We said our wistful goodbyes to Terry, the gorgeous, temperamental fashion-model Burmese, bundled the last of our things into the car, and set off for Isleham (pronounced eyes-lam), a 3-hour car trip away. Isleham is a village near the town of Ely, a destination that’s long been on my wish list.
Ely is built on an island that is the highest land in the center of marshes and wetlands known as "the Fens." Draining commenced here in the 17th century, and Ely ceased to be an island, although the city is still known as "The Isle of Ely."
Before the Fens were drained, eel fishing was an important activity, from which the settlement's name may have been derived—so yes, there were eels in Ely! They even have an eel festival every May.
Great controversy is still ongoing over the origin of Ely’s name, however, with competing hypotheses being put forward. One I particularly like is the idea that the city gets its name from the word "Elysium," later shortened to “Ely.” A chamberlain once described the area as "an ancient place of great spiritual importance to the people of the region, a paradise." This was later changed by a historian who substituted the Latin term for Paradise: “Elysium.” Thus, Ely = Elysium.
So we may well be wintering in Paradise.
When we arrived in Isleham, we had a hand-off with a previous sitter, unpacked our stuff, and took up residence in the new home.
I think we made a pretty soft landing!
For one thing, we were originally supposed to care for two big dogs and two cats. But the homeowners decided to take the dogs with them to Ireland after all. So no dogs, which means less feeding, less walking, and less picking up poop! They also decided to depart sooner than we arranged for, which is why a sitter was in residence when we arrived.
The house is a dream! It’s one storey with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The building is fairly new, and the floors and fixtures will be easy to maintain. It has an open kitchen plan, and a huge bathtub beckons me… Each of the rooms has individual climate controls, and the floors are heated! (That’s not a feature we’ve experienced before; and how lovely for the winter months.) A gardener comes around and takes care of the lawn so we don’t have to worry about that at all. We are thrilled with our new circumstances, especially since we will be here through Christmas and into the New Year, departing February 2nd.
Best of all—the cats! They are Tonkinese, and they look different from any kind of cat I’ve known. I’m not sure I’ve met a Tonkinese before… Long and elegantly thin. They remind me of an Avon perfume bottle my mom gave me waaayyy back in high school.
I don’t know whether it’s germane to this breed or what, but their personalities are standout! They know their names, and they boss us around about needing to go outside, get fed, or be petted. They aren't shy!
Robin is delighted because Ozzie likes to lie across his shoulders and is content to be carried around that way, like a living fur collar.
Poppy puts out more feminine energies, and while both cats like to lick us, Poppy is a little bit neurotic about doing it—as if she doesn’t know how to “relate” to us except through a maternal standpoint.
Here is a 1:25 video of Poppy obsessively cleaning my hand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARS55_wruFk
Both of them like cuddling with me in my “office,” and compete for who gets to occupy my lap.
Best of all, the cats get along well with each other, and I often find them sleeping in the “Tao” position.
Having said all that, they are cats, and their hunting instinct is operational and active. I have been keeping score and the tally board currently reports: 3 live mice; 2-1/2 dead ones. That's how much they love us! It's fun to see what joy they bring us (not).
As it happens, we were gifted a third mouse by Ozzie just as I was writing this. Here are my escapades of trying to rescue one of the live ones while Robin was away. My playlist consists of two videos: first up is 6 minutes of me trying unsuccessfully to dispose of a mouse... followed by 30 seconds of me freeing the mouse at last: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCV3SRcFRFJ6DlsT01yDZHixrO0xS6Ktr
Followed by our brief 7-second flash of freeing a second mouse together: https://youtube.com/shorts/q_S0SIMobSY
Mice aside, we have been busy little beavers! Robin has been teaching classes and I’ve been taking classes, working with clients, and developing content, as well as trying to push an issue of Psychological Perspectives out the door. Whew!
We also got some protection!
No, it's probably not what you’re thinking—we got our flu shots.
I had no reactions to the vaccination, but Robin ended up feeling yucky a couple of days afterward (but who knows whether it was the shot or something else). I for one am glad we’ve had them, given some complaints I’ve seen from people suffering with winter flu.
Let me tell you about our sightseeing adventures.
First, we made a necessary road trip in order to make an important transaction in Birmingham, which culminated in a return visit to the Bullring shopping center and associated markets.
This time I made a point of getting a selfie with their iconic bronze bull (a bit different from the charging bull statue of Wall Street).
I skittled back into the crowded Bullring market building (adjacent to the fancy, upscale shopping center) and snapped up a new hat for my hat collection. (Dya like it?!)
Visiting Birmingham once again brought us into close proximity with Lichfield Cathedral… and since Lichfield is a hidden gem amongst British cathedrals, we couldn't resist a visit. And what a treat it was!
The building of Lichfield’s present-day Gothic cathedral was begun in 1195, and this is the third cathedral to be built on the spot. Its greatest claim to fame is being one of only three cathedrals in the UK with three spires, and, judging solely by its exterior, this is a beautiful building.
I may be overstating it, but I thought the front façade of Lichfield Cathedral was on par with the world-famous Wells Cathedral, although its splendor is largely due to extensive renovation during the Victorian era by the well-known figure George Gilbert Scott. (This was Scott's first cathedral commission.)
The carving is lush and extensive, with around 160 statues projecting directly from the stonework (rather than sitting in special niches), and the west front shown here has as many as 113 religious statues: of the patriarchs, the prophets, some women of the Old Testament, all the Archangels, Apostles, some early Church saints, several British saints, Old English kings and post-Conquest kings up until Richard II, some bishops associated with Lichfield, and more.
Here’s a close-up of one of the front doors so you can enjoy a sampling.
During the English Civil War, the cathedral suffered extensive damage: the central spire was demolished, the roof ruined, and all the stained glass smashed. Restoration was begun in the 1660s, but it was not until the 19th century that the damage was fully repaired.
The interior of the cathedral featured a lovely warm and “holding” ambiance. I was impressed to learn that Lichfield Cathedral became the first place of worship in the UK to host the vaccination program during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The cathedral is dedicated to St. Mary (what a surprise!) and St. Chad.*
Now the name “Chad” often makes me laugh, because it seems like the “frat boy” version of “Karen.” So I’ve had to accustom myself to the idea that there even could be a “Saint Chad.” Robin affiliates “Chad” with references to “chads,” those small bits of paper from the holes in computer-punched cards (and also from ballots when voters use voting machines). Following the 2000 US Presidential Election disaster with George Bush and Al Gore, it was jocularly suggested that “Chad” was the patron saint of botched elections! But let’s get serious. Who was this guy?
Chad of Mercia was a prominent 7th-century Anglo-Saxon Catholic monk who was the brother of Cedd, who died of the plague and is also a saint. Chad is mentioned in the work of the Venerable Bede (remember my visit to Bede’s gravestone?) and is credited, together with Cedd, with introducing Christianity to the Mercian kingdom.
Bede claims Chad and his brother were students of Aidan in Lindisfarne (remember my story of Aidan on Lindisfarne?). Following his brother’s death, Chad continued teaching the values of Aidan and Cedd. His life was one of constant travel. Bede says Chad regularly visited towns, cottages, villages, houses, and the countryside to preach the Gospel, mimicking the traditional model of prophet or missionary.
Chad always journeyed on foot instead of horseback, no matter how great the distance involved. In Chad’s tradition, the horse was regarded as a symbol of power and might. Aidan was celebrated for giving away to the poor a horse he received as a gift from the King of Northumbria. But Chad’s insistence on walking was rejected by Theodore, the Archbishop of Canterbury. He ordered Chad to use a horse for long journeys. Bede tells us they had a direct confrontation about the issue and Theodore actually lifted Chad up into the saddle in order to have his way. (Now that's pushy!)
When Chad was made Bishop of Mercia in 669, he moved to Lichfield, possibly because it was already a holy site, the scene of several martyrdoms during the Roman period. Chad worked in Mercia and Lindsey for only two years before he too died during a plague. He was practically made a saint before he died according to Bede.
Several cases of healing transpired at his tomb and, as center of an important cult focused on healing throughout the Middle Ages, his shrine ranked among the three most important centers of medieval pilgrimage in the country.
A lovely story is told about his death: Bede tells us Owini was working outside the oratory at Lichfield. Inside, Chad studied alone because the other monks were at worship in the church. Suddenly, Owini heard the sound of joyful singing coming from heaven, gradually approaching closer until it filled the roof of the oratory itself. Then there was silence for half an hour, followed by the same singing retreating back the way it came.
Around an hour later, Chad called Owini in and told him to fetch the brothers from the church. Chad then gave his final address to the brothers, urging them to maintain the monastic discipline they had learned. He told them he knew death was near, speaking of death as “that friendly guest who is used to visiting the brethren.” He asked them to pray, then blessed and dismissed them. The brothers left, sad and downcast.
Owini returned later and saw Chad privately. He asked about the singing he heard. Chad told him he must keep it to himself for the time being: angels had come to call him to his heavenly reward, and in seven days time they would return to fetch him. So it was that Chad weakened and died after exactly seven days—on March 2, which remains his feast day. Years later, someone claimed to have seen the heavenly company coming for Chad’s soul and returning with it to heaven. Significantly, in the company of that heavenly host was Chad’s brother, Cedd.
Lichfield Cathedral unveiled a bronze statue of St. Chad in 2021 facing the last leg of the original pilgrimage route that funneled millions of people to Chad's shrine in their quest for healing prior to the Reformation. You are warmed by his countenance and blessing as you walk up the road.
It’s a beautiful composition, and I regret not getting the photo while it was still daylight.
For hundreds of years, pilgrims visited his shrine and prayed, and many miracles were recorded. For example, one lunatic who usually wandered from one place to another in his madness entered the shrine unnoticed and spent the night there. The following morning, he appeared before people absolutely sound (sane), and recounted his miraculous story of healing near St. Chad’s relics.
During the Middle Ages, Chad’s skull was separated from his body and enshrined in a small reliquary that was placed inside a special chapel located on an upper story of the Cathedral that has been known as “St. Chad’s Head Chapel” ever since.
A priest would have stood on a balcony in front of the Head Chapel holding high a lavishly decorated box containing Chad's skull for all of the visiting pilgrims to see.
In 1538, Chad's ornate marble shrine was dismantled by order of King Henry VIII, and the bones of St. Chad were either destroyed or buried in an unknown location. I'm not going to regale you with the vicissitudes of that story because it is sooo complex (though fascinating).
Suffice it to say that venerated relics thought to belong to St. Chad still exist, and only a week ago some of these were “translated” to Lichfield Cathedral with great pomp and circumstance and placed in the Lady Chapel at the rear of the cathedral.
I didn’t know it at the time of our visit, but they're in this chapel somewhere… beneath the fabulous Kempe stained glass windows. As one orator proclaimed during the translation service:
2022 marks 1350 years since the death of our co-patron saint: Saint Chad. It seems fitting that this should be the year a shrine is reinstated at Lichfield Cathedral.
I find it fascinating how ancient relics, shrines, and pilgrimages are becoming popular once again, with the pendulum perhaps swinging back the other way.
The cathedral's Chapter House was completed in 1249, and it is one of the most beautiful parts of the church, containing interesting oddities tied to the history of the cathedral, including stone carvings, artifacts from the Staffordshire Hoard (currently on tour), the Lichfield Angel, and the cathedral's greatest marvel, the Lichfield Gospels, an 8th-century illuminated manuscript. Hm, which of these shall I talk about first?!?
Let’s go with the manuscript.
You may remember I was kvelling about The Lindisfarne Gospels only a few weeks ago. I compared it to The Book of Kells, which was written decades later. I was astonished to learn of an interim book betwixt them: The Lichfield Gospels, also known as The Book of Chad. (Yes, I snickered when I wrote "Chad.")
These gospels, dating from 730, were written 20 to 30 years after The Lindisfarne Gospels, and pre-date the famous Book of Kells by about 60 years—and the painting techniques resemble these other illuminated manuscripts (although it contains far fewer illustrations).
It has been in Litchfield since the 10th century, but those 1,300 years resulted in significant wear and tear. The manuscript suffered serious water damage at one point and sadly shows some cockling (wrinkling or warping). During a rebinding in the 1960s, the pages were dipped in a conservation chemical that helped cure the cockling but may have caused the pigments to flake and fade. (The fading breaks my heart.)
This volume was assembled nearly 50 years after St. Chad's death and was probably created to adorn his shrine, not unlike the story of The Lindisfarne Gospels and its designation atop Cuthbert’s shrine.
It contains the gospels of Matthew and Mark and the early part of Luke, written mainly in Latin but with some text in early Welsh. Originally there were two volumes, but in 1646, during the English Civil War, Lichfield Cathedral was sacked and its library looted. This is probably when the second volume of gospels was lost.
You can view some of the pages here: https://lichfield.ou.edu/st-chad-gospels/features
Lichfield Cathedral has granted Creative Commons licensing for its images, and they may be downloaded here: https://lichfield.ou.edu/st-chad-gospels/gallery
I was—as usual—charmed by this image of the tetramorph, with each Evangelist displaying their own "trademark" symbol.
It turns out that all these creatures were winged in order to show a connection between the Evangelists' words and heaven—something I hadn't known before.
Now onto a more recent discovery of something else quite ancient: the Lichfield Angel.
The Angel was discovered in 2003 during an archaeological dig underneath the sanctuary. Three pieces of carved limestone dating from the 8th century were discovered that—when put together—portrayed the Angel Gabriel.
It is presumed this panel comprised the side of a stone chest that formed part of the 9th century Saxon shrine of St. Chad that contained his relics. Quite possibly it was broken deliberately and hidden in fear of Viking attacks during the 870s. (Remember those barbaric Viking attacks on Lindisfarne Island?)
This carving is almost certainly one-half of an Annunciation scene, the announcement by the Angel Gabriel to Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus Christ.
The cult of St. Chad was heavily promoted during the early 9th century, and the construction of the shrine and carving of this Angel may have been devised to make the shrine more attractive to pilgrims. The portion of the panel depicting Mary may still lie buried underneath the cathedral.
Excavations beneath the floor were led by a cathedral archaeologist, and little of the archaeology of the nave was even known before this work commenced.
Portions of an Anglo-Saxon cathedral were uncovered, as well as the periphery of the Norman era nave. A sunken chamber was found, and, using evidence from the writings of Bede, it was identified as the remains of the original shrine to St. Chad.
The Angel was recovered from a burned structure and the two main pieces were lying face down on the rubble, possibly as a mark of respect. Fortuitously, this act helped preserve the original pigments, which are unusually bright for an ancient stone sculpture.
It was once decorated in shades of red, white, and yellow, and Gabriel may have flaunted a gilded halo. These pigmentations are similar to those that were used to paint The Chad Gospels, and its style of carving shows the sculptor was influenced by 6th-century Eastern Mediterranean styles.
Once the excavations were completed, the nave was refilled. The Angel was then unveiled to the public in 2006, and visitor numbers to the cathedral trebled.
As you can tell, we had a great time visiting this little museum… but there was more to see!
Even though the quire was roped off, a nice man allowed Robin under the rope to photograph the misericords. Most of them were decorative rather than figurative, but I was greatly charmed by this one.
There’s nothing like a knight slaying a dragon to get my imagination going! And the carving is exquisite.
Strolling around the ambulatory, Robin came across a memorial to Erasmus Darwin. It proclaims he was a Philosopher * Physician * Scientist * Poet—and he also happened to be the grandfather of the legendary biologist Charles Darwin.
Dr. Darwin was such a well-regarded physician that King George III invited him to become the official Physician to the King, but Erasmus turned him down so he could stay in Lichfield and philosophize instead.
All too soon it was closing time. We wandered outside and circumambulated the building, enjoying its glowing Gothic glory (echoes of Notre Dame in many ways).
We drank in the beautiful exterior, plentifully studded with remarkable gargoyles that charmed and delighted our senses.
I hope we may return to Lichfield someday to take in other sights there, such as visiting the Erasmus Darwin house and seeing the other holy sites that are linked to St. Chad.
I have thrilling news to impart: at long last I have been published in a hard-backed book! My chapter, titled “The Lost Art of Personification,” has been published in Collective Structures of Imagination in Jungian Interpretation.
Should you wish to purchase a copy (warning: it is expensive!), it retails for €157 and may be purchased from the publisher via this link: https://brill.com/display/title/59678
Alternatively, you can buy just my chapter as a standalone PDF download from the publisher for €29.95 (about US$31) via this link: https://brill.com/display/book/9789004468757/BP000013.xml
It’s exciting to be published in a real, printed, hard-backed academic book at last (unlike the academic eBook on the Dialogical Self that I’m also published in).
Robin and I are generating ideas about where to dine this Thursday. Obviously American Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated in the UK (duh!), so we’re always challenged about how to compensate. One of the questions is always around whether it’s vital for me to consume turkey. When we celebrated Thanksgiving in Paris, I satisfied myself with a turkey sandwich from Subway in between sight-seeing venues. We haven’t figured out what we’re going to do here yet, so stay tuned.
In that spirit, and to all my American friends, enjoy a Happy Thanksgiving!
warmly, -Dr. Vicky Jo
*Bede referred to Chad as “Ceadda”—why couldn’t we have stuck with that, however it’s pronounced. Wait—is it “Chad-duh”? Yeah, okay, that might be worse.