Stained Glass and Other Marvels
Zero-to-sixty in no time flat! That’s how it feels coming back from the holiday break. We have been making up for our down-time in a big way, and trying to recover lost ground.
We kicked things off with a visit to the Stained Glass Museum located inside the south triforium of Ely Cathedral, where they boast of being the only museum dedicated to the art of stained glass in the UK, and one of only a handful of places in the world with such a broad chronological span of stained glass on exhibit.
Mind you, the V&A and the Yorkshire Museum also have extensive and impressive collections of stained glass, but they are not dedicated solely to this craft as the Ely museum is. And I’ve been tryna get here for years!
Ely’s stained glass museum displays over 125 stained glass panels in its permanent gallery, representing 800 years of the history of this ancient art, from the 13th century up to present day. These few represent only a small percentage of the 1,000 stained glass panels in their care, taken from both religious and secular buildings and from all parts of the British Isles.
Furthermore, the panels are arranged in chronological order, so it is like walking through a timeline of stained glass art.
The remarkable panel below comes from Soisson, France and is dated circa 1210. It is titled simply “Bust of a King.”
The image seems to have an air of the Romanesque about him—you probably remember how much I like the Romanesque (or “Norman,” as it’s called in the UK).
This next image represents the annunciation, the moment when the angel notifies Mary she is going to be the mother of Jesus. It is dated circa 1340.
The glass seen in the right panel is mostly genuine medieval glass. This shows the use of yellow (or silver) stain, invented at the beginning of the 14th century, which made the coloring of features such as hair and crowns much easier.
Peeking out behind me is St. Bartholomew, who would have been high up in Winchester Cathedral in the nave clerestory. He is dated circa 1404–1422.
Mind you, I’ve seen a lot of stained glass in the past three years when we’ve visited cathedrals and parish churches, but they are often situated up high or somehow out of reach, so it was especially rewarding to view them backlit at eye level.
Of course I couldn’t resist a selfie with my namesake in her stained glass representation!
This piece was created in 1910 to commemorate the 1837–1901 reign of Queen Victoria. Tragically, the talented artist who created it died in action at Gallipoli in 1915.
Naturally there was representation from the Pre-Raphaelite contingent!
These angels were designed by Edward Burne-Jones and manufactured by the William Morris Company between 1910 and 1912, long after the artist’s death.
As you might imagine, we reveled in this stained glass glory for hours. We practically had to drag ourselves away. Our visit was simply numinous. (I could show you soo many images we were entranced by—I’m trying not to go overboard!)
I was particularly taken with this stained glass image of St. Christopher and the Christ child, constructed in 1928.
You may recall that after my encounter with him in Aachen Cathedral (in Germany) I have somewhat treated him as our personal patron saint, given he is the patron saint of travelers, and we’ve done our fair share of traveling during the past three years.
I’m sure you know the story, but if you don’t, this 5:09 video does a reasonably good job of telling the legend (and shows some evocative artwork of the saint at the same time): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQg5SF56p8g
It should be noted that Saint Christopher did not become popular until the 7th century, around three centuries after his supposed death. This adds credibility to the likelihood that St. Christopher was merely a legendary figure and not a real person. (It has also been suggested he was modeled upon Hercules or tales with similar themes.)
Last, here is a piece of more modern stained glass. It was created in 1980 and is titled “The Temptation of St. Anthony.”
The hermit St. Anthony was tormented by hallucinations of demons and erotic visions, which he resisted with prayer. This panel is intended to portray these dramatic mental and spiritual torments.
Since the stained glass museum is situated inside Ely cathedral, when we departed its halls I made a beeline for the rear of the church and renewed my acquaintance with Etheldreda in her chapel, where she was looking pale and regal.
St. Etheldreda was among the most popular Anglo-Saxon saints and her shrine was one of the five most visited in medieval England. An analysis of shrine offerings during the medieval period shows her shrine to be a major center of pilgrimage until the 1520s.
This visitation bode well, because two days later we visited a parish church named for Etheldreda, which opened in 1903.
There used to be a statue of Etheldreda perched atop the roof of the front porch but it blew down in a storm. It’s safely ensconced within now, inside the porch instead of on top of it.
We had to walk a ways from the car park to get there, which gave us the sense that we were making a real pilgrimage.
Besides appearing in the stained glass window behind the altar (on the right), Etheldreda is found elsewhere throughout the church.
She’s a compelling vision in this representation with its touches of gold, especially in her crown and bishop’s crozier.
Etheldreda was among the most popular of the medieval saints in England and has even been described as one of "the most significant of all native English Saints," with only the Virgin Mary surpassing her in importance (barely).
The motivation behind our pilgrimage to this church, however, was predicated on something a bit more unusual than the statuary and colorful windows.
The claim to fame for this church is that they possess one of St. Etheldreda’s holy relics: her left hand.
The lighting is terrible and it’s nearly impossible to see what’s there. Perhaps in the next image you can make out the long, thin fingers, and even see her fingernails.
At some time around the 10th century, Etheldreda’s left hand was separated from the rest of her body. It was eventually discovered in 1810 inside a priest’s hiding-hole in a Sussex farmhouse.
In 1876 it was reported that when the hand was found it was “perfectly entire and quite white (but) exposure to the air has now changed it to a dark brown and the skin has cracked and disappeared in several places.”
Through the intercession of a local parish priest, this important relic returned to Ely in 1953.
Prayers offered near the bodily remains of a saint were believed to possess special powers. During the Middle Ages, pilgrims traveled for miles to pray at the shrines of saints where relics were kept.
The term relic derives from the Latin reliquiae, meaning "remains," and a form of the Latin verb relinquere, to "leave behind, or abandon."
A number of cures and miracles have been attributed to relics, not because of their own power, but because of the holiness of the saint they represent.
Many tales of miracles and other marvels were attributed to relics beginning in the early centuries of the Christian church. These became popular during the Middle Ages, and were collected in books of hagiography such as The Golden Legend. The miracle tales told there made relics much sought-after during the period.
By the Late Middle Ages, the collecting of and dealing in relics reached enormous proportions. Because they were an important source of income, churches went to great lengths to collect relics, sometimes even stealing them from other churches.
I wrote about this when I was on the way to house-sitting in France last spring. This theft of sacred relics, known as furta sacra (holy theft), was even considered to some degree a holy undertaking. I have a book about the practice and can hardly wait to find time to sit down and absorb it all.
When we concluded our interlude in the church, we waved goodbye to Etheldreda and the kind pastor who functioned as tour guide for us.
We headed off to the tiny Ely Museum, where I found this sign.
It was a sweet little museum obviously targeting children, given the various features positioned just below my kneecaps.
I learned a bit there about life in the Fens, along with some of the myths and superstitions of the area. When they began the drainage project to reclaim the Fens, they encountered enormous opposition from locals who were losing their livelihoods based on fishing and wildfowling. Fenmen who were known as the “Fen Tigers” attempted to sabotage the drainage efforts—and some are still calling the project England’s “worst ecological disaster.”
I even learned that an opium trade flourished in Ely due to poor living conditions and how easily opium poppies grew. (I wonder whether Poppy-the-cat was named for those poppy flowers.)
Robin is standing next to eel gleeves—or gleaves—which were spears used for catching eels. The gleeves were attached to the end of a long pole and thrust down into the water to pin down the eels, which could then be caught, sold, and eaten.
Eels were plentiful in the medieval period, and besides being eaten they were sometimes used as currency and to pay taxes. (Imagine paying your tax bill to the IRS with eels!)
Using eel gleeves is now illegal because of their cruelty.
We hope to return to the museum near the end of the month since we learned they are opening a special exhibition that features the recent discovery of the skeleton of a so-called “Princess” in an Anglo-Saxon cemetery, alongside “treasure.” I’d hate to miss that!
We also made a return trip to Newmarket. Remember we went to Newmarket on New Year’s Eve?
In the center of a roundabout barely outside the town is this remarkable horse statue of an impressive stallion rearing up alongside its handler.
At one-and-a-half times life size (15 feet tall), it really is breathtaking and the photo hardly does it justice. This beauty was sculpted in the year 2000 by Marcia Astor & Allan Sly.
No one knows who the horse is modeled after, but the handler was fashioned after a local guy who was active in the horse scene (now deceased).
Another, more recent statue features a tableau showing a mare with her foal standing with the late Queen Elizabeth. This statue was commissioned in 2016, and Her Majesty unveiled it herself to mark her 90th birthday.
Elizabeth had horses in training here in Newmarket throughout her 70-year reign. At least one morning every spring, the Queen visited the town to cast an eye over her string—she loved her thoroughbreds! When she passed away, this memorial became a focal point for the town to lay floral tributes in her memory.
One remnant of that outpouring is still evidenced by the bouquet of pink flowers near my feet, apparently left as an offering.
We kept tripping over statues of horses in and around town (I didn’t even seek out 3 others).
I had some shopping errands to run in the village, and Robin accompanied me. His eyes were drawn to these weird metal stands in a park-like area alongside the main road. I thought they were some kind of posts with Braille, but that was weird. Robin said they looked like strips of keypunch paper. Who do you think was right?!
Yes! Robin wins the prize! This little park area was a memorial to Bill Tutte, a local celebrity. Robin learned a lot about him when he visited Bletchley Park several weeks ago. Tutte worked with the code breaking team that included Alan Turing (among others), and he specialized in working on the Lorenz encoder that the Germans attached to their teleprinter machines.
These machines used punched paper tape, hence the representation of loops of tape in these metal sculptures. Through intellect and intuition alone, Tutte deduced how the Lorenz mechanism operated and was able decode German messages—all without ever actually seeing a Lorenz encoder in real life. You can read more about Bill Tutte here: http://billtuttememorial.org.uk/about-bill-tutte/
After running all our errands, we just happened to have enough time left over to return to the Mexican restaurant, and we gorged ourselves on tacos and enchiladas once more!
Mmmmm…. good! (Gosh we miss Mexican food.)
Both cats are doing swell—Poppy is becoming more lovable every day. I don’t know how I’m going to say goodbye to her when the time comes.
Our mouse count increased by one. Poppy is quite proud of her achievement.
People have been signing up for my career coaching program—it’s short, fun, and insightful! I’m trying out some new technology for doing it over Zoom, and it promises to be fabulous.
If you’re interested, you too can sign up for this program on my website: https://www.vjvphd.com/career-coaching-card-sorts
Lately I’ve been editing a book featuring interviews with Jung’s stellar assistant, Marie-Louise von Franz, and it’s exciting to have that project nearing completion. I’ll let you know when there’s something earth-shattering to report about it.
I hope your new year is shaping up to be marvelous!
warmly, -Dr. Vicky Jo