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Cambridgeshire Cathedral Crawling

Lots of things are happening this week, and changes are rolling over the horizon.

The homeowners of the house we’re currently sitting for took their two dogs with them on their travels. (Originally we were supposed to care for two cats and two dogs, but we aren’t crying—it’s been mostly a cakewalk with only two cats.) Tragically, one of the dogs passed away. Apparently she was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer, and it was only about 10 days later when the owner felt obliged to put her down.

My guess is the owner had some kind of intuition, and that’s why she took the dogs with her in the first place. We feel terrible for her, and of course we’re grateful it didn’t happen on our watch, under our care, and that the owner was able to be with her beloved pet in its final moments.

However, the owners are coming home a tiny bit earlier than they originally planned, so the schedule feels like it is accelerating. Likewise, Robin is suddenly running several un-planned training courses—which we’re grateful for, but it also accelerates matters. So much to do! So little time! I’m determined not to panic (yet).

We did squeak in visits to a couple of remarkable churches.

First up was Peterborough Cathedral, visited due to its name—Peterborough—which happens to be the name of the town in outback South Australia where Robin grew up.

The cathedral is renowned for its imposing Early English Gothic West Front façade which, with its three enormous arches, is without architectural precedent. The appearance is slightly asymmetrical, as one of the two towers that rise from behind the façade was never completed. This trio of arches is the defining image of Peterborough Cathedral, and is unrivaled in medieval architecture.

Founded in the Anglo-Saxon period, its architecture is nevertheless mainly Norman after a rebuilding done in the 12th century. Along with Durham and Ely cathedrals (both of which we visited last year), it is one of the most important 12th century buildings in England to have remained largely intact, despite all its extensions and restoration.

The church that was here prior was damaged during a struggle between Norman invaders and the local folk-hero, Hereward the Wake, who I regaled you with a few weeks ago. But that church was repaired and continued to thrive until it was destroyed by an accidental fire in 1116. This disaster necessitated the building of a whole new church in the Norman style.

The building was largely constructed of limestone from quarries on its own land, and it received payment annually for access to those quarries by the builders of Ely Cathedral and Ramsey Abbey in thousands of eels. Yes, EELS!

As I’ve been saying since we first visited Ely, eels were considered so valuable as a food source during medieval times that they were commonly used as a form of currency.

The modern cross hanging here was designed by George Pace in 1975 with the figure of Jesus sculpted by Frank Roper. A Latin inscription at Jesus' feet means “the cross stands while the world turns”—a rather intriguing phrase.

The wooden choir standing a ways behind me is intricately carved and wondrous. I shot a 1:19 video panning the choir so you so you can appreciate the marvelous woodworking, found here:

By 1193 this current building was completed up to the western end of the nave, including the central tower and the decorated wooden ceiling. This ceiling, completed between 1230 and 1250, is unique in Britain and one of only four such ceilings in the whole of Europe—and is largest of all of them.

Speculation is that the various charming figures decorating the ceiling are an extended metaphor that juxtaposes good and evil.

A “celebrity” element of the cathedral concerns the graves of two famous ladies…

First we have the final resting place of Henry VIII's first wife, Katharine of Aragon. She was interred in Peterborough Cathedral (then Peterborough Abbey) in 1536, after having died in exile at nearby Kimbolton Castle at age 50.

Although her tomb was vandalized by Oliver Cromwell's troops during the Civil War in the 17th century, she still lies here to this day. The current memorial slab seen above was installed in 1893, and apparently there is hardly ever a time when it is not decorated with pomegranates, her heraldic symbol.

She was a remarkable person who even ran the country for six months in 1513 while Henry VIII was away in France. You probably know the story of how she could not give the King an heir and he divorced her in favor of Anne Boleyn, a former lady-in-waiting to Katherine. Katherine never conceded to the divorce and lived the remainder of her life banished from court. She remained faithful to Henry with a combination of piety and stubbornness had made her fight to the bitter end. Her final letter to him read: "Mine eyes desire you above all things," and she signed her letter "Katherine the Queen."

Almost directly across from this tomb in the other aisle lies the former tomb of another queen: Mary, Queen of Scots.

Mary was beheaded in 1587 after being implicated in a plot against Queen Elizabeth I. Her body was interred in the Cathedral five months later.

After her son James I came to the English throne he arranged for her body to be moved to Westminster Abbey in 1612. His letter making this request is on display in the Cathedral.

During the English Civil War, the cathedral was vandalized in 1643 by Cromwell’s Parliamentarian troops. Almost all of the stained glass and the medieval choir stalls were destroyed; the high altar and reredos were demolished, as well as the cloisters and the Lady Chapel. All the monuments and memorials in the cathedral were likewise damaged or destroyed—many of them used for target practice.

The high altar in the rear of the church seen below was added as part of extensive restoration work that was begun in 1883.

That spectacular sculpted baldachino or ciborium over the high altar was added in 1894, and was closely modeled on the canopy situated over the High Altar in the Church of Santa Maria de Cosmedin in Rome, but with the addition of a figure of Saint Peter holding his keys.

The ceiling in the apse chapel was painted in 1856 to a design by Sir George Gilbert Scott and is a 19th-century copy of the medieval ceiling. It depicts Christ as the True Vine, with the apostles as the branches.

The original ceiling was badly damaged by Cromwell’s troops, who also used it for musket practice during the English Civil War.

Beneath this entrancing ceiling one finds the ancient Hedda Stone. It dates from the 9th century and is the only surviving find from the original Saxon monastery that was destroyed by the Vikings in 864.

This ancient carving of 12 monks, six on each side, commemorates the destruction of the original monastery and the death of the abbot and monks. The Hedda Stone was likely carved sometime after the Viking raid, when the monastery slipped into decline.

One of the features that caught my eye in the Cathedral was this funny little carving.

We asked a guide about it, and she claimed this was originally a doorway to the graveyard through which the monks were carried for burial following their funerals, so it is suitably morbid in that respect.

Speaking of death, here they celebrate the personage of Robert Scarlett—better known as "Old Scarlett"—who was their colorful medieval parish sexton and long-time gravedigger.

Above the main door of the Cathedral are two portraits of him, one being a fresco painted directly onto the wall that was discovered when they moved the framed one aside in order to perform some restoration work. The wall painting—admittedly hard to see—shows him with pick and shovel holding the keys to the vaults and chapels.

Beneath his portrait are these words:

You see old Scarlitt's picture stand on hie, But at your feete here doth his body lye. His gravestone doth his age and Death time show, His office by thes tokens you may know. Second to none for strength and sturdye limm, A Scarebabe mighty voice with visage grim. Hee had interd two Queenes within this place And this townes Householders in his lives space Twice over: But at length his own time came; What for others did for him the same Was done: No doubt his soule doth live for aye In heaven: Tho here his body clad in clay.

He is buried on the floor beneath this fresco at the insistence of the townfolk.

His gravestone is testimony to the love and esteem in which he was held, as burial in the Cathedral was normally reserved only for the great and the good.

Robert Scarlett was born in 1496 and died in 1594 at the unbelievable age of 98, his life spanning the reigns of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. His longevity is thought to be due to his physical fitness as, even into his eighties, he was still digging graves in Peterborough.

It may seem far fetched to suggest Old Scarlett buried two people from every Peterborough household during his lifetime, but as the population during this time was probably around 1,500, and Peterborough saw its first outbreak of plague in 1574, he may well have accomplished that feat in his 98 years, especially given his "strength and sturdye limm."

He claimed he “buried three queens.” And certainly he had the distinction of having interred two queens in the Cathedral: Katharine of Aragon and Mary Queen of Scots. But who was this third queen? He claimed it was his own wife Margaret, who died before him and whom he considered to be a queen. However, Scarlett went on to marry a second wife, Maud, while being well into his eighties.

He may have even left an iconic thumbprint on classic English literature! The image of Hamlet standing in a graveyard holding the skull of his long-dead court jester is one that is familiar to most of us, and one of the most quoted lines from Shakespeare’s most famous play is “Alas, poor Yorick!”

Amazingly, it may have been inspired by real-life events in Peterborough…

Amongst the hundreds of people Scarlett buried during his lifetime was one “Edward the Foole,” former court jester to King Henry VIII who was laid to rest in 1563. As was common practice at the time to allow for more burials in an already-packed graveyard, his skeleton would have been exhumed some years later and his bones reburied in stacks.

The sight of Old Scarlett exhuming a royal jester’s skull might have imprinted memorably on a Peterborough schoolboy, John Fletcher, who was son of the Cathedral Dean.

Fletcher went on to become a noted Elizabethan playwright and eventually worked with Shakespeare, even co-writing three plays with him, including Henry VIII. Is it possible that Fletcher suggested this scene to Shakespeare?

Unfortunately, Hamlet was written between 1599 and 1601 and there is no evidence the two men met until at least five years later, but it is a tantalizing thought!

In conclusion, our visit to Peterborough Cathedral was a satisfying delight, and a most rewarding outing for both of us.

Our next destination, later on in the week, was King's College, Cambridge—so we finally made it into Cambridge!

We passed on a chance to go earlier. Every year on Christmas Eve, the same traditional musical programme has been broadcast from inside the chapel by the BBC to millions of listeners worldwide by the choir of King's College, one of the most accomplished and renowned singing groups in the world. They’ve been performing this programme annually since 1918.

I nearly dragged Robin to attend that service, but it was cold and rainy leading up to Christmas and we would have had to wait outside in line for at least four hours beforehand. (Such conditions reminded me of the early morning wait to see the annual Rose Parade live in Pasadena.) Perhaps I’m losing my edge, but we said “nahhh” and skipped it.

The school known as King's College was founded in 1441 by King Henry VI soon after he founded its sister institution at Eton College, which we visited last fall. He was only 19 years old when he laid its first stone.

Initially, King's College only accepted students from Eton College. However, Henry’s plans for King's College were disrupted by the Wars of the Roses and the resultant scarcity of funds, and then his eventual deposition. Little progress was made on the building project until 1508, when King Henry VII began to take an interest in the college, probably as a political move to legitimize his new position.

The building of King’s College Chapel, begun in 1446, was finished in 1544 during the reign of Henry VIII. Given Henry’s destructiveness during the Reformation, this is more than a little bit ironic.

We were charged £10 apiece to have a gander inside. The building is considered to be emblematic of Cambridge, so it was a must-see.

King's College Chapel was built over a period of a hundred years (1446–1531) in three stages and is arguably the most magnificent example of late medieval English architecture in the entire country. Guidebooks run out of superlatives to describe the richness of its interior decoration and the sumptuous flowing lines of the structural elements.

I daresay this is the “money shot” of the ante-chapel interior itself:

The magnificent—no other word could describe it—fan vaulting overhead was completed in just 3 years, between 1512–1515. This vaulting is decorated with intricately carved bosses of wood and stone, featuring heraldic beasts, coats of arms, and Tudor motifs, and is the largest one in the world. Its 26 large stained glass windows—24 of which date from the 16th century—are considered some of the finest from their era and took 30 years to install. No other college had a chapel built on such a scale.

Surprisingly, the chapel escaped major damage during the Civil War, despite the fact that Cromwell's troops used it for a training ground during inclement weather. It has been hypothesized that Cromwell himself, being a former Cambridge student, gave orders to spare the chapel.

I was glad this dainty “light” containing an image of St. Christopher was spared.

On the day of the German invasion of Poland (September 1, 1939), provoking the UK’s entry into World War II, permission was sought from the College Council to remove the stained glass from the chapel and place it in safekeeping. By the end of 1941, all the ancient glass had been removed to various cellars in Cambridge.

Despite most of the windows of the chapel having been covered over with sheets of tar-paper that rattled loudly in the wind, Christmas Eve performances (like the one we skipped) continued to be broadcast from the chapel every year throughout the war even though—for security reasons—the name of the college could not be mentioned on air. King's College capitalized on the opportunity during this span of time to clean, repair, and photograph the glass, and by 1949 all the windows had been restored.

You will surely agree that this fan vaulting is spectacular—even better than the fan vaulting we encountered at Oxford (made famous in the Harry Potter movies).

In the past months we’ve been here, it seems like any time a church had similar fan vaulting we would be informed that it was merely a practice run for creating this masterpiece (as we learned in Peterborough Cathedral, for example).

The brass lectern directly behind me (near my head), is surmounted by a tiny statue of Henry VI holding the orb and scepter that symbolize the monarch of England, and a dragon is at his feet. Only three similar lecterns exist in the UK—although 45 pre-1550 lecterns are to be found in England, most medieval lecterns are in the shape of an eagle.

The superbly carved dark oak screen between the antechapel and choir was a gift of Henry VIII. The screen bears Henry's initials entwined around those of Anne Boleyn, which dates it between 1533 when Henry married Anne and 1536 when he had her executed.

The Tudor choir stalls on either side of me were made by Peter the Carver, who was also responsible for carving the screen. The canopies were added in the 17th century. We glimpsed a few misericords lurking in the back row, but of course they were off-limits to us peasants.

Same as I did for Peterborough Cathedral, I shot a 3:17 video panning around the choir that shows off its intricate woodwork and scans the lectern:

The organ is also a true work of art, constructed 1666–1668 and rebuilt several times since then. The pipes rise above the screen upon which they rest and appear like beautiful abstract artwork.

On the high altar, beneath one of the many amazing expanses of stained glass window, is Rubens' striking painting Adoration of the Magi (1634), originally painted for Belgian nuns.

In 1961 the property millionaire Alfred Ernest Allnatt offered King's College Adoration of the Magi, which he had purchased in 1959 for a world-record price. The college accepted "this munificent gift" with the intention of displaying the painting in the chapel, possibly as an altarpiece. The painting was initially displayed in the antechapel but a significant faction of the fellowship was determined to have the painting become the focal point of an entirely redesigned east end.

During the first stage of this project, in April 1964 the Rubens was installed in place of the antique wooden fixtures previously located behind the altar. But the painting was so big that the raised floor had to be leveled in order to prevent the baroque artwork from obscuring the bottom of the stained glass window.

Several fellows of the school signed a letter urging the college to reverse its plan and "admit that it has made a mistake"—but the leveling of the floor went ahead nevertheless. The newly refitted east end opened in 1968 and proved highly controversial, with Architects' Journal criticizing it as "motivated not by the demands of liturgical worship but by those of museum display."

Departing from the main chapel, we crossed into a side chapel: St. Edwards Chapel. On the altar was Madonna in the Rosary by Gert van Lon, done between 1512 and 1520. It was mesmerizing.

From here we passed through the Chapel Exhibition, which illustrated different phases of the chapel's construction with scale models, plans, workman's tools, and period costumes. They even display the chest which contained Henry VII's initial endowment of money for the building.

Now finished viewing the interior, it was time to stroll around the exterior.

This portal is the North Porch, normally the entrance to the Chapel. The ornate heraldic carvings are the armorial devices of the House of Tudor.

It was wonderfully grand to behold.

Meandering toward the exit along the front court, we encountered the backside of the Gatehouse where we entered the property initially.

The delicate tracery was designed in the neo-gothic fashion of the 1820s, and the Gatehouse is a much-admired landmark in the heart of Cambridge.

We decided to wander around Cambridge a bit and get a feel for this college town.

Just opposite the Gatehouse on the street outside we were drawn to visit Fudge Kitchen, a fudge shop tantalizing us with “free samples” (which were yummy).

Robin became mesmerized watching this man prepare a batch of vegan fudge before his very eyes. I nearly had to drag him out of there.

My own tastes were a bit more highbrow. I was impressed by this bookshop with a plaque over the door stating:

In 1583 opposite this site the first book was printed by Cambridge University Press in a line of printing which ran unbroken until 2013.

This has also been the longest continuously operating bookshop site in England where books were first sold in the 1580s.

Oooh! They’ve got my number. I didn't dare go inside for fear I would never come back outside again.

My eyes were next drawn to this façade belonging to a college with the unlikely name of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University.

This college was founded in 1348 as Gonville Hall. In 1558 it was refounded as Gonville and Caius College by John Caius, personal physician to Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth I. The college is usually referred to as Caius (pronounced "keys").

The college is entered through this 16th-century portal known as the Gate of Humility. It seems Dr. Caius was a man much given to symbolism, and he established his new college around three gates named for the qualities of Humility, Virtue, and Honour. He wanted it said that students at Caius "would enter in humility, live in virtue, and pass out to take degrees in honour."

Scientist and author Stephen Hawking was an alumnus, so perhaps Dr. Caius was onto something.

A historian wrote, “Cambridge is lousy with [medieval gates]. Many of the colleges date back to the medieval period, when gates were very much needed, and survive to this day.” His assessment seems accurate, because we kept tripping over them!

This impressive entrance to Trinity College with its statue of founder Henry VIII was begun in 1490 and completed in 1535. Students are said to have replaced the king's scepter with a chair leg as an undergraduate prank in the 19th century—although when the gate was refurbished in the 20th century the chair leg was replaced by a newer one (thus perpetuating the gag!). Underneath him are the coats of arms of Edward III and his sons.

Trinity College is the largest college in Cambridge with around 700 undergraduates, and it is also the richest college.

In October 1967, the man who has now become King Charles III was admitted to Trinity College, where he studied anthropology, archaeology, and history. He graduated from Cambridge with a Bachelor of Arts in 1970, making him the first heir apparent ever to earn a university degree. In 1975 he was awarded a Master of Arts degree from Cambridge. (I was thrilled to hear this, since I'm also the first person in my extended family to earn a college degree—especially a PhD!)

Other alumni of Trinity include Sir Isaac Newton and Alfred Lord Tennyson, who we’ve encountered in churches elsewhere (do you remember the stained glass Grail window from our sit in Haslemere?).

Next we ducked briefly into a church, Great St. Mary's Church, which dates to 1205—it’s even older than the University of Cambridge. Its foundations were laid in 1010 and it has been the University Church since 1209.

The largest church in Cambridge, Great St. Mary’s has been built, rebuilt, burned, and built again over the centuries. The current building seen today is largely Tudor.

Most of the stained glass is Victorian since it was added between 1867 and 1869. Charming wooden carvings of animals adorn the pew ends. That striking gold sculpture behind the high altar is Christ in Majesty and was completed in 1960 by the artist Alan Durst.

We didn’t stay inside long because we wanted to keep strolling around town… where we soon tripped over the Great Gate of St. Johns.

St. Johns College was established in 1511 and its Front Gate was completed in 1516. The heavy wooden gates date from 1665 and feature traditional linen-fold panels.

The carving above the entrance shows the coat of arms of the foundress, Lady Margaret Beaufort. The curious animals on either side of the shield are yales—mythical beasts possessing elephants' tails, antelopes' bodies, and goats' heads, with horns that can supposedly swivel from back to front!

Above them stands a statue of St. John the Evangelist. At his feet stands an eagle, the traditional symbol of the Saint. John holds a poisoned chalice with a snake representing the legend that he charmed the poison out of the cup in the form of a serpent and then drank the brew safely (an image and myth I’ve shared before).

This college’s alumni include winners of 10 Nobel Prizes, 7 prime ministers and 12 archbishops of various countries, 2 princes, and 3 Saints—most impressive!

And then last, this was the prettiest gate of all that we saw: the medieval gate of Christ's College Cambridge.

This gatehouse is highly visible to tourists and shoppers in the city. As soon as you are within eyeshot of the gate, you will notice it. The colorful gate makes it rather hard to miss! However, it didn’t always look like this.

It was also built by Lady Beaufort, grandmother of Henry VIII, who founded this college during the early years of the 16th century. Much of the façade, including the late 16th century oak doors, remained largely unchanged until the masonry was refaced with harder stone in 1714. A statue of Lady Margaret was added in the 19th century.

The heraldic detail, which dates from the early 1500s, had not been painted for "many years" and was starting to look faded.

The gate underwent a four-year refurbishing process that finished in the fall of 2018. Now that may seem like a long time to repaint it, but the conservators conducted research and, after careful repairs, they focused on applying historically accurate colors and using finishing techniques that were faithful to the time.

I have seen some of the “before” pictures of the gate posted online, and will observe that given this luminous outcome, their efforts certainly paid off...

Great news! The next issue of Psychological Perspectives is now available to order!

A lot of work went into this issue, and I daresay readers will enjoy its contents greatly. It can be ordered via this link:

Robin has finally gotten Ozzie to settle down in bed when they sleep together—just look at that blissful smile on Robin’s face! (The cat looks pretty content too.)

Robin has gone to a lot of trouble to train Ozzie not to lick his face, and he seems to be catching on. You have to admit they’re utterly adorable.

Since I’m on a countdown to departure now, things are going to get crazy for a while—a bit tumultuous and crazy as we will have a lot of balls in the air.

Wish us luck!

warmly, -Dr. Vicky Jo

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