||[Jun. 23rd, 2014|11:37 am]
At the Wetherspoons pub in Berwick, posting one I wrote earlier - for this is Midsummer week, and we are once again spening it on Lindisfarne. I wrote this - once again - at the kitchen table at Farne View, once again in the expectation that at some point I will be somewhere where there is internet and be able to post it. valydiarosada is working at her laptop opposite me, helenraven has just taken her Kindle upstairs in search of peace and quiet, various menfolk (of whom only durham_rambler is known to LJ) are in the sitting-room upstairs, doing I know not what.
helenraven arrived in Durham on Wednesday afternoon, so we were able to spend Thursday morning pottering about together: after stocking up at the monthly farners' market, we told durham_rambler he was free to go, as long as he took the shopping with him. Thus liberated, we wandered in various directions and eventually drifted up to the cathedral.
For the avoidance of doubt, I think that Durham Cathedral is a wonderful building - one of the best there is, if not the best. However often I visit it, that first view down the nave, the great airy space supported by those massive towers, the tawny golden stone with its streaks of iron and the wear of centuries - well, it leaves me speechless. And whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent. So we snark of other matters instead: why choose to greet visitors to the finest cathedral building in Christendom with a banner on either side of the path, one extolling the virtues of its café and the other of its shop? We patronised neither of these.
One of these days I will visit the cathedral alone, and with no-one to be irritated by my constantly stopping to take photographs, and I will pay the required fee and make the most of it (and though I will almost certainly wear prominently visible the sash which is the mark of the authorised photographer, rather than hiding it iunder my coat for the pleasure of flashing it when challenged, I will think of weegoddess as I do so). Until then, my regrets are for the transient details, the red cord (the sort they use to mark off closed areas) coiled into a neat disk with the brass hook in the centre; the huge book of carpet samples parked next to Bishop Hatfield's magnificent painted tomb, the coloured rectangles of carpet falling from the spine of the book in an echo of the arch above the tomb. But when these are gone, I shall still have the marble drapery of a dead bishop's elaborate sleeve, the wooden cherubs of the Miners' Memorial, the least infantile cherubs I have ever seen, with the muscular arms and pugnacious faces of union officials.
I had not previously noticed 'Transfiguration', a 'new' stained glass window by Tom Denny (not all that new, though, it was dedicated in 2010, so I must have passed it, if not actually seen it before): I would not, unaided, have associated it with transfiguration: the massed figures at the base made me think of Henry Moore's drawings of people sheltering in the underground during the Blitz, and I failed to grasp the significance of the central column of clear glass pouring light onto the predominant tones of dark blue and amber toffee (image gallery). But I didn't dislike it the way I do the 'last supper' window, or the tortured tree that is Fenwick Lawsons Pietà. helenraven declined to hate the Fenwick Lawson, but we agreed on liking the embroidered kneelers in the Nine Altars chapel, with its depiction of the north-east coast (and its place in the history of the English church) in tones of blue and green, in calligraphy and textured stitchwork.
Positioned around the cathedral are display banners, each with a picture, an explanation of some aspect of the building and its history, and a question for you to consider: we went round reading them out to each other with growing incredulity, until we reachedthe panel about how different chapels are dedicated each to a particular saint, which asked: "Who would you dedicate a chapel to?" Surely the only possible answer to that is: "My mum!" Because what really irritated me about these questions is that they make it perfectly clear that information is for children.
There were several groups of children being shepherded around the building: eventually, filled with curiosity about a large plastic storage box labelled "Bede's Bones", we tackled an usher, who introduced us to a nice lady from the education department. She explained that the group of children dressed as monks were supposed to be investigating the theft of Bede's bones by questioning four suspects at different locations around the building (it would be tactless to ask cui bono?, which would cast suspicion on the cathedral as a corporate body); the group in a variety of costumes - a king, a bishop, several monks, a sheep - were performing the life of Saint Cuthbert. They didn't have anyone dressed as a Cuddy's duck, which I regretted. She also, when we asked why one of the transepts was roed off, passed on the tasty item of gossip that at evensong the previous day, a young man with no clothes on had climbed into the pulpit, and thence onto the rood screen, loosening the cross on top of it, which now needed to be secured.