Updated: Sep 13, 2022
I read you loud and clear! Some complaints trickled in after last week’s posting about the length of my missive. And that was after I cut about a third of it. But I hear your pain. In fact, it took me longer to assemble than it did to sightsee it in the first place!
Ain’t nobody got time for dat. So I have resolved to cut back and severely limit my bulletins. That should make it easier on everyone, me included. This issue is a half-measure as I scale back my size.
We are back in Littlebeck with the kittehs! We think they got together and decided to mess with us for the first couple of days… After enjoying a meal we prepared for them with our delicate dainty hands, they made themselves scarce for the next 2½ days, to the point where Robin was fretting something dire had happened to them.
Eventually I think rain drove them back inside, and after another meal or two and some frenzied petting, they seem to have gotten comfortable with spending time inside with us (which gratifies Robin). As we speak, Mackerel is cuddled up by my feet. We’ll see whether we can convince him to sleep with us.
Here we see Ginger (the ferocious one), Edie Rue (the elusive one), and Mackerel (the mischievous, affectionate one).
The homeowner is currently somewhere in Scandinavia for two months, working with an opera company. As an in-demand costume designer, she often goes abroad to lend her talents to various theatrical productions. We don’t normally share intimate details of our hosts, but she has a five-minute video posted on her website (check it out!): https://www.suewillmington.co.uk/video/
Now in case you haven’t heard, the Queen is dead. Long live the King.
I think most of us have been waiting for this to happen on the heels of her marvelous Platinum Jubilee, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
When we were aloft in Hull cathedral a few months ago, our guide showed us the muffles they put on bell clappers in order to announce the death of a dignitary.
It was unfortunate to be in Littlebeck, far removed from any cathedrals and unable to hear the clamoring bells that signify the Queen’s death—a sound not heard across the UK for 70 years. It is hard not to be tearful as we see the many lamentations posted on social media; she was a Big Deal in the world for decades.
Here is a video (0:37) of bells chiming for her in Newbury—all the bells appear to be muffled save one (probably the tenor bell on the backstroke): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Klkk3S9Elm0 (If you look carefully, you can see the muffle on one of the clappers.)
Here is Christ Church's Great Tom bell tolling half-muffled (0:33) for the death of the Queen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRIPBNFT8e4
I will tell you about a couple more churches we visited on our way here to Littlebeck.
After checking out of our hotel in Oxford we visited the church of St. Mary the Virgin just up the road from us in Iffley. It is a gorgeous example of late Romanesque architecture built in the 1160s and affiliated with the same family who owned Kenilworth castle (do you remember our sit in Kenilworth last summer? A lovely bit of synchronicity!).
The church is substantially as it was originally when built, apart from the early 13th century extension that was added at the east end.
The building features not just one, not merely two, but actually three gorgeously carved Norman portals—an embarrassment of riches!
A little bit of damage can be detected, but overall they are well preserved and stunning to behold.
As before, Robin and I visited this church during the pandemic, but we hardly remembered any of it—which I find frightening. How could we forget this fabulous church?!
The double set of arches featuring Norman carving that lead toward the chancel simply take one’s breath away… and if you peer into the chancel, you see more carved arches overhead. It seems like a time capsule from the past.
The stained glass in these windows is more modern, dating from the 20th century, but their surrounds likewise feature that extraordinary Norman carving and betray the thickness of the walls.
That round center window is known in church architecture as “the eye of God.”
Robin shot a 4:50 video of the church interior/exterior here: https://youtu.be/ltJw2dkTY0Q
Here also is a 2:38 drone video exploring the church, the surrounding area, and the interior: https://youtu.be/tIGpcnWOyDY
During our travels we tripped over this restaurant—unfortunately we had just eaten lunch or I might have been tempted to try it! It certainly made me laugh.
Before heading off to Littlebeck we made one final detour, this time to St. Mary’s in Kidlington.
Why here? Well, when we were visiting Christ Church we asked a docent whether there were any misericords in the chapel. She disclosed they had none, but said if she were to look for misericords herself, she would head for Kidlington, to St. Mary’s… and since it was en route for us, we decided to follow her tip.
The building shown here dates from 1220, when it was built on the site of a smaller Saxon church.
Inside the nave is some remarkable painted glass, including an image speculated to be Thomas Beckett, and another featuring St. Frideswide restoring the sight of King Algar (remember her legend?), plus a seraph, the crucifixion, some kings, and the Trinity, among others.
It was reassembled from fragments in 1826, and once again in 1951. We had great fun examining each section (called "lights"). The general effect overall is harmonious and brilliant.
Yep, we found misericords—said to have been brought here from an abbey in 1250 by the church rector. Dated to the early 13th century, these are rumored to be the oldest misericords in all of Britain.
To be honest, they were a little disappointing. They didn’t have the ornate carving on them like we had seen recently at New College in Oxford… but since these were the oldest misericords, perhaps they were made before it became fashionable to carve them lavishly.
At minimum, you can detect how the design seems a bit different—more like a saddle than the flat seat we’re accustomed to seeing. For that reason, I’m glad to have seen them.
The nave also featured a medieval glass panel copied from a famous window I had just seen at New College a day before.
Portraying Faith, Hope, and Charity, these are painted glass rather than stained glass, and they were eye-catching and beautiful.
One final note about this church: I appreciated how they filled the empty niches with contemporary religious carvings that had something elemental—possibly archetypal—about them. It was an evocative combination.
It has made me heartsick to see empty niche after empty niche in the various churches we’ve visited that were vandalized by the Reformation or Cromwell’s soldiers. To fill the niches again with spiritually significant objects restored some of the sacredness—not pretending to be copies of whatever was placed there before, but instead something new and different, yet old and evocative. I wish more churches would follow their lead.
After Kidlington, it was back into the car and straight up to Littlebeck where we’ve spent the past several days settling in, getting adjusted, buying groceries, taking the car in for some work, and catching up on projects.
I cannot close without mentioning 9/11, which we are commemorating 21 years later today. That was a difficult, hair-raising day when Robin was teaching in New Jersey and could not get home to me, anxiously watching the newscasts in L.A.
Robin had been in the Twin Towers with his son a few years earlier during Christmas holidays. After the attack and his class was cancelled, he made a pilgrimage into New York City on the subway to survey the damage, and found scenes of people doing their best to recover in the aftermath. He captured some words and images on this web page: http://www.domni.com/Robin/Sept11/
He was actually scheduled to teach in the Twin Towers himself two weeks hence; only by the grace of God was it not that day.
Today is a day of grace and mourning in myriad ways.
Gazing through the rectangular window that has views resembling an ever-changing postcard throughout the day, I watch the occasional parade of horseback riders and dogwalkers, and I also see the weather beginning to turn.
It’s definitely Fall, and will be Winter soon.
warmly, -Dr. Vicky Jo
PS: It’s still too long. I’ll do better.