Sunday, November 7, 2021

Ranking Cathedrals, Part 3.

 So the last of the first three is Dunkeld Cathedral, another Church of Scotland, not actually a cathedral.

Photo credit:Dr Richard Murray / Dunkeld Cathedral / CC BY-SA 2.0

Dunkeld is another partially ruined medieval cathedral.  The choir is still roofed and in use as church, while the nave has lost it's roof, but the walls of the nave and aisles still stand, as does the unruined bell tower.  The cathedral contains the tomb of Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan (d. 1405) with a fine effigy.

This is again a place that, while interesting, is not interesting enough to attract me to Dunkeld.  I like ruins, and these look nice, but as a Cathedral it just doesn't do that much for me. The tomb effigy looks interesting, but it's not an uncommon attraction.

In the end I think that while it is more attractive than St Moulag's, the heraldic ceiling of St Machar's is a bigger draw.  So the list now stands at:

1.  St Machar's Cathedral, Aberdeen

2. Dunkeld Cathedral

3.  St Moluag's Cathedral, Lismore.


 Up next: Dunblane Cathedral

Ranking Cathedrals, Part 2.

Next up is St Machar's Cathedral in Aberdeen. 

Photo credit: AlasdairW under the
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Again this is Church of Scotland building, so no bishop, not really a cathedral, but it used to be one. Like St Moluag's, it is a remnant of larger building.  This time the nave and aisles remain. The transepts, central tower and choir are mostly gone.  The transept ruins contain some late medieval bishop's tombs, and the nave and aisles are mostly original.  The 16th century ceiling of the nave has a unique heraldic display with 48 coats of arms, including those of most of the monarchs of Europe at the time, as well prominent Scottish families and churchmen.  The west end has two massive fortified towers.

This place is of some interest to me, especially the heraldic ceiling. It doesn't have enough interest to draw me to Aberdeen on it's own, and I'm not even sure it would make the cut if I had other things to see in Aberdeen, but it would be worth seeing.

Obviously this ranks higher than St Moluag's so the list as it stands now is. 

1.  St Machar's Cathedral, Aberdeen

2.  St Moluag's Cathedral, Lismore.

The final of the first three in the next post.

Ranking Cathdrals, Part 1.

I'm going to start with three Church of Scotland buildings that are not technically Cathedrals, but were historically cathedrals before the Reformation.  None of these were ever ranked in the best Cathedral lists I collated together, and it will be pretty obvious why.

photo credit: Otter under the Gnu Free Document License


First, up is St Moluag's Cathedral, on the island Lismore.  St Moluag's is a Church of Scotland congregation, so not technically a cathedral. As you can see it's a pretty modest building.  St Moluag's was the seat of the medieval Diocese of Argyll, which was Scotland's poorest diocese, so St Moluag's was modest to begin with.  All that survives now is the choir, and that in heavily modified form.  There are a few medieval features remaining, mainly doorways, and  few medieval gravestone left in the church yard and in the church itself.

All in all, there's not much here to attract me.  If I were in the neighborhood it might be a way to kill a half hour or so, but unless there's something else on Lismore to attract, me I don't see myself visiting there.

That said, since this is the first cathedral to be rated, it goes to #1.

 The list as it stands is

1.  St Moluag's Cathedral, Lismore.

Next Cathedral in the next post.

Here I am again.

 Let's try this for a bit.

I've got a new project, which is over planning a vacation to the UK.  The plan right now is for some time in 2022, maybe 2023 and spending 3 to 4 weeks.  I'm limiting myself to Great Britain, that is, Scotland, England and Wales, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Isles won't be considered for this trip.

First step is figuring out what I want to see.  I'm starting with Cathedrals. 

Cathedral is a slippery word.  To a lot of people it means "Big Church". The technical definition is the home church of a bishop.  There are many denominations in the UK that have bishops, but the big ones are the Roman Catholics and the Anglican Churches.  I'm going to ignore the cathedrals of all of the smaller denominations and focus on those two.  Plus I'm going to include those churches within the Church of Scotland that were medieval cathedrals before the Presbyterians got rid of bishops. So the list of potential sites includes, those Church of Scotland churches, the established Church of England cathedrals, the Church in Wales cathedrals and the Scottish Episcopal Church cathedrals, along with the Roman Catholic Cathedrals.

There are 94 buildings on that list.  I'm going to work my way through all of them looking for reasons why I would want to visit them and ranking them accordingly. My preferences are for medieval and all of the Scottish Episcopal Cathedrals and the RC cathedrals are modern, so while, I'll take a look at them, they are unlikely to rank high.

My first step was to collate a bunch of "best Cathedrals" for the British Isles I found on the web.  After throwing out Irish and other Cathedrals, plus things that weren't Cathedrals, like Westminster Abbey, there were 43 buildings that were ranked on at least one list.  There were 51 that didn't make any list.  I'm going to work my way through all 94 of them, starting with the 51 and ranking them by my own criteria. Publishing the results here as I work.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

English Gothic

Cross-posted from Monstrous Beauty

I like early Gothic stuff. I really like English early Gothic, especially the manuscripts,the "Matthew Paris school" stuff. This is a nice example. So what do I like about it? I like the very format of the pen drawing with the delicate tinting. I like the sharp crisp folds of the drapery. I like how the drawing violates the frame. I like the clean lines and expressive postures of the figures. I even like the lack of background.

This is a leaf from a missal for the "Parish de Pirton". The image is dated to 1220-1230. The verso of this leaf contains a 14th century charter for the rector of the church of St. John Baptist, Pirton (Worcestershire). Leaf is in the British Library (Harley Charter 83 A 37).

 Cross-posted from Monstrous Beauty

When I think Roman Art, this is not what I
think. This, however is indeed Roman from the first or second century. It was later reused by the Lombards. I did know that Romans did glass work and have seen a few pieces. Although the shape reminds of
the ubiquitous amphorae, I never considered that there would be this
 much color in one piece. In the British Museum. Image from wikimedia commons.

Friday, February 3, 2012

I made a video!!

Cross-posted from Monstrous Beauty.

I decided to play around with Window Lives Movie Maker, and grabbed a couple of manuscript images as material. I kept playing for a couple of days and ended up with this, a survey of illuminated manuscripts from papyrus scrolls to the Renaissance.

The choice of images is somewhat idiosyncratic, although most of the really famous manuscripts are included, there are some that are less than famous, and my own preferences may have resulted in some imbalance towards earlier manuscripts.

The music is from the Broadside Band and is decidedly anachronistic, being late 16th century. I was looking for something that sounded "medievalish" and I think it works.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cross-posted from Monstrous Beauty.

This is something I only became aware of a few years ago. During the 15th century in in Burgundy, especially during the time of Philip the Good, there was a trend of making luxury manuscripts on vellum that had been dyed black. Unfortunately, the process of dying the vellum made it brittle and fragile, so these manuscript did not survive in great numbers. There are fewer than twenty surviving manuscripts and only three of them are still bound as codices. The remainder are preserved as single leaves, often pressed in acrylic to protect them. So far as I know, all of the surviving examples are Books of Hours. The Pierpont Morgan Library has one, and this is a two page spread from it. The illumination on the left is of the Descent of the Holy Spirit.

While I'm not a huge fan of Books of Hours, this is certainly striking.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Limoges Enamal Châsse.

Crossposted from Monstrous Beauty

I must confess a certain ignorance when it comes to medieval metalwork and enamels. But here is a pretty thing.

This is Châsse or casket from Limoges, c. 1190-1200. A Châsse was a reliquary shaped sort of like a house with a sloping roof and triangular gabled ends. Limoges was center enamel work at the time. This is Champlevé enamel. Champlevé is created by casting a metal piece with impressions for the area to be enameled. The depressions are then filled with powdered glass. The entire piece is the fired and the glass melts and fuses with the metal.

This is reliquary for St. Thomas Becket. The main body shows his murder while the roof shows his entombment. On the end is a saint, probably Becket himself.

The reliquary is in the Musée de Cluny in Paris.

Image wikipedia.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

16 years.

Cross posted from The Weekend Scrub

Today is the 16th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. I wrote this a year ago.

Today I'm going to eat at Sonic.

Fifteen years ago I was lying in bed reading when there was a loud noise and the house shook. I initially thought that a car had hit the house. I lived in Oklahoma City and I was three and half miles away from the Murrah Federal Building.

Within a couple of hours I was scrubbed in surgery at St. Anthony's. I was no longer an employee, having parted ways with the hospital almost a year earlier. I was part of three separate teams working at the same time on the most seriously wounded patient. I've been scrubbing for almost twenty years. I remember two patient names. This woman is one of them. (The other had the same first and last name as I do.)

At one point I went to see if I could help in instrument processing. St Anthony's was the nearest hospital to the federal building. (Close enough that the hospital building itself had minor damage.) Hundreds of walking wounded had found their way to the St. Anthony ER. Almost all of them had severe lacerations. The average hospital stocks maybe thirty suture trays. Luanna, the scrub in charge of processing, had her staff opening every tray we wouldn't being using that day, the GYN instrument and the like, and reassembling them into suture trays: Two hemostats, a needle holder, a pair of scissors and some forceps.

When I came out of surgery, I was surprised to find bags full of Sonic hamburgers. Someone at Sonic had figured that there would be a lot of people working a lot of hours at the hospitals who would not have much chance to eat. They made and sent thousands of burgers to every hospital in town without being asked.

Today I will say a prayer for the souls of the departed and a prayer for the continued health of the survivors and families. And I'll eat at Sonic.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Child Ballad No. 1, "Riddles Wisely Expounded"

Crossposted from Dafydd's Random Music.

"Riddles Wisely Expounded" is the first ballad in Francis Child's collection. In it a knight comes wooing three sisters. The youngest sister (who in some of the versions, sleeps with the knight first), is chosen by the knight to answer a series of riddles. If she answers the riddles correctly, then she will wed the knight. In some of the versions collected by Child, the questioner is not a knight, but the Devil disgused as an "unco knicht". When the daughter names him in answer to the last riddle, he shrieks and disappears, and thus the maiden escapes. Until that moment, however, she did not appear to know that she was competing for her soul.

Like many English songs, this ballad has also been collected in America, where it is usually know as "The Devil's Nine Questions." In it, the wooing aspect is dropped and if the maiden (who has often lost her sisters in these versions) fails to answer the riddles, she will be taken to Hell. What binds the two versions together is the set of riddles and their answers. Although there is some variation in the riddles, all of the versions include many of the same riddles. Some of the typical riddles are:

What is longer than the way? (love)
What is deeper than the sea? (hell)
What is higher that the tree? (heaven)
What is louder than the horn? (thunder)
What is sharper than a thorn? (hunger, or death)
What is whiter than milk? (snow)
What is softer than silk? (down)
What is greener that the grass? (poison)
What is worse than woman? (the devil)

Interestingly enough, the American version may be the older version. A mid-15th century version called "Inter diabolus et virgo" (Between the devil and the virgin), was included by Child in his later editions. It bears more resemblance to the American version, being a straightforward confrontation without the wooing setting.

This ballad was one of those that became part of the mid-cetury folk revival, being recorded by Ewan MacColl, Jean Ritchie and others. As such it has had a fairly wide circulation. The following is a listing of every recorded version I could find. I make no guarantees that I have found them all. I also expect this list to fall quickly out of date as there have been seven recordings released in the last five years alone. I welcome any corrections or information about recordings I may have missed.

"Riddles Wisely Expounded"
       Daniel Dutton on Murder of Crows, ?
       Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger on The Long Harvest, Vol. 2, Argo, 1966
       Jacqueline and Bridie on Hold Back the Dawn, Fontana, 1964
       Jean Redpath on Lowlands, Philo, 1994
       Lon Loomes on Fearful Symmetry, Fellside Recordings, 2005
"A Riddle Wisely Expounded"
       Hanita Blair on Minstrel, Millefolia, 2005
"A Noble Riddle Wisely Expounded"
       Askew Sisters on All In a Garden Green, Wild Goose Records 2007
       Demon Barbers on Waxed, Demon Barbers Sounds, 2010
"The Devil's Nine Questions"
        Atwater-Donnelly on The Weaver's Bonny, Rabbit Island Music, 2009
        Bonnie Kolac on After All This Time, Ovation Records, 1971 (out of print)
        Bruce Molsky on Song Links 2, Fellside Recordings, 2005
        Elizabeth Laprelle on Rain and Snow, Old 97 Wrecords, 2007
        Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger on The Long Harvest, Vol. 2, Argo, 1966
        Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger on Two Way Trip, Folkways, 1961
        Jean Ritchie and Oscar Brand on Shivaree! - A Folk Wedding Party, Essential Media Group, 2008
        Jill Trinka on The Little Black Bull, Gia, 2007
        Stephen Moore on Sourwood Mountain: American Folk Traditions, Vol 1, Stephen Moore, 2005
        Texas Gladden on Ballad Legacy, Rounder, 2001
"The Devil's Ten Questions"
        Phil Cooper on Written in Our Eyes, CDBY, 2007
"The Devil's Question"
        The Golden Glows on A Folksongbook, Glans and Luister, 2007
        Jean Ritchie and Paul Clayton on American Folk Tales and Songs, Tradition Records, 1956.

Here's The Askew Sisters performing "A Noble Riddle Wisely Expounded" live.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Apse Painting from Sant Climent de Taüll

Cross posted from Monstrous Beauty.

The Valle de Boi in Catalonia, with nine standing Romanesque churches and several ruins in about 85 square miles, has the densest concentration of Romanesque architecture in the world. The largest and best preserved of these churches is Sant Climent de Taüll, consecrated in 1123.

Catalonia in the 12th century was not a prosperous region and the builders of the church could not afford expensive mosaics, so the church was decorated with fresco. These frescoes are amongst the extant Romanesque murals. The apse mosaic is a Christ in Majesty, with Christ seated on the throne of the world. He is flanked by angels and is above medallions bearing the four beasts of the apocalypse. Mozarabic influence is seen in the broad bands of color that form the background.

In 1922 the murals of Sant Climent de Taüll were removed to protect them from theft and are now in the National Art Museum of Catalonia in Barcelona.

Image credit:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Classical surgery.

Cross posted from The Weekend Scrub

The surgeon gave me the specimen, said it was ileum. A bit later the circulator asked me what we were calling the specimen. I told her ileum, or Troy, her choice. She said "Oh".

Nobody gets my jokes.

Papyrus Style

Cross posted from Monstrous Beauty

Before the invention of the codex, that is, a book made of leaves bound on one side, books were mostly on scrolls, and the predominate material for scrolls was papyrus. Papyrus was a paper like material made from a plant that grew in the Nile Delta. Greeks and Romans used papyrus as well as Egyptians, but because papyrus did not survive well in moist environments, the vast majority of papyrus survive has been found in Egypt. Because a scroll was continually rolled and unrolled, thick pigments would quickly flake off, so papyrus scrolls were not decorated or illustrated in the manner of later manuscripts, with lavish colored decorations. Scientific and mathematical texts required illustration, while illustration was optional for literary texts. Both types of texts did have illustrations though, and in a similar style, called by Kurt Weitzman called the "papyrus style". In the papyrus style, small, quickly drawn, ink illustrations would be inserted into gaps in the text block. The were seldom colored and usually had little if any background or framing.

Few examples of illustrated papyri remain, and thoe only in fragments. One example is the so-called Heracles Papyrus. It consists of two columns of text which have three quick sketches of Heracles fighting the The Nemean lion.

The iconography of the sketches is fairly conventional, compare the second sketch with this roughly contemporary mosaic from Spain.

Not all works on Papyrus were quick, rough sketches. The Charioteer Papyrus (pictured at top) is a fragment containing a finely drawn colored illustration of six chariot charioteers. There is no text on the fragment, so it is not known what work it illustrated. Indeed it cannot be said with certainty is came from a scroll or an codex.

The Papyrus style was carried over into early codices, although it was eventually abandoned because of the new opportunities provided by the new format

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Old Baptist Mission

Cross posted from Random Oklahoma

Old Indian Baptist Mission
Originally uploaded by DKROB4

This 1888 church is on the site of the mission established by the Reverend Jesse Bushyhead in 1839. The Cherokee Messenger, the first newspaper in Oklahoma was published at the mission. Bushyhead died in 1844 and was buried in the Mission cemetery. His grave is marked by a 15 foot tall monument and is, as the only extant site associated with him, is listed on the National register of Historic places.

Hoccleve, The Regiment of Princes

Cross posted from Monstrous Beauty

This is a presentation miniature from a manuscript of Hoccleve's, The Regiment of Princes (British Library, Arundel 38, Folio 37 recto). Hoccleve wrote The Regiment for Henry V shortly before his accession to the throne as a homily on virtues and vices. The introductory portion of the poem contains reminiscences of London tavern life, and calls on Sir John Oldcastle, "rise up, a manly knight, out of the slough of heresy." (The heresey being Lollardy.) Oldcastle was an old friend of the Henry V, who Henry eventually had executed for treason and who served as the model for Shakespeare's Falstaff. Hoccleve also took work as a scribe and worked with Adam Pinkhurst, who in 2004 was identified as Chaucer's Adam scrivener.

This miniature is often identified as Hoccleve presenting the book to Henry. But the man presenting the book is very well dressed, much more so than would be expected of a scribe, so it may represent John Mowbry, Duke of Norfolk, presenting the book to Henry. Norfolk was an early owner of the manuscript and his coat of arms are in the initial below the miniature. This is the only miniature in the manuscript. Other decoration includes three sided borders and illuminated initials.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Borgund Stave Church

Cross posted from Monstrous Beauty

This is the Borgund Stave Church in Borgund, Norway The church was built in the late 12 or early 13th century and is the best preserved medieval stave church. A stave church is a wooden church made with a type of post and beam construction. Almost all surviving stave churches are in Norway. One survives in Sweden and one was moved to what is now Poland. A similar, Anglo-Saxon palisade church survive in England. Although only a few of these churches remain, they were, at one time fairly common throughout northern Europe. Because masonry and other stone work survives better than construction in wood, it easy for modern viewers to loose sight of the reality that much medieval architecture was actually in made of perishable materials.

Image credits, Wikipedia.

Jeremiah, Church of Saint-Pierre, Moissac

Cross posted from Monstrous Beauty

The Church of Saint-Pierre, Moissac was on of the stopping points in southern France on the great pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. The church and its cloister host one of the greatest and best preserved collections of Romanesque sculpture in France. Amongst the sculpture is the famous Jeremiah contained within the trumeau (center post) on the south portal. The front of the trumeau has three sets of crossed lions. The lions create a gently scalloped contour along the sides of the trumeau, mirroring the the deeply scalloped jambs on either side of the portal. On the right side of the trumeau, is the sculpture of the prophet Jeremiah. The elongated body and graceful cross-legged posture rises and falls above the over-sized feet to match the scalloping on the front of the trumeau. The hair and beard are stylized plaits formed of groups of incised parallel lines. The stylized drapery clings to the body. The face, unusually well preserved for a sculpture positioned so easily within reach of vandals, is delicate and expressive. The entire effect is not one of portraiture, but instead one of idealized spirituality and reflection.

Image credits:

Detail of head, Emmanuel (epierre) on Flickr.
Portal, Elena Giglia (eg65) on Flickr.
Frontal view and oblique view, tilina25 on Flickr.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chuldov Psalter

Cross posted from Monstrous Beauty

The Chludov Psalter is one of the few surviving 9th century Byzantine manuscripts. The early part of the 9th century was a period of iconoclasm in the Byzantine Empire. The Iconoclasm was a reaction against the use of religious images. During this period many works of art were destroyed. The Chludov Psalter was made either in secret during the Iconoclasm or after the restoration of icon, as a polemic against the Iconoclasm. In this illustration, the act of painting over an icon is paired with the Crucifixion, comparing those who destroyed icons to those who crucified Christ. To the right of the text a soldier offers Jesus a sponge filled with vinegar, while below the iconoclast Patriarch of Constantinople, John the Grammarian is seen painting over an icon of Christ using similar sponge attached to a pole. Even the pot for the the patriarch's paint is similar to the pot holding the vinegar used by the soldier.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury was my first. I was an ignorant 18 year old, just graduated from high school, spending the summer in Europe. My brother and I were on our way to Stonehenge and when we got to the town of Salisbury and we found that we had missed the bus. The next one wouldn't run for an hour. We noticed a spire looming over the town, and decided to go take a look. Finding a massive cathedral set in the middle of a park, we thought it would be worth exploring. In 1981, you couldn't enter through the main west portal, instead you entered on the west end, but off to the side. As I came in, it all felt very familiar, we were in the sort of vestibule that any Anglican church might have. Then we turned a corner and were in the nave. To this day, the feeling of absolute awe I felt has stayed with me. Only one other time, high in the Rocky Mountains, have I ever been so completely struck. On that trip we saw other cathedrals, Canterbury, Westminster Abbey, and St. Stephen's in Vienna, but, for me, that initial feeling of shock and joy will always belong to Salibury. We didn't catch the next bus either.

Salisbury, is unusual amongst cathedrals in that it was built entirely one building campaign and was happily spared major renovations in later centuries. There were no previous buildings on the site that could have constrained the plans. As a result it was built largely in a single style and has a unity that many cathedrals lack.

Image credits:
First exterior, michaelday_bath on flickr
Second exterior, Stephen McParlin (stephen_dedalus) on flickr
Nave, ajoh198 on flickr

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sutton Hoo Buckle.

Cross posted from Monstrous Beauty

Sutton Hoo was one of the greatest archeological finds in the British history. The grave of a 7th century Anglo-Saxon king, excavated in 1939, contained a literal treasure hoard. One of the most impressive pieces was this large gold belt buckle. The main body of the buckle is an intricate mass interwoven animals, executed in chip carving with black niello highlights. The overall design is symmetrical although the details of interlacing are not. The main plate is hollow and has a hinged back, forming a secret compartment.