||[Aug. 29th, 2013|10:38 pm]
A schoolfriend, who was also a Durham student, has been visiting for a long Bank Holiday weekend. We've been promising ourselves a visit for quite a while, but the thing that finally made it happen was her desire to see the Lindisfarne Gospels during their time in Durham "where they belong."
I don't actually buy this: the Gospels are important enough to belong in a national collection (and if I were going to get sentimental about it, I'd like to see them on Lindisfarne, which is not going to happen). But I'm very happy that it gave me a few days with a friend I don't see often enough; and once I had got over being grumpy about the way it was organised, the exhibition was worth seeing, as much for the supporting material as for the Gospels themselves, which came almost as an anticlimax at the end.
Admission is by timed ticket, and you are asked to arrive fifteen minutes ahead of the time on your ticket - and then kept waiting outside until your admission time. We were then kept for another ten minutes in a queue in the library foyer, from where we could see tantalising glimpses of an introductory video; then when we were allowed into the video room, the attendants tried to encourage us straight into the exhibition proper. I'm glad we resisted, because the exhibition had a thesis, and the video explained it: the Gospels were an attempt to weave together the Roman and Celtic strands of Christianity and so regain some of the ground lost by the Celtic church after the synod of Whitby. I had not realised the extent to which the Irish monastic settlements had retreated after that defeat, so that the creation of the Lindisfarne Gospels took place in a community which was already a reclamation, a revival (as the ruins of the priory we now see were a reclamation of territory abandoned to the Viking invasions). The exhibition brings together manuscripts, jewels and stonework, and attempts to explain the differences between the two traditions - I say 'attempts' because I couldn't always see it, certainly not in the low light and press of people (despite the timed tickets, it was busier than I found comfortable, though that may have something to do with our timing). But there were wonderful things, manuscripts which were beautiful not just in their decoration but in their actual text (I was sorry that the Gospels were open at the portrait of Saint John, which I found less appealing than his words). How can you not be amazed by a book which was read by Bede himself?
Durham is attempting to maximise tourist revenue during the visit, and everything is gospel themed: flower shows, buses in illuminated livery, the burger van on Palace Green renamed Gospels Gourmet for the duration (oh, I was so tempted to try to order five buns and two fishes). Mostly I try to ignore this, and we certainly weren't looking for gospel-themed art when we stepped inside the World Heritage Visitor Centre, just a chance to show S. a space which had been carved into the old streets since she was last in Durham. But I liked Stephen Livingstone's 'Moths and Moons', 30 pieces painted using natural pigments applied to discarded library books - scroll down the page for pictures, made for the British Library and only loosely gospel-themed.
The specification for Saturday was: it may rain, but S. would like to go to the seaside. So we started out at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, now reopened after extensive renovations. The upstairs galleries seem lighter and airier, and the historical material more extensive, but the visiting exhibition was just ugly (A retrospective of the work of Erwin Eisch). The smaller displays in the gallery showcases were better: Richard Slee's torches, each supported by its own beam of light, and his shrimping net whose net was made of glass; James Maskrey's shelf of brown jars, containing an assortment of real and imagined dietary curiosities which Captain Cook might have acquired on his travels - a jar of pickled lyrebird eggs, the eggs, like the jar, made of glass, or sauerkraut, the jar containing red (glass) cabbage. The chandeliers were good, too.
After lunch we watched a demonstration of glassblowing, then walked along the river past the sculptures, as far as the sea. Mission accomplished.
And on Sunday we went up the dale for a short walk around Harehope Quarry before lunch at the Black Bull in Frosterley.