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Sins and Mercies

Things are still rather low-key in my world. Robin conducted an IBM MQ online training course this week for students in Papua New Guinea. That meant he started the class at 11PM each evening and taught until 7am. I won’t lie—those kinds of hours mess you up. Robin has been walking around in twilight space for several days, and that’s put the kibosh on any major sightseeing.

He would take naps, but a little doggie would suddenly get very interested. This was Robin’s attempt at a nap-time selfie with Bullitt.

Likewise, whenever I’m on the computer (like now), my new best friend Ivy (the Princess) likes to lie alongside me and remind me that I’m her human.

The third dog, Rocket, has developed a limp in his front left leg, no doubt due to advanced age, so he is getting babied and spoiled a bit. Poor little guy! (I think of him as my Grumpy Old Man—and I love him for it!)

All three of them are luvs to care for, and we’re enjoying them and their personalities immensely.

We popped into a thrift shop in Haslemere and Robin made out like a bandit! Two nice shirts and a pair of shoes for a song! (He’s wearing the shoes and one of the shirts.)

The UK is a haven of lovely thrift shops by the dozens, and we take advantage of them, as they suit our nomadic lifestyle. When we started this whole adventure in France 3 years ago, we ended up buying a few items we needed—like a bedside alarm clock—and at the end of the sit we simply donated it back to the same thrift shop. It was as though we rented it for a short while, and we all benefited from this arrangement.

We did manage to squeeze in a bit of church crawling this week, and got to a couple of tiny, remarkable parish churches, and we also visited one ruin before the heavens opened upon us…

Our first church was Selham, St. James Church, that featured an unusual herringbone masonry exterior.

This quaint country church almost certainly dates to the late Saxon period (late 11th century), and it lies in a beautiful setting near a peaceful river.

It may not look like much, but the highlight of this church is the intricately carved chancel arch; it’s a wonderful example of Saxon architecture. The capitals on both sides of the arch are carved with fascinating details in a mix of geometric design and strange beasts.

The north capital is intriguing; it was possibly plain when built, but shortly after the Norman Conquest it was carved in a mixture of Norman and Saxon styles. The upper section features interlaced chain above possibly Roman palmettes in the center, while the lower section displays Scandinavian-style (possibly Viking) serpent-creatures eating their own tails.

From Selham we went on to visit Trotton, St. George Church, another quaint parish sanctuary—this time of later origin, mostly early 14th century (although some parts date to around 1230). It stands between an early 15th-century bridge over the river and a 16th-century manor house.

This church's exterior is built of rubble with ashlar dressings and features a plain, simple, Decorated-style façade, apart from the tower which was done in Early English style.

The interior is warm and charming… It’s fairly unassuming and typical for a small parish church.

But then you turn the camera around to show the back of the church—and WOW!

In 1904, a coat of whitewash was removed from that wall, and a wall painting from the earliest days of the church was discovered—dating from the 14th century.

I admit these particular wall paintings pale in comparison (literally!) to other wall paintings I’ve shown recently… But it was worth seeing anyway.

Plenty of early churches have wall paintings; however, this one is unusually rich and detailed, and the red paintwork is in fair condition—it is remarkably vivid after 6 centuries or more.

This mural portrays the Last Judgment as it is described in Matthew 25:31–46. Jesus Christ is in the center; beneath him is Moses and on his right is the "Carnal Man," surrounded by the Seven Deadly Sins (which are fading). On Christ’s left is the "Spiritual Man" surrounded by the Seven Acts of Mercy (which are more vibrant).

Depicting these two characters—the Good Man and the Evil Man—on the opposite sides of Christ is unusual in depictions of the Last Judgment, and the church provides the following “key” to help you grasp what the motifs are:

I’m terribly disappointed by how difficult it was to discern the “jaws of dragons” around the “Evil Man”—the depictions of evil characters are always more interesting than depictions of “good” people.

I have an ongoing interest in these religious portrayals of good and evil, virtues and vices, and sins or mercies, and I enjoy conceiving of how these "opposites" relate to the domain of psychological types, as I wrote about in my article relating typology to the extraordinary tympanum in Conques (click here to read the article). It's a fascinating and compelling domain of study.

Departing from the site of this fantastic antiquity we stopped in a nearby village to run an errand. In the distance I could see some interesting crenellations, and dragged Robin down a wet road through an empty field to see what was lurking there.

Lo and behold, this was Cowdray House, one of the finest Elizabethan houses in Britain. These glorious ruins of a Tudor mansion linger on the site of a house built between 1520 and 1542. In its heyday, Cowdray was home to one of the most powerful families at the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

It looks magnificent, but have you ever seen the false fronts they use on movie sets to create fake buildings? There’s nothing behind this façade! Gutted and ruined by a fire in 1793, Cowdray is merely a shell. But oh what a shell! Its Tudor façade is said to be one of the most imposing and impressive in the UK.

According to a signboard, the story of Cowdray reads like a history of Britain, or a novel of historical romance, full of invading Normans, kings, queens, prophetic curses, fire, family feuds, imprisonment, intrigue, and rebellion, and Henry VIII himself visited Cowdray in 1538 and again in 1539 and 1545. Wow!

Unfortunately the gates were locked by the time we arrived and it was just starting to rain, so we didn’t hang around very long. It was fun to see it anyway. (Somebody tell my mom that Cowdray House featured largely in Anya Seton's historical romance, Green Darkness.)

Speaking of intrigue and rebellion, I can hardly talk about what’s going on in the U.S. right now with respect to Roe v. Wade without my hair catching fire, but I’ve considered myself a feminist since high school and I feel pretty outraged. I attended a private women’s college and helped to support a classmate in her decision to have an abortion so her life wouldn’t be ruined by a fling she had with a frat boy, so I take this personally.

Luckily it was legal, and therefore a pretty painless process for her, unlike a pal of mine who who lived in France for a time and came home one day to find a woman dead on her kitchen table. Unbeknownst to her, a roommate had arranged an illegal abortion for a desperate friend, but the doctor botched the job. Years later she was still traumatized by it. And that’s basically what the Supreme Court is sending us back to…

I’m seriously considering an idea I saw posted on social media that suggested: the next time the National Anthem is played, every woman and girl should take a knee. It is an outrage for progress to be set back fifty years and women legally relegated to being second-class citizens.

I’m not looking forward to coaching my clients this week because I’m sure this new development will have everyone in a tailspin. How can you help a woman know herself and live her highest purpose when her country’s government baldly and cruelly communicates that she has no value? It’s going to take all the skill I have to coach through that.

Wish me luck.

warmly, -Dr. Vicky Jo

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