Citywalk: Churches of London

There seems to be an abundance of churches in London. The square mile area of the City of London alone counts over 40 churches. As I had planned for a citywalk after visiting the Tower of London, I armed myself with Google Maps and an umbrella to enjoy this friday afternoon.

As the name states, All Hallows at the Tower is a must-see stop right next to the Tower. This small church is one of the oldest in London, it was built in the Ango-Saxon era in 675 on a former Roman site. It has seen many alterations, mainly in the Romanesque style. It suffered quite some destruction in WWII, as many of the churches in this area. A large part of the building has been rebuilt, like the roof.

Old walls and original Anglo-Saxon arch, and new in the interior of All Hallows ©MedievalMonologues
Anglo-Saxon foundation upon a Roman paveway at the crypt ©MedievalMonologues
Upper half of a Celtic cross, found after WWII, dated to 900AD ©MedievalMonologues

Located a little further westward in the City is St. Dunstan-in-the-East and is one of the most beautiful sites, perhaps more so because it is hidden between modern buildings and is a small haven in the bustling City. Built in ca. 1100 as gothic cathedral, it suffered severe damage in the Great Fire of London in 1666. After being almost completely destroyed by bombs in WWII, it is more of a ruin than a church. Only the tower remained intact. Nowadays it has been transformed to a public garden. If I was working in the City, I would be taking lunch here everyday. It is beautiful!


Weathered walls and arches of St. Dunstan-in-the-east ©MedievalMonologues

I had some time to spare before I needed to board the Eurostar back to Holland on Sunday. Since the weather was sunny, I went for a stroll. At an ideal spot for travelers, St. Pancras Old Church is located at a 10 minute walk behind the station. Situated on a small hill in park this little church was basking in the sun. Although it is inconclusive when it was exactly built, it has it’s origins in the dedication to the Roman martyr St. Pancras and was most likely founded before the Norman conquest. As it has been added on, rebuilt and expanded many times, the interior is a bit of an odd collection of styles, but the exterior is most charming.

St. Pancras Old Church ©MedievalMonologues

Off course, today I show you only a few examples. I hope to visit London many times and see more of the churches and cathedrals it has to offer. What surprised me is that many are still active churches in the London communities. People are really proud of the buildings and make good effort to preserve them. They have been there for a 1000 years, and hopefully will still be there in the future.

>> If you are on a budget, citywalks are an ideal way to explore London. There is so much to see! The area of the City of London offers a lot to explore by foot: many churches, St. Paul’s, gardens, Leadenhall Market, Guildhall and Guildhall Museum, the Monument, and the Thames. <<

Gothic gem at London’s southbank: Southwark Cathedral

During my stay in London I visited several churches, but Southwark Cathedral deserves a dedicated blog. This beautiful building is hemmed in between several very modern buildings and streets, but is not to be overlooked by medieval history fans.

Officially known today as the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St. Saviour and St. Mary Overie, it stands at the oldest crossing point at the Thames. References go back as far as the Domesday Book of 1086, although it is believed there was a community on this site long before that in the 7th century.

In 1106 it was refounded by the Bishop of Winchester as an Augustinian priory. It was dedicated to St. Mary, and later became known as St. Mary Overie (‘over the river’). During the reign of Henry VIII the building was rented to a congregation, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1539). In the 17th century a group of merchants bought the church from King James I for a mere £800. It served as a parrish not only to merchants, but also courtiers, actors, craftsmen and the (in)famous ladies of the Southwark brothels. In 1905 it became Southwark Cathedral and now consists of 300 parishes in the London area.

If it ever was the goal to design a Gothic cathedral to capture the divine light, it was certainly achieved here. Today I was lucky enough to see the winter sunrays cast a beautiful light through the arches. After I was welcomed by a lovely lady of the church and purchased a £1 photograph permit, I was captivated by the lightfall. Simply divine, isn’t it?

Beautiful lightfall shines through the Southwark Cathedral arcs ©MedievalMonologues

In the north choir aisle you will find a wooden effigy for a knight, carved in minute detail. Usually carved from stone, it is similar to effigies of the period of ca. 1280 considering his mail coat and coif. His identity is unknown, but it could be a member of the Warenne family who had strong ties to the church. This lonely knight’s effigy is in excellent condition.

Wooden effigy for a knight ca. 1280 ©MedievalMonologues

The most famous resident to have lived in Southwark has his own memorial: William Shakespeare. Even dear Will is happy that it’s almost spring again. He is holding fresh twigs in his hand and is contemplating a sonnet on summer, untill he can compare thee to a summer’s day and rough winds shake the darling buds of May.

William Shakespeare memorial in Southwark Cathedral ©MedievalMonologues

This was a £1 well spent, it was a very good day for taking photographs, even with my phone. I would like to invest sometime in a real camera, but that’s going to cost me a lot more than £1!

>> Take the tube to London Bridge station and walk through Borough Market – a fabulous and busy foodmarket. After your visit take a stroll along the Southbank area to see great Thames views and landmarks. <<

Southwark Cathedral as seen from the garden against the blue winter sky © MedievalMonologues

The Tower of London – we meet again

After 7,5 years I decided it was about time to visit the Tower of London again. This weekend I set out early morning, armed with my online bought ticket. Expecting a crowd, I was hoping to enter early and get a better view than last time. However, the amount of visitors was a direct result of the dreary and cold weather. I was actually first in queue, together with two ladies. When the gates opened, I walked into an empty Tower of London.

No elbows, no overexcited kids, no stressed out mums, no Babylonic confusion of tongues, no chaotic crowds, …. Wow! It is no nice to be able to take your time and take a good look around. As usual I just like to walk around a bit, just to soak up the surroundings and get a general impression, before I follow the map and routings.

Empty streets at the Tower of London ©MedievalMonologues

Initially founded by William the Conquerer 10 years after the Norman conquest, with the building of the imposing and dominating White Tower, his successors added towers, walls, fortifications and a moat. Many changes have been made in centuries of history, as is reflected in the many different styles of the towers and buildings. I especially liked the Medieval Palace. This part was added in the 13th century by king Henry III (r. 1216-1272) and his son Edward I (r. 1272-1307). It actually consists of several buildings: St. Thomas’s Tower, the Wakefield Tower and the Lanthorn Tower.

Details of the reconstructed Council Chamber with throne in the Medieval Palace ©MedievalMonologues
Wall and entrance to Lanthorn Tower ©MedievalMonologues

The White Tower now shows the Royal Armory collection. In historical order along the Line of Kings you can admire the armour for men and horse. No armour was made for Queens. I guess ladies don’t dress in a tin can and ride to war. Maybe that’s why some of the queens reigned for such a long time. It seems that harness was far from comfortable to wear, even if it could move at the joints, but preferred to being skewered in the field. It’s the warhorses that I respect most, they must have been so strong to carry all that extra weight. How different history – and today – would be like if there were no horses to fight all those wars.

Detail of the White Tower wall © MedievalMonologues

After reading ‘The Ravenmaster’ by Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife, caretaker of the ravens, I really wanted to see the ravens at the Tower. There was a little patch of snow left near the raven’s pen, and apparently some ravens are quite fond of snow. Nothing like a good roll in the snow to clean your feathers. I watched it for some time, and I never saw a bird enjoying himself so much. I absolutely adore these cheeky, intelligent birds. I filmed it with my phone. Not the best of films, I admit, but nevertheless I want to share it with you:

© MedievalMonologues.com

The Crown Jewels are the least appealing part for me, but perhaps a second visit would change that. It seemed a waste to not profit from the total absence of queues. Last time it was so crowded that you could only squeeze through the escalator and barely could get a view. Now, it was completely empty. Together with a handfull of visitors I walked around twice and tried to be impressed. Although beautiful (I’m like a magpie: if it’s shiny, I’ll like it) – I can’t really appreciate it. It is too much value, just sitting there, representing power, at the cost of what ? I half expected, or hoped, for Moriarty to turn up and pose in the Crown jewels. That would have been a sight!

After a well spent friday morning, I set out for a walking tour along the City of London’s churches. Next to the Tower of London, you’ll find All Hallows at the Tower, one of the oldest churches in the City of London.

>> Plan your visit to the Tower of London. Go early, book your ticket online to save £4  and spend 2-3 hours (4 if your in queue for the Crown Jewels during seasonal peaks) <<
Old and new towers blending in almost flawlessly © MedievalMonologues

Back to university: a new adventure

Yes! This is happening. I’m so excited!

In exploring my options to make the most of my ‘medieval hobby’ I checked several universities with a Medieval studies programme. I ended up choosing between Utrecht or Leiden. A though choice, since Utrecht is my alma mater and I always enjoyed the atmosphere there. However, Leiden offered better opportunities for me to combine it with my parttime dayjob. The University of Leiden is the oldest university in the Netherlands, founded in 1575, and offers a great curriculum in Medieval studies.

When I was first studying for my BA degree, I always contemplated that I would probably be one of ‘those old people who would return to college one day because they can’. And guess what? That’s me now. OK, I’m not thát old (and still pretty cool, off course ;-), but problably will be compared to this generation of college students.

Now, on a more humble note: I decided to start this adventure small. Initially, I had a wild plan to start with a full MA programme. But that asks a lot of commitment, time, commuting, and also money. It would be very taxing next to my dayjob and not a very achievable goal for the moment. So I chose a lighter curriculum.

I will follow a series of contract courses on medieval topics. I will start this semester with a more generic mid level course on Medieval expansion  in Europe. Consider this a test run, just to see if my brain still can handle university level after all this time. Let’s dust off the cobwebs and release the rusty chains first.

In the next semesters I hope to enroll for the courses on Middle English Language and Literature. I really want to understand medieval languages and manuscripts better. This is a part that I did not make the most of during my first time in college, and would really like to make up for it. Off course, I’ve been seeing and reading a lot of medieval history and art over the years. With the blog and these courses I hope to consolidate my love of learning and all this ‘random’ knowledge to a more tangible form.

One of my favourite benefits of attending university again, is full access to the entire collection of the university library, brick and online.
A lot of source material and articles are available on the internet these days, but this opens up a whole new world of possibilities and enables me to start doing better research again.

It feels like a new chance, a dream that actually can happen. I just have to make it happen. So, I will start this semester in February as a student at Leiden University. Yeah!