Salisbury cathedral, a slight case of sensory overload

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29 July 2015

When we got inside the cathedral one of the first things we noticed was another of the strange, colourful knights, this was smaller than the first. Something about it felt very familiar and, when I spotted a whole row of them behind him, I realised what it was. this was a sculpture trail like our very own rhinos. Later Googling told me it was called the Baron’s Charter Trail, set up by the Trussell Trust and Wild in Art to celebrate eight hundred years of Magna Carta. It started on 12 June and ends on 6 September. If only I’d known earlier I’d have done some research and we could have gone hunting.

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We followed the colourful trail of barons, decorated by local schools, along the South Nave Aisle feeling rather overwhelmed by the sheer number of tombs, plaques and other distractions. It was obvious we were never going to see everything so, much like the Physic garden, I concentrated on the things that caught my eye. One of the mini barons certainly did that. Most had been fairly traditional, decked out in what looked like school colours and crests, this one was inspired by one of my favourite films. We were face to face with a mini Captain Jack Sparrow. Talk about something to make me smile, this almost made me laugh out loud. It was wonderful.

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Being rather a fan of stained glass windows I spent a lot of time gazing upwards but, to avoid running out of memory on my camera, limited myself to taking photos of my favourites. One rosy hued beauty wouldn’t let me pass by. Filled with images of children it bears the legend ‘suffer little children to come unto me.’ Google tells me it was created in 1890 by Henry Holliday in memory of John Henry Jacob and his wife.

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It was CJ who noticed the font, right in the centre of the cathedral with the spire directly above. Designed by water sculptor William Pye and installed in September 2008, it is possibly the most spectacular font in the land. The cruciform patinated bronze vessel sits on a purbeck stone plinth filled to the very brim with mirror smooth water. At the four corners of the cross the stillness of the surface flows through spouts into bronze grating on the floor. CJ saw the photographic potential immediately. Unfortunately, so did a lot of other people and we had to wait quite a while to get it to ourselves.

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The windows, arches and vaulted ceiling reflected in the smooth water giving an interesting upside down view of the place. Deep in the water tiny specks of green seemd like stars in a dark sky. It was hard to tear ourselves away. Apparently the font allows full immersion baptisms. Imagne such a setting for a christening!

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We left the tinkling water behind and walked down the Quire, looking up past the pipes of the Willis organ at the medieval pictures on the vaulted ceiling. Later, I found out these were actually painted in the ninteenth century but based on original designs. Ahead I could see an intersting looking blue glass window. Blue is my favourite colour for glass and I was eager for a closer look.

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Before we got as far as the window we were stopped in our tracks by the most beautiful eagle lectern. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find out much about it but it really is a thing of beauty. Flanked by two floral displays on podiums with the vaulted ceilings and organ pipes behind it made a lovely photo too.

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Then we were face to face with the altar, dressed with an embroidered cloth in reds and blues that perfectly set off the window behind. It was the window I was drawn to though, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Unlike most church windows this did not depict a scene, nor was it a geometric design. Instead it seemed to be an abstract pattern but I felt if I looked at it long enough, maybe squinted my eyes, I might see something in it. This is, I later found, is the Prisoners of Conscience Window by Gabriel Loire, installed in 1980.

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As it turns out I was right about there being something to see. Later reading showed me there are tiny hidden faces depicting the crucifixion and resurrection.  Maybe my eyes are worse than I thought or I didn’t get close enough but I never saw them. If you want a taste here’s a link to the cathedral webaite.

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Behind us was another lovely embroidered cloth, this a swirling, sea with a cross, encrusted with beads and gold thread, in the centre. It put me in mind of the work of Sophie Long, an embroidery artist who worked on the ship and I wondered if she had made it. Whoever did, it must have taken hours and hours of painstaking work.

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Close to the lovely blue window were some viotive candles. As you may have gathered, I’m not a religious person in any conventional way but the idea of a viotive candle crosses all religious barriers and the sentiments appeal to me. CJ and I put some money in the offering box and took a candle each to light in memory of Albert and April. We stood for a moment watching them guttering as the air moved around them and let our memories wash over us.

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By this time we were both beginning to develop a severe case of sensory overload. Everywhere we looked there were decorations, fancy grilles, elaborate stonework, wooden cabinets, massive tombs and plaques. It seemed as if barely an inch of the cathedral was undecorated and, beautiful as it all was, it was slightly overwhelming. We walked back along the North Quire Aisle, knowing we were missing many things but unable to take any more in.

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Although we were making for the exit a small side room drew us in. Here we found two intricately carved dark wood chairs. They were undoubtedly ancient and didn’t look all that comfortable but they were beautiful. Then something on the wall below the stained glass window caught my eye. There seemed to be words swirling and changing as we watched. This was Power of Words, another of the Magna Carta installations. A tree of Magna Carta text is projected onto the stone and reacts to gesture or movement, changing and re forming the text. We stood for a while mesmerised.

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Outside we found a row of equally lovely carved chairs. Granted these were far simpler in design but I liked the way they were slightly mismatched and the colourful cushions on each seat. We were getting close to the exit by this time and, having spent far more time than we’d intended inside the cathedral, both of us were eager to get outside in the fresh air. Hopeful the blue sky we’d seen from the cafe was still there we increased our pace.

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The cathedral had other ideas though and, before we could escape from its enticing clutches we were stopped in our tracks by another window. This may not have had the show stopping colour of the Prisoners of Conscience window, or have been as colourful as many of the others we’d seen, but the sentiments behind it brought us up short. It was dedicated to the memory of the people of Salisbury who lost their lives in World War II and depicted service men and women from the time. Close by a stunning plaque in copper and brass continued the theme. Finally a simple stone memorial to soldier Edward William Tennant, a victim of an earlier war, had me wiping a tear from my eye. In a few short words the text told of a man who epitomised the waste of young lives in the trenches on the Somme.

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It seemed a suitably thought providing end to our visit and now it really was time to leave. In the end, we’d only seen a snapshot of the cathedral. There was so much to see, decorations and embellishments at every turn, we missed a lot, things like the cathedral clock, dating from 1386, the oldest working clock in the world, and a tour of the spire. As always, this is probably a very good reason to come back one day.

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** please note, I am not an expert on cathedrals and churches. In fact, quite the opposite, so I found a map of the cathedral on line to help me. Without it my descriptions would have been more along the lines of, we walked down the middle bit, or, the sticky out bits at the side. Church buffs, if I’ve made any mistakes please feel free to correct me. 

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Marie

Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

22 thoughts on “Salisbury cathedral, a slight case of sensory overload”

  1. On our first visit to London we took a side trip to Salisbury Cathedral. I didn’t realize until we got there that it was in a meadow. There is also numerology associated with the cathedral; e.g., 12 doors for the months of the year, etc. I also seem to remember a painting of English novelist Thomas Hardy.

    Magnificent cathedral, lovely post, Marie!

    1. I’m glad it brought back some good memories Marian. It really is a beautiful place. Did you go to Stonehenge too?

    1. I believe they do have services and they actually use th efour for baptisms! At least if the service is boring there’s plenty to look at I guess. Even Homer Simpson couldn’t fall asleep in there!

  2. I used to live in Salisbury years and years ago but don’t remember the cathedral at all well so it was lovely to be taken round by some one with such a perceptive eye.

  3. One of my favorite books, Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett was brought to mind by your post. I have always been fascinated with the construction (back when there was no technology) and the beauty of these buildings. Your tour of Salisbury cathedral was just as I would have done myself – wander and be overwhelmed! The font is certainly a jewel but your shots all made for a lovely tour!!

    1. It is surprising just how well they managed to build these beautiful places. Even with all our modern technology and massive machines I think we’d be hard pushed to do the same today. The fact that the catherdral is in the middle of a water meadow with such shallow foundations makes it all the more astonishing.

  4. I think I am right in saying that all the Barons are going to be gathered and put on display for one week at the end of Sept in the Cathedral Square. We are hoping to go so Savanna can tick the last two off her list!

    1. If I’d known about them before I set off we’d have had a very different walk. I loved the Rhino hunt in Southampton and I’m looking forward to the zebra hunt next year. It certainly gave me lots of walking ideas. Fingers crossed you all get to see those final two barons. The ones in the cathedral were lovely, especially Captian Jack!

    1. If the bible story about rich men, camels and eyes of needles is true there will be very few Bishops in heaven for sure!

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