit to a favourite hotel in the Quantock Hills, we decided to divert our journey and visit the Somerset Levels to view its unique landscape, and visit a small historic building.

Being one of the flattest areas in the UK, it is easy to understand that the area was once covered by the sea that is apart from some curious bumps and mounds that rose above the water and formed islands. To reach the grasslands from these "islands", prehistoric people built raised wooden tracks, of which there is still evidence today. The Romans tried to manage the Levels but did not have as much success as the monks from Glastonbury. 

However, we were in search of the only surviving monastic fish house building that remains in England. The Fish house was ordered by Abbot Adam de Sodbury over 700 years ago in 1320 to house his water bailiff, who caught fish in the nearby lake. The fish were then salted and dried to provide the monks with an all year round supply of fish.

 The monks did not eat meat. 

The Abbot also built the neighbouring property, now a manor house, which was used as a relaxing and contemplative summer residence. It was surrounded by a herb and fruit garden, along with a vineyard and orchard. 

The windows' original Norman arches can still be seen; however, the window on the far right was later Gothicised before being completely blocked. 

Sitting above the porch is a stone figure wearing robes and a mitre which is believed to represent Abbot Adam de Sodbury. 

Tuesday 4 June 2024

La Gacilly, Brittany, France

Sorting through my past photos I came across some that reminded me of a visit we made to the quaint old French town of La Gacilly in Brittany. The town is unusual in that it is surrounded by what the locals call "Jardin Botanique". However, they are not gardens but fields filled with flowers and herbs. La Gacilly is where Yves Rocher was born and in the late 1950s became their Mayor. He was particularly concerned that youngsters were having to flee the town in order to find work, and decided that he would have to establish a business. A local healer had taught him a recipe for an ointment based on the Lesser celandine - Focaria verna which he decided could be sold by mail order using adverts in the magazine "Ici Paris" - thus began his now worldwide empire.

Lesser celandine - Focaria verna
As we wandered around the town my attention was drawn to the exterior of the local pharmacy which had several exquisitely painted wood panels showing botanical illustrations, and two practitioners, suggestive of their having a specialisation in Herbalism and Homeopathy.
May be it one of these healers who was responsible for Yves Rocher becoming the first modern pioneer to use natural ingredients in his cosmetics?