It’s been another tumultuous week! So many things are happening that I can barely keep track of it all.
Two important occasions were the main focus this week, but I’ll talk about those later. First I want to tell you about Bridlington Priory.
Some of you may remember how we visited the Priory back in March 2020. Robin prepared us for the visit, checking the website for opening hours and driving us 45 minutes to get to the location. We climbed out of our car and promptly encountered a locked church door. Confounded, we circumambulated the embellished exterior, all the while hoping someone would magically materialize and unlock the building.
Eventually an official-looking person appeared and began tending the graveyard, so we approached them and inquired about entering the minster. They shrugged, pointed at a home nearby, and suggested we knock on that door to ask the parson in charge of matters about it.
We two introverts gritted our teeth, approached the home, and gently knocked. The door was answered by an older gentleman who kindly listened to our inquiry about visiting the church, but informed us the Priory was closed that day (shrugging off the official website’s posted hours), and he said to return on Wednesday.
We wondered why he didn’t immediately offer to unlock the church and let us in, but he was firm. So much for the values posted on their website: “As part of its Augustinian heritage, the Priory endeavours to encompass the three great monastic themes of Prayer, Study and Hospitality.” Umm, hospitality, anyone?!
Disappointed, we climbed back into our car and spent another 45 minutes glumly returning to the AirBnB where we were staying, hatching our plan for a Bridlington return.
It was all for naught.
The following day the UK announced its nationwide lockdown. Bam! Instead of returning to the Priory, we found ourselves racing down M4 to seek temporary shelter with our hospitable friends in Somerset in order to comply with enforced isolation.
For two years now the Priory has been out of reach—but that changed this week!
By now you’re probably wondering, what’s the big deal about the Priory? I’ve never even heard of it. Certainly it does possess many historical items of interest. But what exactly drew me there?
No, it wasn’t the glorious stained glass insets, even though it boasts the largest such windows in the north of England.
No, it wasn’t the Founder’s stone, a carved slab of black Tournai marble showing two dragons, a lion, a fox, and a pigeon, all chiseled in the same style as the Bayeux Tapestry.
No, it wasn’t the 18 wooden “mice” secreted in the wood carved by Robert Thompson, the “mouse man of Kilburn,” a famous woodcarver whose “signature” became these little mice (perhaps because the woodcarvers were said to be “as poor as church mice.”)
No, it wasn’t for any of those reasons. Instead, I was chasing George Ripley.
Who’s George Ripley, you ask?
George Ripley was born in Bridlington in 1415 to a wealthy family. His main interest was alchemy, and a fog of myth surrounds his life and work. He spent a number of years abroad—perhaps in Italy—and upon his return to England he wrote The Compound of Alchemy; or, the Twelve Gates leading to the Discovery of the Philosopher's Stone (Liber Duodecim Portarum) in 1471. His writings were eventually studied by noted figures such as Dr. John Dee, Robert Boyle, and even Isaac Newton.
Ripley’s reputation widened through his association with the so-called “Ripley Scrolls,” which include poetry associated with his work—but no evidence has yet been found that Ripley designed the scrolls himself.
Approximately 23 copies of Ripley Scrolls are in existence that range in size, color, and detail—all of them variations on a lost 15th century original. They contain symbolic references to the famous Philosopher’s Stone—the ultimate goal of every alchemist…. And they are fantastic to behold.
A likeness of Ripley is etched into the right pane of a stained glass window inside Bridlington Priory (dated to the 1800s), but rumors of a memorial stone honoring him in the graveyard (or even headstone) were not borne out, and the truth is muddied by conflicting claims that he left Bridlington and eventually became an anchorite near Boston in Yorkshire (or did he?). [click here to see the window detail]
I’ve been mesmerized by Ripley ever since the Getty Museum held an exhibition on alchemy in 2018 and featured an enormous Ripley Scroll—one that formerly belonged to the occultist Manly P. Hall (founder of the Philosophical Research Society in Los Angeles where I taught a graduate course on “Jung’s Structure of the Psyche” in 2018).
I was wild for the Getty’s entire alchemy exhibition and visited it as often as I possibly could over the course of several weeks (taking David Brafman’s phenomenal tours repeatedly)—even chasing it to Berlin when a similar alchemy exhibition was held there (a pale imitation, I assure you).
No doubt I will continue to chase George Ripley, so stay tuned!
We took a pleasant stroll around the church to view the grounds… the Priory used to be more than twice this size, and was surrounded by monk’s lodgings before the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in 1537. Their quarters were all torn down long ago, and in modern times have been replaced by a low-key prayer labyrinth and simple memorial to its most famous prior, St. John of Bridlington.
St. John was an English saint of the 14th century who enjoyed a reputation for great holiness and for miraculous powers, such as changing water into wine, and sustaining the lives of five seamen when they beheld a vision of him saving their lives whilst they were in danger of shipwreck. He was commended for the integrity of his life, his scholarship, and his quiet generosity.
He died in 1379 at the age of about 59, and was canonized in 1401—the last English saint to be canonized before the English Reformation. A grand and enormous shrine was built to honor him, and it became a major destination for pilgrims. It was tragically demolished by Henry VIII, who ignored the pleas to spare it.
From Bridlington Priory, we made our way down the street to tour the (free) Bayle Museum (pronounced Bay-ul), a medieval gateway to the priory precincts, and the last remaining vestige of the original Bridlington Priory apart from the church itself.
One delightful aspect of visiting the Priory was how we were allowed to take Moose inside with us. He loved it! The Bayle Museum, however, was not so accommodating about allowing our canine companion within…
But let’s get to the good stuff!
On June 2nd, Robin celebrated his birthday. It happened to coincide with the kickoff of festivities celebrating the Queen of England’s Platinum Jubilee, marking her 70 years on the British throne.
Robin says that the Queen was crowned on his second birthday (June 2, 1953), and then she visited Australia the following year. His parents—both of them staunch royalists—bought a number of souvenirs that were offered to the Australian public to commemorate that visit. Among these items was a miniature coronation coach and horses.
This coach became a favorite plaything of 3-year-old Robin. He later learned from his parents that he would crawl under the kitchen table and push it around on the linoleum floor while making car noises.
We celebrated Robin’s birthday by seeing our first theater movie since Cyprus. Robin wanted to see “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” and I thought it was perfect, because we both love the Marvel franchise and I’ve always thought of Dr. Strange as seeming to possess type preferences for INTJ.
The theater featured lots of Platinum-Jubilee-themed decor, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely, even treating ourselves to a “Jubilee Prosecco Kir Royale” cocktail in the Queen’s and Robin’s honor. Later that evening we feasted, and then Robin blew out a candle on his chocolate cheesecake birthday cake.
The following day was the official start of the Platinum Jubilee celebration, so we bustled downtown and partook in those village-wide festivities. It was thrilling to hear the Lord Mayor of Beverley (Linda Johnson) read out the royal proclamation marking Queen Elizabeth’s 70th reigning year, followed by a uniformed police band playing “God Save the Queen.” I actually teared up! It felt like I was living inside a movie.
Robin and I strolled around afterwards and were entertained by singers, old cars, clog dancers, ballet dancers, and even caught a tantalizing glimpse of two comedians wearing cheesy plastic armor and riding unicycles whilst carrying jousting rods, as if they were errant knights.
Once again my heart was touched when some performers sang “We’ll Meet Again,” a ballad made famous by British singer Vera Lynn during WWII, and its lyrics were echoed by the Queen during the darkest days of the Covid pandemic in an address to the nation intended to endow her subjects with strength and resolve. This day of Platinum Jubilee celebration when the whole country seemed to come out of isolation to honor her seemed to embody that hope.
Eventually we ended up at St. Mary’s church once more, where we were permitted to visit an attic area known as the “Priest’s Rooms,” where they stored old bits, such as a couple of medieval village stocks and a “scold’s bridle” that was commonly used to punish gossiping women, fitted with a tongue depressor that would keep its wearer from moving their tongue (see photo).
Afterwards, we were permitted to climb high up into the church tower and receive a brief lesson in church bell ringing. Then we climbed up yet another steep flight of spiral stairs and stepped out onto the roof where we enjoyed a good view of Beverley village down below.
We were especially lucky because at that moment a WWII Spitfire flew overhead, circling several times—a taste of days gone by! Now I really felt like I was living inside a movie! Robin shot a video but unfortunately it cut out after a few seconds. It’s here if you want to get the idea: https://youtu.be/YbaY1Oi0IBQ
The Platinum Jubilee festivities will be ongoing throughout the entire weekend, so we may partake in a bit more frivolity before we’re finished.
In that spirit, and pretending for the moment that we are living inside that movie: God Save the Queen.
warmly, -Dr. Vicky Jo