Category Archives: Cathedrals and Churches

The Ungrateful (Royal) Dead of Denmark

Now I’ve heard the ultimate First-World problem:  what if a man married a queen, naturally expecting that would make him  a king, and had to settle for being a Prince Consort? Not even a King Consort? Horrors! That is what happened to poor Prince Henrik of Denmark.


Among other places, the prince is prominently featured in the spectacular series of seventeen wall-sized tapestries created to celebrate the 50th birthday of Queen Margrethe II in 1990. They actually took ten years to make, so they were finally hung in the Great Hall on her 60th birthday, in 2000.


The prince gets to wear any number of medals and attend elegant events in the Great Hall. The photo is from a poster in the hall–sadly, my invitation to the event must have been lost in the mail.


I wasn’t invited to eat in the adjoining dining room, either.


Among other royal perks, there’s a royal yacht. We happened to be in Stockholm last spring when the Crown Prince of Denmark, son of Henrik and Margrethe, sailed in for a visit.


We stood around for quite awhile so that my granddaughters could lay eyes on an actual Prince and Princess. They duly emerged and waved to the small crowd.


The Danish artist Bjørn Nørgaard painted the “cartoons”–the full-size color plans for the seventeen tapestries in the Grand Hall of Christiansborg Palace.


A gift from many Danish businesses plus the state of France, the homeland of the prince, the tapestries depict the entire history of Denmark. They throw in some guesses at the future to boot.

All through 50 years of marriage, the prince has been grousing about the slight he suffered. Now he’s 83, and he’s fed up. So the Prince Consort is refusing to be buried in the specially designed sarcophagus waiting for him and the Queen in Roskilde Cathedral.


As resting places go, Roskilde is pretty nice.


The medieval cathedral has been the burial place for Danish royalty for hundreds of years.


There’s a King’s Door which can only be used by the King and/or Queen to enter. Now, it’s not clear to me whether the Prince Consort can enter through it, but I don’t want to add insult to injury. So I’ll assume he can. In any case, he and anyone else is allowed to LEAVE through it after attending a wedding, confirmation, or funeral (obviously, not his own funeral). The bronze doors, polished and patinated to look like gold, replaced carved-oak ones from the late 1800s, were newly designed and installed in 2010.


Royalty and nobles occupy beautiful chapels. I especially like the ceilings.



The memorial sculptures range from medieval times to the 1950s or so.


Bjorn Norgaard was commissioned some years ago to design a modern-yet-traditional monument for the future burial chapel of Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik. Instead of the typical stone effigies of the great and good, it features their images sandblasted into a large gleaming egg of glass.


What’s not to like? But Queen Margrethe will apparently occupy this resting place alone. I wonder whether the Prince might still get a promotion, and if so, whether it will change his mind. On the other hand, my egalitarian, practical mind has to wonder why a lifetime of royal luxury wasn’t enough. Maybe I’m missing something.

A couple of articles about the brouhaha are at:

http://m.startribune.com/denmark-s-french-born-prince-causes-a-stir/438498423/

http://www.theguardian.com › world › … › royal-snub…

A Bad Day for Santa Croce


A Spanish tourist was just killed by a falling stone fragment inside Florence’s Santa Croce Basilica. How could this happen?


Santa Croce is one of the major sights in Florence. The interior is warmly lit and surprisingly peaceful, considering the number of visitors.

People pause to pay their respects at the tombs of the great and good:


Michelangelo…


Machiavelli…

Dante…


Galileo…


Rossini, and many others I feel like I should know.

Santa Croce is said to be the largest Franciscan church in the world, with beautiful Giotto frescoes honoring the humble monk from Assisi. 


St. Francis is believed to have actually founded this church. 

And now, it’s closed while the authorities investigate why an unsuspecting tourist was killed by a chunk of falling stone.

No tourists will be gazing up at the beautiful ceilings for awhile. The faithful will have to light their candles and murmur their prayers elsewhere in the city.

Italy has artistic treasures everywhere, but it seems there is never enough money to properly take care of them, or to accommodate the number of visitors lining up to see them. 

In 1966, the Arno River overflowed its banks, flooding much of Florence. Damage to Santa Croce took years and years to repair. There are still high water marks in the building, and some of the artworks can’t be completely restored. I hope Santa Croce can be made safe again.

No doubt lots of ink will be used as the investigation goes forward. One article about it is at:

https://www.msn.com/en-my/news/world/falling-stone-kills-italy-church-tourist/ar-AAtKeGo.

Easter Time in Helsinki


Helsinki in early April is chilly and blustery.  All the children are bundled up in one-piece snow suits. I was wishing I had one! Finland is not a place for religious pageantry and parades as in Southern Europe.


The Lutheran Helsinki Cathedral is impressive in its grand spaces, but very austere. Aside from Martin Luther gazing skyward, there’s not much to look at. And (at least on an admittedly quick stop) I didn’t see a children’s corner with little chairs, or posters about bake sales, or ladies dusting things, or a single clergy person.


The National Museum of Finland was a much more church-like experience. This pulpit is from the church in Parainen, Finland, dated 1650. At the time, Finland was a frontier to the west of Sweden–and very handy as a buffer between Sweden and Russia. Newly built churches were required to have pulpits. Lutheranism was the state religion of Sweden, and everybody was expected to sit still for it or else.


This pulpit is from the Kalvia Church, around 1726.  I like the cloudy heavens painted on its ceiling just above the preacher’s head.


Wait, there are hourglasses? Four of them? How long is this sermon going to be, anyway? Better not ask.


My favorite item was an altarpiece depicting the Last Supper. It’s from the Ylane Church, dated around 1675.


The faces are friendly and everyone is having a nice time together. There seem to be only 11 apostles. Apparently Judas has already left the building.


Jesus (with spiky sun-ray halo) seems to be holding a child in his lap. So the story is maybe doing double duty here: “Let the little children come unto me.”

The museum also had wonderful religious wood carvings dating back as far as the 1200s. I liked St. Martin on his horse, about to share his warm cloak with a beggar. He was carved and assembled from several pieces of wood around 1320.


I gazed for awhile at the Archangel Gabriel, carved and gilded around 1500.


Then I was back on the friendly but chilly streets of Helsinki, wishing I had a striped snowsuit and a red polka-dotted hat with flower ears.

Get-Well Wishes for QEII

 

qeii-telegraphI just read that Queen Elizabeth is resting indoors  for the second weekend in a row at her Sandringham home.  She didn’t make it to church on Christmas.  Now the word is that she may not be well enough to attend services on New Year’s Day either. She’s pictured above after delivering her annual Christmas address to the nation (photo from “Telegraph” article cited below).

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I visited Sandringham about a year and a half ago and was royally wowed. No photos are allowed inside the house, but the grounds and gardens are spectacular.

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Tourists enter through the same grand door as invited guests. The place is off the beaten tourist track.  It’s way in the northern stretches of East Anglia, an area blessedly neglected by travel writers like Rick Steves. It took me many years and many trips to England to finally get there. That is the whole point, for the Royal Family.  It is their private, personal residence–a place to really get away from it all.

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Naturally, there’s a gift shop, well supplied with royal portraits, china, tea towels, and stuffed Corgis.

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There’s a delightful museum, too, in the old stable block.  It holds all sorts of bits and bobs of royal life.  I was especially charmed to learn that Prince Philip (now 95) is a very decent painter. I loved his little painting of the Queen reading the morning papers.

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I wrote about the parish church in two previous posts, cited below.  It’s one of the most beautiful small churches I’ve ever seen.  Each year, locals and a few tourists line up along a fence to watch the royals walk to church on Christmas, and this year on New Year’s Day too.

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I hope the Queen is well enough to walk over to her pretty little local church and take part in prayers for New Year’s Day. Whether she makes it to church or not, I wish my favorite 90-year-old reigning queen a happy  and healthy 2017.

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https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2015/07/06/a-royal-christening-at-sandringham/

https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2015/05/07/sandringham/

https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2015/04/30/the-queens-church-at-sandringham/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/31/queen-may-attend-church-new-years-day-decision-expected-sunday/

Thanksgiving Day: A Berwick Memory

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For Thanksgiving Day, I thought I’d post some paintings from beautiful Berwick Church in southern England.  St. Michael and All Angels is a little parish church in Sussex, dating back to at least the 12th century.  Parts of it are even older, dating from Saxon days. It was given a modern artistic touch in the 20th century.

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During the First World War, the famous Bloomsbury group of artists, writers and intellectuals decamped from their London homes and occupied the Charleston Farmhouse and Monk’s House in this area.  The men were mostly conscientious objectors.  They fulfilled their patriotic duty by doing farm work in Sussex.

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In 1941, several artists from the group were hired to paint new murals and decorations in the ancient church.  These are some of the few remaining works of Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and Quentin Bell.  They depicted themselves and their friends, both as country laborers and as figures in sacred scenes.

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The artists were all free-thinkers and even atheists living unconventional, sometimes scandalous lives.  But the local religious authorities hatched an ambitious plan to give artists employment; they hoped the plan would spread all over England’s ancient churches.  That didn’t happen, but I’d like to think the Bloomsbury group occasionally attended a service at the little country church they decorated so beautifully.

Berwick Church stands as an example of cooperation and understanding between people with very different views of the world.  After the tumultuous election season Americans just endured, I think we can use some cooperation and understanding. We’re different, but we can stand together.

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As for me, I’m spending Thanksgiving Day on an airplane, heading off on a new adventure.  They’re serving pumpkin pie in the airport lounge.  It’s pretty good!

For All Saints’ Day: Henry Chichele’s Tomb at Canterbury

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Today, November 1, is All Saints’ Day, when the Christian calendar honors the departed, saintly and otherwise. After the rollicking party atmosphere of the American “Halloween,” when everyone pretends to be scary and scared, I thought of something truly scary (at least to me).  Last spring I saw the “cadaver tomb” of Archbishop Henry Chichele, who died on the 12th of April, 1443. But the Archbishop had been contemplating his own death for many years. He had his own tomb built many years before he died.  It’s elaborate and colorful, but still it’s the very opposite of vain.

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Under the brightly painted effigy of the Archbishop dressed in his finery and clasping his hands in everlasting prayer, there’s another effigy.  The lower effigy shows the good Archbishop as a decaying corpse, naked and bony.

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The archbishop not only paid for this jarring reminder of his own mortality, he forced himself to contemplate it often.  The tomb where he would someday be buried was directly opposite his ornate Gothic pulpit. The inscription reads, “I was pauper-born, then to primate raised.  Now I am cut down and served up for worms. Behold my grave.”  If that isn’t scary, I don’t know what is. But the Archbishop’s intent was to be ever-aware of the brevity of life.

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Henry is just one of many historical figures honored in Canterbury Cathedral. Another is Archbishop Thomas a Becket, murdered at the direction of King Henry II in 1170.  The exact spot where assassins surprised him at prayer is still a much-visited place of pilgrimage. Above the small altar, there’s a menacing modern sculpture of the weapons that left Thomas bleeding onto the cathedral stones. Unfortunately, King Henry VIII ordered Thomas’s tomb destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  (I didn’t realize Henry VIII had done this particular deed.  He has a lot to answer for). Today, the approximate burial place of the sainted Thomas is underneath a dark, empty chapel decorated only with a single candle left burning.

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Canterbury Cathedral, dating back at least as far as St. Augustine in 576, is one of the most interesting of all the many churches in England. I was lucky enough to attend Evensong in this ancient place of worship and history. I’d love to return.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe and the British Isles!

St. Clare of Assisi

St. Clare, detail of fresco by Simone Martini, circa 1322-1326, Public Domain

St. Clare, detail of fresco by Simone Martini, circa 1322-1326, Public Domain

St. Clare of Assisi, known also as Santa Chiara in Italy, was born on July 16, 1194 in Assisi, a hill town in Umbria. She was born to a wealthy noble family and was said to be beautiful.  In the natural course of things, she would have been married to a noble man in her early teens.  But she persuaded her parents to allow her to wait until she was 18 to marry.  By that time, she had found another love:  all she wanted was a life of prayer and poverty and service. She was one of the early followers of St. Francis of Assisi, and her presence is felt in Assisi almost as strongly as that of Francis himself.

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The portrait of Clare above is from one of the beautiful frescoes in the Lower Basilica of St. Francis. Masses are held frequently.  I wandered into one and felt immediately welcome in a crowd of people from all walks of life.

Porziuncula in Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, Assisi

Porziuncula in Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, Assisi

Clare heard Francis preach during Lent in 1212. On Palm Sunday of that year, Clare left her father’s house and went to the small chapel called Porziuncula (which means something like “small portion”). The tiny chapel, down the hill from the main town, still stands.

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But now the Porziuncula is inside the magnificent Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels. When it is still a humble chapel outside the city walls, this is where Clare met Francis, intending to leave her old comfortable life behind for good.  Her hair was shorn and she traded her sumptuous gown for a rough plain robe and veil.

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Some of the rough-woven clothing worn by both Francis and Clare is on display in Assisi.  Ordinarily, I might be sceptical, but both Francis and Clare were sainted very shortly after they died, and it is wasy to believe that their clothing was preserved.

Francis sent her to a nearby convent of Benedictine nuns. Her father was not pleased. He tried to force her to return home, but reportedly she clung to the church altar, showed him her short-cropped hair, and declared that she would marry no one but Jesus Christ. Soon, though, two of her sisters joined her, and eventually even her mother became part of the order she founded.

At the time, monastic life could be fairly luxurious.  Following the teachings of Francis meant seeking out extreme poverty and completely selfless service to the poorest of the poor.  This was a radical choice that could have been dangerous, but Francis and then Clare received approval from the Pope. Clare’s order came to be called the Poor Ladies, and later the Poor Clares.

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Today, the narrow medieval streets of Assisi look much the same as they did in Clare’s day.

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The city may be crowded in summer.  But last year I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of sunny December days there, soaking up great art in situ and being refreshed by the spirituality of the place. I’m hoping to do it again.

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Clare is present in many ways, like this elegant 1888 statue.

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She’s also present in lighthearted personal displays, like this doorside lantern where she stands cheerfully next to St. Francis and his namesake, Pope Francis.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!