More Saint Georges

Dr. Roger Simpson, a parishioner at St. George’s Tombland, Norwich, sends some more pictures from his church. As one might expect, St. George is depicted quite a few times in the building, and in different media.

1. Near the kitchen, a wooden plaque of Flemish or North German origin, from the mid-sixteenth century. I always like these ones: not only do we have an equestrian St. George and a dragon, but also the princess, her sheep, and the walls of their city Silene.

Photo: Paul Dennis, churchwarden.

2. On the south porch, a roof boss from c.1485, showing a scarlet-coated St. George slaying the dragon.

Photo: Paul Dennis, churchwarden.

3. In the south aisle, a stained glass memorial window by C. C. Powell, c. 1907. Here we see St. George’s distinctive red cross on his surcoat and his banner, along with Gothic-style initials for “Sanctus” and “Georgius.” Very nice!

Photo: Paul Dennis, churchwarden.

Dr. Simpson writes that “St George Tombland is a medieval church just across the road from the Cathedral. It is Anglican and ‘High’, and is still a working church. Services are held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings, and of course there is a Sung Eucharist on Sundays. I am one of a group that helps to keep the church open for visitors also most days a week.” I am glad to know this. Norwich has a lot of churches in its city center; my hunch is that many of them were built with profits from the wool trade in the late Middle Ages, when sponsoring a church was deemed a good deed, regardless of the size of the population it was to serve. (The Reformation put an end to such a practice, deeming it wasteful.) Whether or not there was an actual demand for all of them in late-medieval Catholicism, there certainly isn’t one now, when all of 2% of the English population attends Church of England services on a weekly basis. Many Norwich churches, therefore, are maintained as museums by the Norwich Historic Churches Trust, and have been converted into cafes, flea markets, etc. The two churches of St. George, however, remain open for Anglican worship (and for visiting at other times, courtesy volunteers from the parish).

Confederate Monuments

While in Richmond we got a chance to see the Museum of the Confederacy. It is completely surrounded (and dwarfed) by the Virginia Commonwealth University Hospital and parking ramp, somewhat surprisingly – you’d think that they would have restricted development around such hallowed ground. But I suspect that time has passed it by. The original museum was housed in the White House of the Confederacy; in 1976 it was moved to a purpose-built building next door, while the house was restored to how it might have looked when Jeff Davis lived there. It’s clear that they have tried to make it more of a museum and less of a shrine, but the main exhibit can’t seem to get beyond its roots: you go through a chronological timeline of battles and other events, but all that’s on display are things like Lee’s overcoat or Longstreet’s sword or Johnston’s overcoat or Stuart’s overcoat. I did like the second floor, which was devoted to the various Confederate flags and clearly the work of John Coski, whose book on the subject I quite admire. (I was unaware of the existence of RuPaul as “Miss Rachel Tensions” in the 1995 movie To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.) The basement had some interesting social-history what-nots, like a keepsake made of human hair or a hat made of corn husks, although not all of this was Confederate as such.

Lately, this Museum of the Confederacy has merged with two other museums: one at Appomattox Court House, the site of Lee’s surrender in April of 1865, and one at Historic Tredegar, which is located on Richmond’s waterfront and was once the site of a gun foundry. We did not have time to go to Tredegar, but it apparently deals with the war from the Union, Confederate and slave perspectives. This new three-site institution is known as the American Civil War Museum and its motto is “Confederacy, Union, Freedom” – reflecting the mandate of the Tredegar site more than that of the Museum of the Confederacy site. So I suspect that if you are in Richmond, and you only have time to see one, you should probably go to Tredegar.

We did cruise up and down Monument Avenue, and marveled at the outsized monuments to Stuart, Lee, Jackson and Davis (there were also monuments to oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury and African-American tennis star Arthur Ashe; I think they need more such non-Confederate statues).

On the grounds of the State Capitol is an equestrian statue of Washington and six other famous Virginians. This was unveiled in the 1850s. The image of Washington on his horse was reproduced on the Great Seal of the Confederacy.

Via Wikipedia. The date, 22 February 1862, is when the CSA’s constitution went into effect and Jeff Davis was officially inaugurated to his six year term as president. The Confederates admired Washington as someone who had led a successful armed rebellion against a stronger foe.

Not far from the State Capitol is St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, another site with Confederate associations (both Lee’s and Davis’s pews are marked). I confess that I was taken aback by this stained glass window:

I like the Egyptian details. The white writing reads: “By faith Moses refused to be called the Son of Pharaoh’s daughter choosing rather to suffer affliction with the children of God for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible” and below that, across the bottom “In Grateful Memory of Robert Edward Lee, Born January 19, 1807.” This is a rather interesting way of viewing Lee’s resignation of his federal commission in order to lead the Army of Northern Virginia. Sorry, I think that African-American slaves have a much better claim to the notion that they were akin to the Hebrews in Egypt.

But speaking of things Egyptian, we enjoyed seeing this building:


It dates from 1845 and is now part of VCU – and has even made it onto the VCU seal.

Via Wikipedia. MCV = Medical College of Virginia; RPI = Richmond Professional Institute. These were merged in 1968 to form VCU.

State Capitols

My wife and I like to visit state capitols. We find that they usually contain a lot of interesting historical information, and often have a good state history museum within walking distance. On our recent trip we saw three:

1. Vermont State House, Montpelier, Vermont:

Fun fact about Montpelier: it is the smallest capital city in the Union (some 2,000 souls). The Vermont State House, the third one on the site, was constructed in the 1850s. We admired the portraits of Calvin Coolidge and Howard Dean.

2. Maine State House, Augusta, Maine:

The legislature was in session when we visited, so we got to do some lobbying. It was built in the 1830s, following Maine’s secession from Massachusetts in 1820. There was a great State Museum nearby. We quite enjoyed all the nineteenth-century industrial cloth-production machines they had on display (really!).

3. Virginia State Capitol, Richmond, Virginia:

This was the best picture I took on a rather cloudy day; unfortunately it doesn’t convey the full extent of the building. This capitol is probably the most historically significant of the three we saw; it was designed by “Mr. Jefferson” (as they kept calling him), and served as the capitol of the Confederate States of America after Virginia seceded from the Union in April, 1861. The original building is essentially the Maison Carée in Nîmes, and in 1904 wings were added for the enlarged House of Delegates and Senate (pictured is the wing on the northern/western side, for the Senate). Speaking of which, I had forgotten that the Virginia Senate is actually armigerous! Its letters patent is on display as you walk into the chamber.

This is document represents a devisal of arms from the College of Arms in London and dates from 1979. Normally the College grants arms on behalf of the Queen, but only to her subjects; however, if you are not a subject, you can still pay the College to devise arms for you which, while not granted as such, are entered into the records and never granted (or devised) to anyone else. Thus the three coats of arms across the top, which are those of Clarenceux King of Arms, Garter King of Arms, and Norroy & Ulster King of Arms, the three executive officers of the College who are here acting on their own authority (on a proper grant, the arms across the top are those of the Earl Marshal, the Queen, and the College of Arms).

The arms themselves are a reference to the arms of the Virginia Company:

From Eugene Zieber, Heraldry in America (originally published 1895).

Alas, the House of Delegates is not quite as heraldically advanced!

To return to the original building: the primary attraction there is the only statue that George Washington posed for during his lifetime, complete with fasces.

In the background, in the original House of Delegates chamber, you can see the back of a statue of Robert E. Lee, who was not a Confederate politician as such but who did hail from Virginia.

I liked their custom doorknobs, featuring the seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which shows, in an interesting sexual dynamic, “Virtus, the genius of the Commonwealth, dressed as an Amazon” and stepping on “Tyranny, represented by the prostrate body of a man, with his fallen crown nearby.” Thus always to tyrants!

But don’t let this fool you into thinking that all Virginians hate all monarchs all the time! The Queen and Prince Philip came to visit in 2007; a picture records this event, and one of the guides was waxing rhapsodic about it.

But, you ask, what about Mr. Jefferson? For him, we must return to the entrance. Since 2007, the tourist entrance to the State House is far away, at the base of the hill that the house is on. After passing security, one travels a long underground corridor housing a gift shop, a cafe, and exhibits on Virginian history, before arriving at a rotunda in honor of Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, founder of UVA, governor of Virginia, and third president of the United States.

Something Historical

Below, from our summer travels, a photo of the Peterborough Lift Lock, a marvel of Canadian civil engineering. It is the tallest lock of its kind in the world and remarkably contains no metal reinforcement. It is part of the Trent-Severn waterway, a series of canals and locks connecting Lake Ontario with Lake Huron. This was going to be a cunning way of getting around Niagara Falls, but it was never economically viable and soon put out of business by the railroad and the Welland Canal (which can accommodate much larger ships). Still, it’s good that Parks Canada maintains the waterway for tourism and recreational boating.

Another picture: one of several Martello towers guarding the harbor at Kingston, Ontario, built in the wake of the War of 1812:

La Sainte Chapelle

From the Guardian:


Laser surgery restores Sainte-Chapelle stained glass window to Gothic glory

Seven years’ work on Gothic chapel in Paris finished to mark anniversary of birth of Louis IX who commissioned it to house his collection of religious relics.

One of the Gothic wonders of the medieval world, the stained glass windows at Sainte-Chapelle in central Paris have been restored after seven years of painstaking work.

The restoration was finished to mark the 800th anniversary of the birth of King Louis IX, who commissioned the chapel in the mid 13th century to house his collection of religious relics, including what was believed to be Christ’s crown of thorns and part of the cross.

The work involved dismantling the huge windows into small panels and cleaning them with lasers. An outside “skin” of glass has been moulded on to the original windows to protect them from traffic pollution, without altering their look.

The chapel is one of the earliest surviving buildings of the Capetian royal palace on the Ile de la Cité, along with the Conciergerie.

The two-level building, which was built in just seven years in the 1240s, is a small but spectacular example of the Rayonnant style of Gothic architecture, with little stonework and 15 huge stained glass panels and a rose window added a century later.

The 6,458 sq ft of stained glass windows in the upper chapel illustrate biblical scenes from both testaments. Overwhelmingly deep red and blue, they depict 1,130 biblical figures.


More at the link.

How Dare He?!

From J.H. Plumb, The Italian Renaissance (1961). Speaking of the Middle Ages, Plumb writes:

The wealth that was wrung from the soil and the tenuous trade of those dark centuries was poured into the splendid barbaric churches, noble if grotesque, that soared to heaven in violation of all the harmonies of ancient art. Or it served a grimmer purpose, and from it grew the towering fortresses, the embattled towers, the walled cities that were a necessity in a society in which the clang of armor was as common as the church bell.

As a card-carrying member of the medievalists’ guild, I must protest! Why is wealth “wrung from” the soil (as opposed to, say, “produced by” it)? How could Chartres Cathedral be built by “tenuous” trade? And why are we judging Gothic churches, marvels of engineering and beautiful in their own right, by any ancient fashions? Furthermore – have you seen the Medici palace, or the Visconti castle? These Renaissance buildings were certainly built with the “grim” purpose of defense in mind, given that in Renaissance Italy the clang of armor was a very common sound indeed.


The Boston Time Capsule

The time capsule placed in the Massachusetts state house cornerstone has been opened. From Mental Floss:


Yesterday, after five hours of meticulous work with a small, dental tool-like metal pick and a porcupine quill, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston conservator Pam Hatchfield opened the oldest known time capsule in the country. It was originally buried on July 4, 1795 by Revolutionary War heroes Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, who was then the governor of Massachusetts. On that day, 15 horses—one for each of the states in the relatively new union—pulled the cornerstone for the new State House through the streets of Boston to the building site for a commemorative ground-breaking. Below the cornerstone, the two men placed the capsule, sandwiched between two sheets of lead.

And there it remained—but not without interruption. The capsule was first unearthed back in 1855, when workers discovered it while making repairs to the State House. It was opened at the time and the contents were cleaned (in nitric acid according to “preservation” tactics of the time), cataloged and re-buried along with artifacts from that era in a sturdy, brass box.

One hundred and fifty nine years later, the box is back out of the ground. Last May, historians—concerned about water damage from a nearby leak—decided it was time (again) to open the capsule. In December, Hatchfield spent seven hours carefully extracting the historic box.

Inside were five neatly folded newspapers, a collection of 23 coins dating as far back as 1652, a medal depicting George Washington, a replica of Colonial records, and a silver plate commemorating the erection of the new State House that reads, “This cornerstone of a building intended for the use of the legislative and executive branches of the government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was laid by his Excellency Samuel Adams, Esquire, governor of the said Commonwealth.” Most of the items were already known from the 1855 catalog, but the details are still of tremendous historic value. Accessing this value presents some quandaries for the preservationists, though—like whether or not they should attempt to unfold the delicate newspapers to read what’s inside.

Secretary of State William Galvin said the items will likely go on display for a short time and then they will go back into the time capsule and return to the original resting place in the cornerstone of the State House.


No word on whether they’re going to include some 2015 artifacts when they rebury it. I vote for some currency, an iPhone, and a “My Little Pony” figurine (my daughter’s suggestion).

Chartres Cathedral Restoration

From the Guardian:


US architecture critic sparks row over Chartres Cathedral restoration

Martin Filler accuses project boss of desecration, but Patrice Calvel says he is just ‘doing a bit of vacuuming’

Chartres Cathedral in France is an awe-inspiring sight, renowned in particular for its medieval stained glass windows and stone carvings.

When the American architecture critic Martin Filler and his wife, the architectural historian Rosemarie Haag Bletter, visited the country recently they decided to view the progress of an eight-year restoration project at the Unesco world heritage site, 50 miles southwest of Paris. Its soaring interior is being cleansed of centuries of pollution and grime from candles and oil lamps.

But their visit has caused an extraordinary row, with Filler accusing the project’s architect, Patrice Calvel, of a cultural desecration akin to “adding arms to the Venus de Milo”. Calvel has hit back, telling the Guardian that the work on the 800-year-old cathedral “is not taken on lightly to satisfy the fantasies of a few”.

Filler and his wife, Rosemarie Haag Bletter, an architectural historian, were so horrified by what they saw that he denounced the “scandalous” makeover in his blog on the New York Review of Books website.

The searing criticism followed an article in Le Figaro that described the cleaning as similar to “watching a film in a cinema where they haven’t switched off the lights”.

Filler’s main complaint is that the €15m (£11.7m) state-run makeover, which began in 2009, set out “to do no less than repaint the entire interior in bright whites and garish colors that are intended to return the sanctuary to its medieval state”.

He singled out the cathedral’s historic Black Madonna, whose “repainting” had “transformed the Mother of God into a simpering kewpie doll”.

Filler called for the “foolhardy” project to be reversed.

In Chartres, the head of the project’s private fundraising arm expressed alarm at the possible impact of the article on international public opinion.

“What will be the effect on our sister organisation in the United States, which is raising money to restore stained glass windows that are to be displayed in the US?” asked Chartres Sanctuaire du Monde’s Caroline Berthod-Bonnet. The non-profit organisations are raising money from private sources to support the restoration, which is mainly funded by the French state, regional authorities and the European Union.

Calvel, the architect in chief of the French culture ministry’s historical monuments division, who oversaw the project until retiring from the civil service two years ago, vigorously defended the restoration. “It has the full weight of the administration of state, historians and architects who decided over a 20-year period what would be done.”

He stressed that there was no repainting over more than 80% of the cathedral interior, which has now been revealed in its original colours dating from 1220-30.

“All I’ve done is a bit of vacuum cleaning,” he said, adding that he did not know Filler and noted that two US experts on the advisory board of the American Friends of Chartres Cathedral had responded to the “misinformed” criticism.

In their contribution to the New York Review of Books – which prompted a rebuttal by Filler – Professors Madeline Caviness and Jeffrey Hamburger defended the “careful and historically responsible renovation”.

“I’m serene,” Calvel said. “I’ve got an entire scholastic community behind me.”

As for the criticism in Le Figaro, Calvel said he would not respond to the writer “because he has no competence in this matter”.

Calvel and Berthod-Bonnet acknowledged that the cleaning of the Black Madonna had been controversial. “There’s been some shock,” said Berthod-Bonnet. But Calvel said any major restoration was likely to provoke criticism from some quarters.

Asked whether the parishioners had been consulted, he said: “I’m very democratic, but the public is not competent to judge.”

He said the project had first been explained through the initial restoration of a chapel, “and people were delighted”.

British historic interiors conservator Helen Hughes said that the “top down” French approach to restoration contrasted with procedures in the UK, where users were routinely consulted. During a recent tour of historic interiors in France, Hughes said, she “noticed that conservators talked about the state rather than the involvement of taxpayers and stakeholders”.

Meanwhile, Calvel’s research has proved that the exterior of Chartres Cathedral was also painted in the 13th century, in the same colours as the interior. In medieval times, “everything was painted”, mainly for protection from the elements, he said.

“But if we tried to do that on the outside I would be hanged.”