Friday, April 04, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Three

Sunday, 19 March, 1989
Cambridge, Ely, & March
Day Three, Palm Sunday

Not having told Mrs. Payne any different, I was obliged to unearth myself and dress in time for breakfast at 8:00 o’clock. Serves me right for staying up so ungodly late.

I have neglected to say that they have two little dogs, Katie and Emmie, and a cat, Harvey. Harvey, a girl, isn’t much seen (too bad, as she looks a lot like my cat Didon) but the terrier puppy Emmie is all over the place if you half let her. So she was shut in the kitchen this morning. I really wouldn’t’ve minded the company, if she could’ve been persuaded to sit down.

They do have a church in Little Chesterford, at the end of the village street, but Mrs. Payne told me it’d only be the Communion service, no hymns, despite this being Palm Sunday. So I elected to go to the family service at Saffron Walden.

They have a very handsome Perpendicular church down there. Very great in size, too. Painted ceiling. Acoustics leave a little to be desired, as it’s hard for the choir to be heard and so lead the congregation in singing. And no tunes in the hymnals doesn’t help. (I will be so glad to get back to America and decent hymnals!) They did do "All Glory, Laud, and Hono(u)r," which is familiar, fortunately.

The deaconess preached (I’ll have to ask at home-- at Coverdale*, I mean--what her proper title would be) on the shame of the Cross, saying we’ve romanticised that element away. Very true.

There was a young African man in the pew and I spoke to him afterwards. Discovered he’s from Mozambique and is studying at a college there in Saffron Walden. I hadn’t realized the place was big enough to have a college (though I suppose so, it has 12,000 inhabitants). He, in his turn, had never heard of Oxford. The things you learn!

After hanging my Palm Sunday cross from the Astra's rearview mirror, I returned to Cambridge to see some things I’d missed yesterday. King’s College Chapel was open till 1:00 so I made that my first stop.

I’m not sure why, but I found the space rather oppressive. Maybe it’s those slender colonnettes terminating in those flattened arches overhead, or all that weight of ornamentation and false ribbing on the fan vaults, but it made me feel as if a ponderous hand was pressing down on the top of my head. I found it neither soaringly dynamic nor statically comfortable. Trying to be both, it was neither.

So I resolved to ignore the overall effect and concentrated on details instead, the stained glass, the carvings on the furniture, the organ case. (I am collecting organs this time.)

They hurried everyone out at 1:00, as the Choir was doing a recording this afternoon. The organ was being tuned (voiced?) as I was there looking around.

Drifted around to Silver Street and to the Backs again. Saw the Mathematical Bridge (interfering Victorians! [or maybe not]) then did a northerly flaner along the far back of the Cam, up eventually to St. John’s College, to see their version of the Bridge of Sighs.

There you have a classic example of the picture that got away. For I stood in there for fifteen minutes or more, the Olympus at the ready, but every time the sun as full out (making the tracery patterns on the floor that I was trying to get), there were people in the way. Or vice versa. Of course, once I’d given up and taken myself off back towards the carpark the sun came out for five whole minutes at a stretch. Teasing creature!

Next stop, Ely. You know, you can see the cathedral from several miles away.

Oddly, the west front isn’t as overbearing as I’d expected it to be. Maybe that’s because you approach it over an expanse of grass and you’re not confronted by it above you in a little square, as in France. But no, that can’t be it. Maybe it’s just because Ely looks so castellated you expect it to be forbidding.

I took my time working my way down to the crossing with its Octagon, and inspected first the Norman nave with its round pillars and brightly-painted wooden ceiling above.

The Octagon is a wonder, and more so for my knowing something about the carpentry that went into it. You can’t stand directly under it, as that’s where the parish altar sits. But you can stand there at an angle, gaping for minutes at a time up into the marvel of its ribbing and colors. It's like a wondrous heavenly flower opening overhead. Was I transfixed by the awe-inspiring effect of the space-- or was I simply waiting for the sun to come through the lantern so I could get a better photograph?

I went up to see the stained glass museum but it was just closing. The Lady Chapel was not open at all. Renovations.

The choir boys were singing as I came in. Then they stopped, recessed, then came back for Evensong at 3:45. The Scripture was that from Lamentations, "Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?" Which somehow seemed appropriate for a church full of people only there to see the sights and not to worship.

I wish I could have stayed but I still wanted to see the angel roof in March. Had a ham (Spam!) sandwich and an order of chips at a cafe first. Do you know they had the cheek to charge 5p for a little packet of ketchup? Ye gods.

Up to March after 5:00; arrived shortly after 6:00. (Took the road towards Huntingdon and got off at Chatteris). Glorious sunset through the tombstones, but I felt I’d better get inside before the light faded too much for the ceiling to be seen. At 6:05 the sexton came in to open up for the evening service and turned the lights on.

The roof is all plain oak, no polychrome or gilding. There certainly are a glorious lot of angels flying around up there. But as one man (the churchwarden, maybe) who came in shortly thereafter said, "After awhile you forget they’re there." I suppose so . . . they’d be at most a back of the mind reminder of the real Heavenly Host looking down on the people of God. After all, you can’t be looking up at the ceiling when you should be paying attention to the preacher.

It being so close to time I decided to stay for evening service. The congregation seemed to be very lively sorts of Christians, and seemed very genuinely joyful. The sermon was on Philemon and was a good one, but I think I was struck more by the words to all the hymns. They all seemed to deal with Christians, friend and stranger, all being one in Christ and all joyful together in his love. And as such seemed somehow aimed at me, and I didn’t really like it.

[ . . . Because I did not feel joyful. I did not feel happy. Why? Because . . . ]

I forgot to tell you, I discovered in Ely that I’d lost my flash attachment, apparently in Cambridge, after I’d used it to shoot the dark wood pulpitum in King’s Chapel. It must’ve dropped off the camera as I was carrying it around. This was one more pound of the ram against my defenses . . .

[Go make yourself a cup of tea while my 1989 self indulges in a short-sighted and frankly idolatrous lament over the existential devastation wreaked on her and on her attempts to be in total control of her personal universe. By what? By the loss and/or damage that was befalling her camera equipment and her credit the past two or three days . . .

Okay, it's safe to come back now.]

I receive Communion nevertheless. Second time today. The Catholics say that’s a no-no, I think, but the New Testament only says not to neglect the recognition of Jesus’ Body and Blood in the elements. Salva me, fons pietatis, for I have nowhere else to go!

The nearly-full moon was coursing through the clouds over the fens on my drive back. I was hoping they’d have the cathedral at Ely lit up like Chartres but no such luck.

Got bloody lost in Cambridge in the dark, idiot-like. Arrived back in Little Chesterford at nearly 10:00. Had all sorts of things I needed to do but only got a little route planning done before I fell asleep, nearly, on top of it.

The wideangle lens is still stuck on macro, but it will now slide back to 28mm. That’s a start at least.


Sandy said...

I was hoping you wouldn't get lost in the dark; but, alas, you did. Sigh.

St. Blogwen said...

Yes, if you assume Evensong got out at around 7:30, I should have made it back by 9:00.

(Ain't Google Maps wonderful?)