The Magical and Mysterious Number 7

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Photograph: North Entrance of Spalding Parish Church, Lincolnshire, England

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Saint Mary and Saint Nicolas, Spalding. Photo by Francis Barker 2020

Photograph: King’s Lynn Minster, Norfolk, England

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Former priory church, now a Minster. Saint Margaret’s, King’s Lynn. Photograph by Francis Barker

 

Lincolnshire Places and People

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Lincolnshire churches are quite stunning and varied.

Lincolnshire people are indeed unique – I should know, being one of them!

I sometimes think we do suffer from being ‘in-betweenies’, that is neither northern or southern. Well, the simple answer to that is that we are East Midlanders, of course.

I certainly don’t mind being called a ‘yellowbelly’ and, in all honesty, my part of the county in the south is admittedly extremely flat.

That said, I am very fond of the north of Lincolnshire; the Wolds are gorgeous, reaching as high as 500 feet around Normanby le Wold, and the coast has some of the finest beaches you will ever see.

But perhaps one of the greatest glories of Lincolnshire as a whole, is the quality and diversity of our ecclesiastical heritage. The range of churches is stunning and the county town of Lincoln has, in my opinion, the best cathedral in the whole of England.

copyright Francis Barker 2019

Haiku: Cathedral

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Praise the bishop’s chair
Build a house high around it
Culture will follow

copyright Francis Barker 2019

Poem: The Empty Naves

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The voice and song remind me
of why I don’t come.
The words and the platitudes wash over me,
echo and reverberate around this sacred space,
crying for heaven
though never finding any home.
The bats are nearer but unaware
of their advantage,
leaving me staring high into this perpendicular sky.
Is this all that is left?
Listening to Betjeman and Vaughan Williams
to stir us up,
to remind us of what once was.
This is me and you coming here,
cultural appreciators
though never spiritual partakers
in a creed we can’t believe.
Give me the fire and brimstone,
a faith which disturbs me
into knowing I’m not already saved.
It is better than this – looking up in awe
into a world that is lost.

words and photographs copyright Francis Barker 2019

England’s Heritage, Peterborough Cathedral Part III – Some special features

Peterborough Cathedral is probably one of the most underrated churches in England.

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The Gothic fan vaulting at the east end of the cathedral is remarkable.

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The cathedral also has three notable shrines to saints. The one above is Saint Oswald’s chapel, an old English saint, whose remains (reputedly an arm) were brought here.

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There is also a shrine to Saint Benedict with a beautiful wood carving at the entrance. Peterborough Cathedral is in fact the Abbey church of the former Benedictine Abbey, dissolved by Henry VIII when he became head of the Church of England.

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Most interestingly, there is a shrine to three old English (Anglo-Saxon) saints, Kyneburgha, Kyneswitha (spelling varies) and Tibba, unusual but fascinating names of a largely forgotten era.

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The spacious choir has some wonderful wood carving.

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words and photographs copyright Francis Barker 2019

England’s Heritage, Peterborough Cathedral Part II – Two Famous Queens

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Peterborough Cathedral in the east of England is one of the country’s biggest and most beautiful churches, with an association with two famous queens.

The long nave is quite stunning, with a beautiful roof and with a modern golden image of Christ suspended high as a focal point.

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The cathedral is dominated by Norman and early English architecture, with numerous examples of Norman arches, such as these interlacing examples above.

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Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England, is buried here.

The cathedral is also notable for its association with two famous queens.

The first was Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England when she was married to Henry VIII. Catherine was buried here in 1536 and her tomb is still something of a shrine to her memory, with pomegranates very prominent as her symbol because the fruit appears on her badge. Pomegranates are an ancient symbol for fecundity and regeneration.

Catherine certainly suffered much during her husband’s long and protracted break with Rome, in which she was the innocent victim, her only crime it would seem was not being able to produce a living male heir for Henry to perpetuate the Tudor dynasty. This was how she was treated after being completely dutiful to the king, but Henry had to have his way. Her motto, which translates as ‘humble and loyal’, is a phrase she very much lived up to.

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There is a portrait of Catherine by her tomb.
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Pomegranates have had a long association with Catherine of Aragon.

The second queen associated with Peterborough Cathedral is Mary Queen of Scots.

Mary inherited the Scottish throne after only a few days of being born, thrusting her into a world of political intrigue and shenanigans which she was never able to control.

She essentially became a pawn of more powerful rulers and some despicable characters. However, in 1559 she duly became Queen Consort to Francis II of France, solidifying Scotland’s long alliance with France.

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Scottish symbols hang in honour of Mary who was initially buried here in 1587.

Sadly within 18 months the young kind died prematurely. Had he lived, Mary’s life would have turned out entirely differently. As it was, she became a teenage widow and a long series of political and personal disasters ensued when she returned to Scotland. Eventually she fled to England and came under Elizabeth’s control.

After many years’ imprisonment in England, during which the still substantial Catholic faction within England with aid from Spain continually conspired to depose Elizabeth and put Mary on the English throne, she was finally executed at nearby Fotheringhay Castle in 1587.

She was initially buried in Peterborough Cathedral, but her son, James I of England, had her remains transferred to Westminster Abbey in London.

words and photographs copyright Francis Barker 2019

 

 

England’s Heritage: Peterborough Cathedral Part 1

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The west gate of Peterborough Cathedral.

Put simply, Peterborough Cathedral is one England’s best churches, though it is often not as well regarded as some others, like Lincoln, Ely and York.

This might be due in part to Lincoln’s prominent setting, Ely’s architectural distinctiveness and York’s admitted supreme grandeur.

Peterborough, by comparison, lies on the edge of the flat fens, yet in one of the primary areas of England for monastic development because of the remoteness of location. In its day, Peterborough Abbey was one of the most prominent in the whole of eastern England.

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The wonderful west front of Peterborough Cathedral, completed in the 13th century.

Originally the abbey church of Saint Peter’s Abbey, Peterborough, in the east of England, the present church was granted cathedral status (and thereby preserved) by Henry VIII, self appointed head of the Church of England, during the Reformation in the 1530s, which saw many former monastic buildings taken down and sold off. For this at least we should be grateful to England’s most notorious monarch.

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words and photographs copyright Francis Barker 2019

England’s Heritage: Saint John the Baptist Parish Church, Peterborough

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Of course, the city of Peterborough’s greatest glory is its amazing cathedral, but that subject deserves a full article of its own.

One of the overlooked features of Peterborough, a growing city in the east of England, is the Parish church of Saint John the Baptist around the cathedral square.

Consecrated in 1409 during the reign of Henry IV, its close proximity to the cathedral and the modern shopping mall attraction of Queensgate, probably detracts large numbers of visitors. However, it is well worth a visit, and as is quite usual in England’s medieval heritage buildings, there are often some wonderful ‘hidden’ gems.

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The south porch entrance is most interesting, particularly the roof in the above photograph.

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The nave is very large and light with a rood screen.

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There is also a wonderful reredos.

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One of the most interesting features is this probable vestments cupboard, dated 1569, a wonderful piece of woodcarving, which I would think is limewood, similar in style to the plethora of such art produced in Germany during the same period.

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The pulpit too had some intricate woodcarving, probably oak by the look of it, although I did not find a date on it, but I would assume it is later than the earlier piece.

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There are even a couple of examples of medieval embroidery by the door.

words and photographs copyright Francis Barker 2019

Poem: The Church Is Closed

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It’s Sunday and the west door is locked.
I’ve tried it, checked my watch, the date.
Yes it’s true, I can’t go inside.
So I walk around, a facade, that’s all it is,
tall and beautiful it may be,
with some of the finest medieval stone work anywhere,
in a county already noted for its
ecclesiastical glories – but
it’s a fossil now of former faith,
where lip services are still carried out,
fed through the waterless canals of devotion,
enacted by the tired words of priests
standing before a withered congregation,
the last one leaving making sure the door
is locked behind them
to preserve the emptiness of our time

copyright Francis Barker 2019