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Tony Grist

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Durham Cathedral [May. 15th, 2008|10:07 am]
Tony Grist
We had lunch in a pub in Osmotherley (Yorkshire has the most wonderful place names- Saxon, Viking) then went on to Mount Grace Priory, where we spent the afternoon. As you may have gathered, I like Mount Grace a lot. After the Reformation, part of the front range of the Priory became a private house and that 's still there and still has a roof over it- a harmonious blend of medieval, Tudor and Victorian. The gardens are very pretty. There's a big pond- which may once have been the Priory fish pond.- which was full of thousands and thousands of tadpoles. 

Then we carried on to our hotel- which is in Washington, a village with links to the family of the first president.

Next morning we drove into Durham. 

Cathedrals are all different. You'd think a thousand years of similar use would have ironed out the wrinkles and they'd all feel very much the same- but they don't. Some of them leave me cold. Hereford for instance. Durham on the other hand moves me deeply. It's one of those buildings. It's Romanesque- but bigger than any Romanesque building has any right to be. The art books go on and on about how the Gothic style allowed medieval architects to build up and up- it's an art historical cliche- but not yet possessing the pointed arch doesn't seem to have inhibited the man who designed Durham. I climbed the central tower and about three quarters of the way up I was having visions of being carried down again on a stretcher- or in a wooden box. First the pain, then the raw naked fear of being on a level with the birds- and only a thin, high wall of pierced and fretted stone between myself and the abyss. It was a horrible experience and I'd hate to have missed it. 

Durham cathedral is also a fortress. There is a castle in the city, but the cathedral dwarfs it. These were the badlands once- Scots to the north, Vikings to the east, bold, bad barons challenging the king- and the Bishops of Durham were also warlords- with the title of "Prince". Their cathedral is an affirmation- of the power of the church, of the power of civilisation, of the power of faith. 

Huge, massive, craggy, patriarchal- I'm weighing up adjectives to describe how it feels- but the one I keep coming back to is northern. I don't mean northern in the sense of ice and snow and white bears, I mean northern as in rocks and heather and bare, rolling hills. Not ultra-northern, not hyperborean, but northern enough to make a Roman shiver. The Romans are all over this part of England. As Robert Graves more or less said, the Empire was most intensely the Empire in its rind. Durham is only a few miles south of the wall. By which I mean THE WALL. Hadrian's- the wall at the end of the world.  For hundreds of years after the legions left the locals were using Roman stones- filched from Roman buildings- with Roman carving on them- to construct their hovels. Durham cathedral is the sort of building the Romans would have eventually got round to making if they'd never gone away. 









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Comments:
[User Picture]From: saare_snowqueen
2008-05-15 11:02 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for those. As part of my on-going studies to improve as a local tourism guide, I've been studying Romanesque architecture. One building that crops up - again and again, is Durham Cathedral. Its on my list of must sees for the next time I am in England. Yorkshire is pulling ever more strongly and your photos are intensifying the pull.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-05-15 12:12 pm (UTC)
I'm glad these were useful.

I love the Romanesque. I love the Gothic too (but not as much).
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[User Picture]From: saare_snowqueen
2008-05-15 02:03 pm (UTC)
I feel the same way.
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[User Picture]From: pondhopper
2008-05-15 02:17 pm (UTC)
It was a horrible experience and I'd hate to have missed it.


Yes. I've felt the same way climbing into the domes of St. Paul's and winding up the tight stone spiral of the steeple in the Ulm, Germany Cathedral.

So much romanesque as we've been seeing lately has given me a new appreciation and I am about ready to admit that I like it better than the Gothic now. Solid fortresses all. But beautiful ones indeed.

We haven't been up to Durham. I can see that needs a yellow circle on my map.
(yellow is what I mark things I want to see.)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-05-15 05:29 pm (UTC)
Durham's well worth a yellow circle. There are those who think it's our greatest cathedral.
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From: (Anonymous)
2008-05-15 04:24 pm (UTC)

email

Hi, just sent you an email. Good photos!
Jenny
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2008-05-15 04:29 pm (UTC)
For hundreds of years after the legions left the locals were using Roman stones- filched from Roman buildings- with Roman carving on them- to construct their hovels. Durham cathedral is the sort of building the Romans would have eventually got round to making if they'd never gone away .

That's a wonderful image; and it matches the photographs. (And briefly gave me Kipling flashbacks . . .) I keep saying thank you for these, but they are beautiful.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-05-15 05:34 pm (UTC)
I had Kipling very much in mind. He's inescapable up by the Wall.
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[User Picture]From: daisytells
2008-05-15 04:33 pm (UTC)
These are amazing photos! Your pictures just keep getting better and better.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-05-15 05:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2008-05-15 09:07 pm (UTC)
I particularly like the last of these.

Also: so what it takes for you to visit my home town is that I should be 500 miles away?
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[User Picture]From: mummm
2008-05-17 02:56 pm (UTC)
I'm sure glad that you survived that climb! The photos are wonderful.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2008-05-22 07:56 pm (UTC)
When my sister Janice and her husband were in England many years ago--she was working on a master's thesis on Welsh mines and women--they went to the Durham Cathedral and were lucky enough to sit in the choir for awhile, as I recall--she was overwhelmed.

In fact, she was overwhelmed with England and said later, It was strange: I'd be looking out a random window and would think--I'm home.

I've had that same misplaced feeling many times.

Now, me: if I could go to England, I'd head for Highgate Cemetery. After seeing you and Ailz first, of course.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-05-22 08:10 pm (UTC)
Why Highgate cemetery? I must admit I've never been there myself- though I'd like to.

Durham is extraordinary. You know what? I can feel tears forming in my eyes as i write. It has that sort of effect on me. Maybe I've had some sort of connection with it in a past life. Maybe the same is true of Janice.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2008-05-22 08:27 pm (UTC)
I have a book of Highgate cemetery photographs, all in black and white, and it's overgrown and gloomy--in fact, the book is called Highgate Cemetery: Victorian Valhalla.</>

Here's one of the images. They are all very fine:

highgate

My brother was there twice, with his camera.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-05-22 08:50 pm (UTC)
That's very atmospheric.

The moment after it was taken a tall figure wrapped in a voluminous black cloak stepped out from behind the monument...
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2008-05-22 09:11 pm (UTC)
Crazy Mary!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-05-23 07:44 am (UTC)
I was thinking more like Count Dracula.:)

There are legends about vampires haunting Highgate cemetery. A couple of decades back there was a guy who made a living writing books and appearing on TV to talk about how he'd hunted vampires there.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2008-05-23 11:00 am (UTC)
Ooh. Really?

My brother amused us telling about how he got lost in Highgate at dusk, how he worried about being shut in there.

Oooh.
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