Updated: May 8
Life has been a whirlwind this past week…
It was sad to say goodbye to all my friends after the conference. It was a deeply meaningful experience on soo many levels.
I thought the Eranos conference was mind-blowing—and then we made our trip!
We took a hop from our location in Ascona at the conference to get to our pet-sitting site in Littlebeck, Yorkshire (the north-east of the UK).
To accomplish this feat, we drove our car this route:
Through Switzerland to France…
Through Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, back to France.
We hopped on the Eurotunnel train, and in under 30 minutes we re-entered the UK.
We then raced northward through the UK and finally arrived at our destination.
The total distance we traversed was just under 1,000 miles in about 2-1/2 days.
Wow! I’m still jet-lagged. (Am I the only person who gets jet-lagged from long car trips?)
Much of it simply seemed surreal, probably because I was still in the “other world” from having attended the Eranos conference.
As we made our way out of Switzerland, I convinced Robin to take a detour to Basel. We had visited Basel during our previous trip to Switzerland, but the cathedral was unfortunately closed. But this time I got inside the church with nearly 45 minutes to see it.
45 minutes was not enough time.
For one thing, I’ve never seen so many misericords in one church before. Never! And if you know me at all, you’ll know that I’ve seen a lot of misericords!
Misericords were even the central theme of a paper I wrote, soon to be published in a book related to a presentation I gave during a Jung conference in Poland a couple of years ago. Here’s an excerpt:
An early church decoration that often escaped the iconoclasts was the misericord, a unique medieval innovation. A rule required monks to remain standing during daily offices of the church for as much as eight hours a day. Older monks had difficulty adhering to this rule, so in an act of pity a device was concocted. Called a “misericord” or “mercy seat,” derived from a Latin phrase meaning “mercy of the heart,” it consisted of a carved wooden bracket installed on the underside of the hinged seats of the choir-stalls. Monks could tip their seats up and rest on the upper ledge of the misericord, all the while giving the appearance of standing whilst really sitting. The choir seat, ledge, and bracket were fashioned from a single piece of wood, typically oak. Medieval imagiers had an aversion to blank surfaces and these craftsmen assuredly seized the opportunity to lavishly adorn these benches. (See Figure 2.)
Figure 2: Misericords showing the seat down and up.
Many original misericord carvings can still be found today since they were hidden from view when the seat was folded down, thereby escaping the notice of the destructive iconoclasts when they wantonly vandalized the opulent edifices enclosing them. With their intricate decorations, these seats displayed a wide variety of subjects, ranging from biblical scenes to local references, with all manner of fanciful representations, including scriptural angels, saints, and the four evangelists, alongside various peculiar secular characters, animals, and monsters.
These past few years I have delighted in seeking out misericords in the churches I’ve visited, and to step into the presence of soo many of them in one place, with a mere 45 minutes to enjoy them, was—well, maddening!
I purchased their misericord booklet even though it was in German just so I could linger over those images once the church closed. It wasn’t much, but at least it was something.
We also learned from a gentleman at the cathedral about how they used to have a Judensau carving on a misericord (shown below), but after WWII sensitivities it was removed and placed in storage.
(Apologies to my Jewish friends for the anti-Semitic image; it is meant educationally.)
The Judensau (literally “Jewish sow”) is a Christian folk image depicting Jews sucking on the teats or peering into the anus of a pig. Portrayals of Jews in obscene association with female pigs were used as a way of mocking them and their religion in the Middle Ages.
Anti-Semitic Judensau carvings are not something our untrained eyes would recognize in this age, but were familiar to people in the 1300s. Today, raising one’s arm in a Nazi salute is illegal in Germany. So is calling someone a Judensau. In fact, a lawsuit was fought recently by a man attempting to have a Judensau carving removed from a UNESCO church in Germany.
The reason I find this bit of trivia fascinating is because C.G. Jung attended grade school in the “gymnasium” mere yards from the Basel cathedral, and he has been accused of anti-Semitism on many occasions (a position I don’t fully agree with for a variety of reasons).
I couldn’t help wondering about the cultural climate he grew up in: if a Judensau was shamelessly exhibited in the imposing cathedral adjacent to his school, how did that influence his outlook? Anti-Semitism obviously did not prevent him from befriending Freud and other members of the analytic circle, not to overlook James Kirsch and Erich Neumann (who admittedly took him to task for being impolitic with his views), but perhaps he absorbed a collective “thoughtlessness” about that particular demographic long before any Nazis ever came to power.
Note that I'm not excusing him of anything, but it was interesting to contextualize his outlook using this misericord as a prompt.
Basel Cathedral also houses one of my favorite stained glass windows:
Apparently this was painted by Franz Eggert and installed in the 1850s, and it is a striking sight. The colors really sing to me.
The red sandstone exterior is equally marvelous, with carvings adorning the facade all the way around to the back and featuring brightly colored roof tiles.
The original cathedral was built between 1019 and 1500 in Romanesque and Gothic styles. The late Romanesque building was destroyed by an earthquake in 1356, after which it was rebuilt.
I was particularly enamored of a carved tympanum over the side door, a marvelously dramatic and oversized St. Michael killing the dragon sculpture, plus an interesting carving of a flirting couple. Robin explains the story about the couple in a short video he captured, which is available here: https://youtu.be/j2qLMnAnWy4
Unfortunately, the two (2!) crypts were closed (they contain frescoes) and a second story of the building was likewise closed, so I have informed Robin that we will have to make a return visit another time. (He says he’s working on it.)
After our Basel excursion, it was time to get back on the road again—this time heading to France for a one-night stay in a hotel in Saint-Avold. Once we arrived, we were startled to find a partitioned section alongside the receptionist desk containing two bunnies!
That’s not something we’ve tripped over before in all our travels, and we found them delightfully charming. Unfortunately, I could not coax one into taking a picture with me, even with the bribe of a dandelion stem and leaves. Oh well. (You can see them hanging out down below, right behind their “ramp.”)
After our exhausting and unbelievably picturesque drive, we arrived in the tiny village of Littlebeck, where we performed an earlier house- and pet-sit during the height of the pandemic, in February 2021. The place was as quaint and charming as ever, as though it fell out of a picture postcard.
Back then, our three cats were semi-feral, and we could barely coax them into paying us any attention or allow us to touch them.
And now—our babies have grown!
Mackerel is bigger and braver, and he even came in and cuddled with me while I was working on the computer! I nearly swooned with happiness. Ginger likewise can be quite demanding of attention now.
We aren’t here for very long, but we’ll make the most of the time we have, including some church-crawls and return trips to historic sites that were shut during the pandemic and have now reopened.
I’m really looking forward to our time together here in this beautiful place.
warmly, -Dr. Vicky Jo
PS: I have several projects in the works, so I’m doing more than sightseeing! Stay tuned: there will be more to come.