Reykholt

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Built heritage in Iceland of any serious age is few and far between. Despite it being a very old country.  Reykholt is an unassuming site, but it was the home of Snorri Sturlson arguably one of the most important Icelanders to have ever lived. The real history of Iceland, Iceland’s castle’s and cathedrals so to speak, is the sagas. Snorri was the man who wrote many of them down (among other accomplishments). His home has rightly been preserved.

Snorri was born in 1179, he was an aristocrat in a time before Iceland had a king and before changes to law were written down. Between 1262 and 1264 Iceland handed itself over to Norway following a period of extreme unrest. After this law was codified, but during Snorri’s time- he was killed at Reykholt on the 23rd of September 1241- a law speaker recited all  changes to the laws at the law rock at Þingvellir. This recitation occurred during the meeting of the parliament known as the Alpingi each summer. The law speaker also interpreted the law. The Alpingi was a meeting of all the different chieftains to come to agreements on a wide variety of issues. You can see Þingvellir and an approximation of where the law rock was in the images below.

Þingvellir  itself is absolutely fascinating and I will be writing a post about it at a later date.

But to return to Snorri. He was the law speaker at Þingvellir from 1215-1218 and 1222-1231. He was  an immensely influential chieftain in Iceland, spending time in Norway with King Hakon Hakonson and becoming embroiled in affairs there as well.  He also owned a lot of land in Iceland, collecting the revenues from over 100 farms and holding 11 chieftainships, covering roughly a quarter of Iceland . While he was undoubtedly influential in his own time, what has made Snorri important to the history of Iceland is his role in the sagas. He recorded many of the sagas, not just the mythic ones but the stories of the life of Icelanders. Much of what we know about this period descends from his work. It is arguable whether he wrote them all himself, but if he didn’t they were probably written at Reykholt under his direction. One of the most important is the Edda, which is the source of most knowledge about Norse mythology. Snorri wrote down the pagan tales of Nordic poetry and culture, possibly in part to save them as new types of romantic and ‘courtly’ verse was making their way in from the rest of Europe. While Snorri’s writing may not have been incredibly influential in his own time, there is no doubt that it has come to be the main source for this period and much of what the history of early Iceland is based on.

Snorri certainly didn’t live a pure and noble life. He brought much of his trouble on himself through his machinations and arrogance. He was also power hungry and helped to contribute to the unrest that resulted in Iceland handing itself over to Norway. He definitely made an impact though.

Snorri died in September 1241 when Gissur Thorvaldsson, an old enemy of Snorri’s who had been married to one of Snorri’s daughters, had a letter from the King of Norway instructing Gissur to return Snorri to Norway (Snorri had left against the King’s orders in 1239) or to kill him. Gissur rode with 70 men to Reykholt. Snorri heard them approaching from where he was asleep and ran to the small house where the priest Arnbjorn was staying. He hid in the cellar. The priest gave him up in fear of his life and the men went down into the cellar. Snorri was alone and unarmed, an old man of 62. Simon, one of Gissur’s lieutenants, gave the order to kill and according to a contemporary account Snorri tried to order them to stop, saying “you will not strike” Simon replied “kill him now” Snorri insisted, drawing on all his authority, “you will not strike”.

It didn’t work. Snorri was struck the death blow by Arni beiskur and several other men continued to stab him. It was a sad end for a man who shaped the past and the future of Iceland for better and for worse.  Snorri’s life is much more complicated and interesting than I could possibly summarise here, see my references at the bottom of this piece if you want to learn more. 

You can see his (non contemporary) statue at Reykholt below.

The site of Reykholt itself is a difficult one in some ways. There are no contemporary buildings left, but the modern and 19th century buildings for the most part pay homage well enough to the original purpose. 

There are original features, but  most are archaeological remains, you can see some below.

The most interesting original feature is Snorralung (Snorri’s pool). The Book of Settlements shows that there was definitely a hot water pool being used on or near the site in the 10th century. When Snorri lived at Reykholt the site had become an active farm and church. The Sturlunga Saga, which was written after Snorri’s death by one of his nephews, depicts Snorri sitting in the pool talking with friends. You can see the pool in the photo below.

The pool is fed from the near by Skrifla hot spring via a conduit. It is built of hewn stones of geyserite slabs, the same that paved some of the surrounding medieval buildings. It is 4m in diameter and nearly a metre deep. The surrounds of the pool are not original, nor is the small roofed door you can see just above the pool. The roofed door and the turf around are in place to protect the remains of a passage that connected the original medieval buildings to the pool. It is in no way meant to replicate what the passage would have looked like, or how it would have been used. The pool was one of the earlier archaeological remains listed in Iceland in 1817. 

Reykholt is not a site that has been isolated and preserved as a ruin, there is a hotel and conference center and it has been an active religious site for much of its history.  It has also had a high school built on it and was a working farm into the 20th century, both of which have sadly destroyed some of the archaeology.

There is, however, an excellent cultural center explaining Snorri’s life and a library (which was sadly closed while I was there). In Snorri’s time it would have been a busy medieval farm very much in keeping with others of its type throughout medieval Europe. There has been extensive archaeological excavation at Reykholt. The farm on the current site was established around 1000 CE. The earliest buildings would  have been long houses. There was another slightly later separate structure  which was probably a church, though it has a sunken section which is very unusual for churches in Iceland. These buildings would have been wooden. 

There were a number of new buildings by the medieval period in which Snorri would have been living in Reykholt. There was most likely a dwelling called a stofa, which is a type of Norwegian timber house set on stone foundations. A stofa in Reykholt is mentioned in the Sturlunga Saga, but the specific building that might have been this structure has never been definitively identified.

The saga lists the source of the wood for the dwellings as a harbour in the north of Iceland. As the only other semi reliable source of wood in Iceland was driftwood, and Reykholt held the driftwood rights only on the western peninsula in the time period, the wood must have come from Norway . Driftwood in Iceland was a much sought after commodity as Iceland was largely deforested and because it was impregnated with saltwater so it withstood Iceland’s weather. Siberian trees like pine, fir and larch are brought to Iceland on the Arctic Ocean currents and more exotic woods like mahogany come on the Gulf Stream. When driftwood rights belonged to a particular person they cut their driftwood mark onto it when it was on the beach. This meant that they retained that right even if the driftwood went back out to sea and  was carried around to another beach. You can see some marked driftwood in the photo below.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_1405.jpg

But to return to Reykholt. The stofa was described as having a litlastofa attached to it, which might have been the private room for the master. If this was the layout, it was most likely from litlastofa that the passage to Snorri’s pool ran. The total length of the passageway is more than 30 m and the entrance was possibly behind a hidden door. There was also  a spiral staircase leading down to it (very rare in Iceland). It may have been intended as a secret way in and out of the house,  it may have been a status symbol, or it may have just been a way for the owner of the house (possibly Snorri) to access the pool without having to go out in the weather.

There were a number of dwellings at Reykholt, but the other building of most significance was probably the stave church which was built sometime between the 12th and 14th centuries. It would have stood slightly separate from the other buildings on the site. Stave churches are a fascinating and really beautiful construction. You can see the 12th century Urnes Stave Church from Norway in the photo below and read about its history here

Hot steam as well as water was also channeled through to various points on the site, possibly based on a hypocaust system. This sort of sophisticated design, along with the number, size and specific utility of many of the buildings (most individual buildings in Iceland had multiple utilities) indicate the importance of Reykholt and its high status in Icelandic society. This status is born out by other sources like the sagas. 

Reykholt is still very much part of its landscape too. You can see the remains of the original medieval road and the valley has been re-forested in recent decades. Woods are unusual in Iceland so these are important, as well as being a cultural touchstone for Icelanders.  You can see both the road and the woods in the photo below. 

 

Reykholt also sits on top of a knoll with clear site lines in a very fertile valley. The landscape in Iceland is absolutely key. Many of the nearby sites that feature in the sagas can still be visited. This includes the Deildartunga, which was a nearby region the inheritance of which was much disputed. Ultimately this dispute led to Snorri being fostered by Jon Loftsson who shaped the direction of his life. 

You can see the hot spring at Deildartunga in the photos below. 

The hot springs are Europe’s largest with a flow rate of 180 litres per second. The other pertinent nearby feature is Hraunfossar, an incredible waterfall that flows off the Hallmundarhraun lava field. It is named after Hallmun who, according to the Grettis Saga lived in the area. The author of the Grettis Saga is unknown,  but it was written around the same time that Snorri was writing so it was part of the same tradition. You can see the waterfall in the photos below.

These two natural features illustrate just how epic Snorri’s landscape and Iceland in general was and is. It’s easy to see how people came to believe in trolls, giants and meddlesome gods living in this sort of environment. Thankfully  Snorri and his ilk’s determination has preserved these stories. 

References:

Edda by Snorri Sturlson translated by Anthony Faulkes ISBN: 9780460876162

The Buildings of Medieval Reykholt: The wider context edited by Gudrun Sveinbjarnardottir ISBN:9789935231574

Sagaland by Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason ISBN: 9780733338236

Site visit 2018

The photos are all mine

Urnes Stave Church in Norway

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Urnes Stave Church in Norway is probably the most remarkable medieval structure I have ever visited. It is aided in this status by the truly incredible surroundings.

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IMG_2139It is, however, its completeness as a 12th century wooden structure inside and out, and especially the carvings, which make it truly remarkable.

This is the first of what will be a series of posts on the history of Iceland, Denmark and Norway. I’m beginning with Urnes because of its uniqueness and because it is UNESCO World Heritage listed.

Urnes sits on eastern edge of the Luster Fjord. It was built around 1150. There had been churches on the site before, parts of which have been reused in the church you can see today. It is the oldest stave church in Norway and is so distinctive and so influential that its style has come to be known as Urnes Style when it is used in other buildings.

The name stave church comes from the large vertical load bearing posts which form the basis of the structure of the church. Essentially it is composed of a vertical rectangular frame. You can see a cross-section of Borgund stave church below, which gives you the idea of the interior structure necessary for a stave church (Borgund is a lot bigger than Urnes though)

IMG_2089There were once over 1000 stave churches in Norway, but now only 28 remain. Most were built between 1130 and 1350 though a few are later. The black death affected the construction of new buildings after the mid 14th century. The reason they survived, even though they are wooden, is because the wood is coated regularly in pitch to protect it from the weather (this is still done at Urnes). In the case of Urnes it has a stone foundation, which stops it rotting from the ground up. The previous church on the site was a post hole church, the holes have been found in archaeological investigations.

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Stave churches are not all the same, they are built along different lines and with different styles. For example you can see Ringebu Stave Church below

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Urnes is one of the smallest, but it is also the most lavishly decorated.

The carvings are truly incredible. They are an amalgam of Celtic, Viking and early Christian design. Some are extremely reminiscent visually of early illuminated manuscripts like the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells.

IMG_2105IMG_2106The carving above is the side door which is no longer used, but would most likely have originally been the main entrance. You can see a stylised lion in the carvings on the left. These carvings most likely come from the exterior of the earlier church and were reused in the current church. You can see the interior of the door below.

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Other exterior carvings from the earlier church include the post you can see below.

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The main entrance to the church is on the west end and you can see more medieval carving on the capitals and it is thought that the ironwork on the door might be original as well.

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When you look at the photos of the church from the front you will noticed that there is an odd flap open.

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This flap, along with some other panels, are usually closed to protect the delicate carvings beneath. I was lucky enough that when I visited it was open for a conference group and, while it is very weathered, it is still beautiful and thought to be medieval. IMG_2101

The timber the church is constructed of is largely pine with elements of hardwood. The turret on the church is not original, in 1702 it replaced an earlier one from 1680. The roof was also tiled at one point. The current shingles date to the 20th century when the church underwent careful restoration, when much of the protective cladding was also added.

IMG_2141IMG_2143Leaving aside the exterior of the church for the moment, the interior is just as if not more impressive.

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You can see that the floor in the nave is lower than the rest of the church, this was because there was an open space under the floor which was used for burials. It was discontinued in favour of the external cemetery in the 19th century at least partly because of the smell.

The ceiling is 17th century, originally it would have been open like the underside of a boat. The original windows would have been small and porthole like. As you can probably tell the interior has been changed quite a bit over the centuries, but there are still a lot of medieval elements. My favourites are the carved capitals on the columns which then rise up into romanesque wooden arches. These were quite possibly based on contemporary stone churches of the time and are certainly similar to stone churches I have seen in England and Ireland.

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Remarkably some of the medieval fittings have also survived: including the figure of Christ on the Cross with Mary and John which dates to the end of the 12th century

IMG_2113Along with a medieval bishop’s chairIMG_2125

A medieval candelabra

IMG_2126and the chandelier which hangs from the ceiling

IMG_2136The gallery you can see part of above the chandelier, and above the chancel in the earlier photo, was added later and sadly involved cutting some of the original columns and capitals.

The highly decorated altar and pulpit dates to the 1690s, the chancel was extended out in the early 1600s.

IMG_2127IMG_2131The paintings and figures you can see on the walls are also 17th century.

Originally there wouldn’t have been fixed pews, they were introduced after the reformation and the ones in Urnes are 17th century. The boxed pew you can see in the photo below was for women being brought into the church to be cleansed after childbirth.

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Urnes was probably built for the wealthy local Ornes family, but it was also a church used by the locals. It is an amalgam of styles as the needs of the church’s community changed. It is a testimony to the quality of construction that it is still standing today.

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In 1720 it was sold to local priest Christopher Munthe and it remained privately owned until the parish bought it in 1850. By 1881 it wasn’t needed any longer because the parish was reorganised and it was to given to the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments. The parish retained the burial rights in the churchyard and the right to hold services twice a year. This practice continues and Urnes is used by the local community for special occasions. In 1979 UNESCO included Urnes on its World Heritage Register

It met the three main criteria easily with UNESCO saying

Criterion (i): The Urnes Stave Church is an outstanding example of traditional Scandinavian wooden architecture. It brings together traces of Celtic art, Viking traditions and Romanesque spatial structures. The outstanding quality of the carved décor of Urnes is a unique artistic achievement.

Criterion (ii): The stave churches are representative of the highly developed tradition of wooden buildings that extended through the Western European cultural sphere during the Middle Ages. Urnes is one of the oldest of the Norwegian stave churches and an exceptional example of craftsmanship. It also reveals the development from earlier techniques and therefore contributes to the understanding of the development of this specific tradition.

Criterion (iii) : Urnes Stave Church is an ancient  wooden building and is outstanding due to the large-scale reuse of both decorative and constructive elements originating from a stave church built about one century earlier. It is an outstanding example of the use of wood to express the language of Romanesque stone architecture.

Urnes is truly astounding and for such a little church it certainly holds a lot of history.

 

References

Site visit 2018

Urnes Stave Church brochures

Urnes Stave Church Booklet

UNESCO Listing: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/58/

The photos are all mine.

Otway Redwoods

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In the middle of a pine plantation and native Australian forest, in the Otways, in Victoria is a truly remarkable stand of Sequoia sempervirens, known as Coast Redwoods (they’re native to California). The only access is a very muddy road that is little more than a logging track and when you are driving along it, chasing the last of the sun it can seem interminable. The trees, however, are worth it. They are truly majestic and there is a sense of calmness that permeates through to the ground.

The Otways are extensive dense Australian native forestIMG_0153IMG_0198IMG_0243IMG_0252The European settlers deforested much of it, using the fertile soil for farmland. The land however was difficult to access and the forests kept coming back, so much was eventually abandoned. There was also gold mining in the area and when these mines were closed the land was left scarred.

In the late 1800s it was decided that re-forestation for harvesting was the best option. A small patch of the Aire Valley was one of the areas chosen to test a variety of trees to determine which would grow best in the area.

The Forest Act of 1907 mandated a program to try a whole variety of trees, as timber was needed quickly for construction. The majority of the experiments across the state were in pine and native forest, but the small area of the Aire Valley was chosen to trial Coast Redwood. They were known to be a very slow growing, so it was only a small test area, but it stands today as a testament to the epic nature of the redwoods.

 

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These are very big trees.

These trees were planted in 1936 and in 2004, the last time they were officially assesed, the dominant tree height was 59.8 metres with an average diameter of 106.6 cm.

They continue to grow.

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IMG_2600These trees stand amongst the mighty native mountain ash, definitely rivalling them in height.

IMG_2627The redwoods have become part of the local landscape

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While some of the redwoods have been harvested, they never became viable commercial timber on a large scale. The pines just proved to be too fast growing and effective. This isn’t the only stand of experimental redwood in Victoria, but the others don’t survive in any quantity.

Both the Redwood and the next door mountain ash are contenders in the race for the tallest trees in the world. By 2084 it is thought that some of the redwoods will reach 115.5 m and there is currently no plans to harvest them. So barring bushfire or other natural disaster, they will probably have the chance to make this record breaking height.

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This is by no means the whole story of the redwoods, to find that get a copy of the excellent book The Redwoods of the Otway Ranges by Roger Smith. (It is available for loan from the PMI Victorian History Library, or you can buy it from the author). This post is intended as a snapshot, an introduction to a remarkable stand of trees.

References:

Site visit 2018

The Redwoods of the Otway Ranges by Roger Smith

Music in the short video is from Doctor Turtle

The photos are all mine.

On a side note there will be no posts from me in September. I’m away. But expect lots about the history of Scandinavia in the following months.

 

The Magna Carta

To write about the Magna Carta is to tread already very well trodden ground. For a document that had little immediate impact, its mythology has echoed down the centuries.

I am not intending to write anything ground breaking or revelatory about the Magna Carta. This post is going to draw together my experiences with people and sites that hold together the thread of the history of the Magna Carta and explore the outline and background of the document’s story.

My interest in the Magna Carta began in year eleven at high school. As an Australian I didn’t get much of a chance to write about medieval history within the curriculum, but in year eleven we got to chose our own research project and I picked the Magna Carta. It was the first time I got to seriously research the medieval period and I still remember the pride with which I produced my 2000 word report. It only covered the basics, but it was a first step on a path that in many ways has ultimately led to this blog.

I’ve always found the Magna Carta interesting, because despite the reality of its actual contents it has come to be a symbol of Western style democracy. The Magna Carta was sealed (not signed) on June 15th 1215. It didn’t come out of nowhere, it was based on other charters from both England and the continent, but its legacy has been peculiarly enduring. The Rights of Man from the French Revolution are based on it, as is the American Bill of Rights and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. It is held up as a bastion of freedom against tyranny. All of this, I discovered when I began to research as a seventeen year old, has very little basis in the reality of the document.

The Magna Carta contains 63 clauses. Covering everything from fish weirs in the Thames and the Medway, to how heirs should be handled, to how specific people are to be treated. The two clauses that give the Magna Carta its formidable reputation at 39 and 40.

(39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

(40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

These are proud words, but at the time (like the rest of the Charter) they had little to no effect. Apart from any other reason the Charter was repealed by the Pope by September 1215 and the rebel barons were excommunicated. It wasn’t until the Magna Carta was reissued in 1217 and 1225, under Henry III,  and when it first came into the King’s Statute Books, in the reign of  Edward I in 1297, that it began to have any real impact. Even so you only have to look at the rest of English history (the War of the Roses and  the Tudors for example) to show much effect it had on the power of kings to summarily imprison their subjects.

The Magna Carta was by the Barons for the Barons. It is an excellent reflection of what was concerning the nobility in 1215. It is worth remembering that none of the the clauses are given more importance than any other: fish weirs are just as important as not delaying justice. The Magna Carta was extracted from John under duress in an attempt to shore up their own authority. It was never intended to be catch all for every person and it is important to remember that it is a document born of war.

The conflict between King John and his barons was not one that was singular to John. His brother and father before him had all dealt with rebellious barons. It was under John however that it all came to a head in a perfect storm. A lot, but not all, of which was John’s fault. He took the throne in 1199 and it began badly as there was dispute over whether the throne should have gone to Arthur Duke of Brittany, the son of John’s dead elder brother Geoffrey. This was mainly important on the continent as Arthur was seen as a French puppet by many of the English.

Many of John’s failings in kingship were personal. He was inconsistent and could be very vindictive. Additionally after he lost the majority of the Plantagenet lands on the continent he had time to focus squarely on England, which the barons didn’t appreciate. It also didn’t help that he succeeded in having the whole country placed under interdict because he wouldn’t accept the Pope’s candidate as Archbishop of Canterbury. He was essentially bad at managing people and extremely suspicious. Even taking into account chronicler’s bias most contemporary accounts are reasonably consistent on John’s failings.

This led to revolt and ultimately in the Barons offering Prince Louis of France the English throne.

The role of the king and his lordship over the Barons was the core of the revolt. In 1214 in Bury St Emdunds 25 barons swore on the altar of St Edmund that they would try to force King John to accept the charter of liberties of Henry I, which was the precursor to the Magna Carta. The rough spot and the commemorative plaque can be seen in the photos below.

Bury St Edmondsbury plaque 2bury plaque

Ultimately, with help from the French the barons backed John into a corner. The Magna Carta was agreed to by King John on June 15th 1215 at Runnymede. Runnymede was neutral ground as it is located half way between London (which had gone over to the barons) and John’s castle at Windsor. Also being a water meadow it was a naturally occurring in-between liminal space.

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The photos above are from the water meadows at Runnymede. Finding them was a bit of an ordeal. We got the train to the nearest station expecting there to be signs. This is a mistake I have made too many times before in relation to medieval sites. After getting sent in the wrong direction twice and accidentally dragging my mother through a swamp on her birthday we found the meadows (though we still missed the physical monument to the Magna Carta). I had very wet feet, but it was worth it. Apart from anything else it is a gorgeous example of an English water meadow. There are plaques in the town to some of the barons involved in the Magna Carta. You can see the one to William Marshal below.

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The Charter wasn’t an end though and as an attempt to abate civil war it was less than useful. It took King John’s death in 1216 to mark the beginning of the end of the conflict. He died, probably of dysentery, at Newark after losing his entire baggage train in the Wash (A tidal inlet in Norfolk and somewhere else I got my feet very wet walking to). You can see a copy of John’s effigy below (the original is in Worcester Cathedral) and a photo of the Wash as it looked in 2012, significant land has been reclaimed for farming.

King JohnThe wash2

John’s death did not mean the immediate end of the civil war. His son Henry III took the throne, but he was only nine and the formidable William Marshal was appointed Regent of England.

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A copy of Henry III’s effigy (the original is in Westminster Abbey

Marshal

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William Marshal’s effigy in the Temple Church in London (arguably)

marshal the youngermarshal the younger closeWilliam Marshal the Younger’s effigy (arguably) in the Temple Church in London.

Marshal is a man I’ve written about a lot before (I wrote my honours thesis on him) and you can find out more about him here. Marshal was an elder statesman by the time he became Regent in 1216. He was probably in his very late 60s. He had stayed loyal to King John at personal cost, and his son William Marshal the Younger had fought on the Barons’ side. It has been argued that this family divide was intentional to make sure there was a Marshal foot in either camp. Regardless, with John dead, barons started coming back into the royal fold, including  eventually John’s half brother William Earl of Salisbury, who had jumped ship in the dying days of John’s reign. Ultimately more than 115 defected back, but it took some longer than others.

william longspeeThe effigy of William Earl of Salisbury in Salisbury Cathedral.

By the time John died Prince Louis was very much in England and not willing to give up his claim to the crown. Ultimately it took the Battle of Lincoln, which was so successful for the royalist forces that it was known at the Fair of Lincoln, winning the Battle of Sandwich (despite Louis’ ships being led by the pirate Eustace the Monk) and Marshal ultimately bribing the Prince to get him to go back to France. By the time Marshal died in May 1219 he left behind a, comparatively, stable England.

But where did all this turmoil leave the Magna Carta? Today there are four surviving copies of the original 1215 Magna Carta. One belongs to Lincoln Cathedral because Hugh of Wells the Bishop of Lincoln was present when the Magna Carta was sealed and made sure a copy was brought back to the cathedral

Lincoln cathedral

This copy is currently held in Lincoln Castle along with the 1217 Charter of the Forest which (in the name of Henry III, but under Marshal’s seal) was separated from the Magna Carta into its own individual document.

Lincoln castle2LincolnLincoln Castle.

Another copy is held at Salisbury Cathedral. It was probably brought by Elias Dereham, a priest of the Archbishop of Canterbury and has remained there ever since.

SalisburySalisbury Cathedral.

The final two copies are housed in the British Museum. One most likely originally came from Canterbury, the other is known as the ‘London Magna Carta’ and exactly how it ended up in London by the 17th century is unknown. Sadly the Canterbury copy is illegible. It did suffer some fire damage in 1731, but most of the damage was done in a failed attempt to restore the Charter in the 1830s. Sadly this copy is the only surviving 1215 copy that still has the original seal of King John attached, though it was severely melted in the 1731 fire.

british libraryBritish Library.

After the reign of Henry III the next key re-issue of the Magna Carta was by Edward I. In 1297 he issued (a revised version) officially into the English statutes. Interestingly enough I have actually seen one of the only surviving 1297 copies in Australia. It is held at Parliament House in Canberra. It is one of only four surviving copies and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. It was bought by Australia’s Chief Librarian for 12 500 pounds in 1951.parliament house canberra

Parliament House Canberra Australia.

Regardless of how little immediate effect the Magna Carta had, it is a document that has come to symbolise the core of Western Democracy. It has become mythology in its own right and its reality has got quite lost in the monumental legacy. A legacy that (right or wrong) Rudyard Kipling summed up best.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
What say the reeds at Runnymede?
The lissom reeds that give and take,
That bend so far, but never break,
They keep the sleepy Thames awake
With tales of John at Runnymede.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Oh, hear the reeds at Runnymede:
‘You musn’t sell, delay, deny,
A freeman’s right or liberty.
It wakes the stubborn Englishry,
We saw ’em roused at Runnymede!

When through our ranks the Barons came,
With little thought of praise or blame,
But resolute to play the game,
They lumbered up to Runnymede;
And there they launched in solid line
The first attack on Right Divine,
The curt uncompromising “Sign!’
They settled John at Runnymede.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Your rights were won at Runnymede!
No freeman shall be fined or bound,
Or dispossessed of freehold ground,
Except by lawful judgment found
And passed upon him by his peers.
Forget not, after all these years,
The Charter signed at Runnymede.’

And still when mob or Monarch lays
Too rude a hand on English ways,
The whisper wakes, the shudder plays,
Across the reeds at Runnymede.
And Thames, that knows the moods of kings,
And crowds and priests and suchlike things,
Rolls deep and dreadful as he brings
Their warning down from Runnymede!

 

References:

Site visits in 2012, 2015 and 2017.

Magna Carta: Law, liberty, legacy by the British Library ISBN: 9780712357630

Blood Cries Afar: The forgotten invasion of England 1216 by Sean McGlynn ISBN: 9780752488318

https://www.bl.uk/magna-carta/articles/magna-carta-an-introduction

https://www.bl.uk/magna-carta/articles/magna-carta-english-translation

https://www.visitlincoln.com/magnacarta

https://magnacarta800th.com/events/st-edmundsbury/

https://www.salisburycathedral.org.uk/magna-carta

https://www.aph.gov.au/Visit_Parliament/Art/Top_5_Treasures/Magna_Carta

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-05/australia-magna-carta/6072830

http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/kipling.html

The photos are all mine.

Victorian History Quiz: Easy to Evil

This month I decided to do a quiz, as I haven’t done one for a while. I have also updated two old posts with some new photos and a video. The updated Tower Hill Cemeteries post can be found here and the updated Port Fairy and Cape Schanck can be found here

But to return to the quiz.

The rules are simple. There are sixteen questions in four categories: Easy, Medium, Hard, Evil. You will see a question then a photo clue, the answer is underneath the photo. Good luck and keep track of your score so you can see how you do at the end.

Have fun.

Easy

  1. What is the name of the capital of Victoria?

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A. Melbourne

 

2. Where was the best known book by Joan Lindsay set (hint it features a character called Miranda)

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A. Hanging Rock

 

3. What is the name of the main station in Melbourne? (this is very very easy if you look closely at the photo)

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A. Flinders Street Station.

 

4. What is the name of the island best known for its parade of little penguins

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A.Phillip Island

 

 

Medium

5. What was the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne built for?

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A. The 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition

 

 

6. Who was one of the founders of the State Library of Victoria, the the library of the University of Melbourne, the Supreme Court Library and was the judge who condemned Ned Kelly to death.

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A. Sir Redmond Barry

 

7. Where in Melbourne can you find 12000 unknown bodies?

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A.Under Queen Victoria Market.

 

8. What attraction was once known as the sow and piglets?

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A. The Twelve Apostles.

 

 

 

Hard

9. When was the State Library of Victoria established?

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A.1854

 

10. What and where is the photo below?

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A. The ceiling of the ANZ gothic bank in Collins Street Melbourne

 

11. What is the structure below called and what was it used for?

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A. Coop’s Shot tower and creating lead shot.

 

 

12. When was the Shrine opened?

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A. 1934

 

 

Evil

13. What decade was the Scenic Railway at Luna Park opened and which company designed it?

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A. 1910s (1912) and it is designed by L A Thompson Scenic Railway Company of New York.

 

 

 

14. What is the name of the mansion built in what is now Somers for Frederick Grimwade in 1895?

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A. Coolart

 

 

15. Who is the cairn on Arthur’s Seat dedicated to and why?

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A. Matthew Flinders because he stood on the mount in 1802

 

16. Who designed the Forum Theatre

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A. John Eberson and Bohringer, Taylor & Johnson

 

So that is the end. How did you do?

1-4: Well you’ve got some basics down pat. Good start.

5-8: You know more than basics, well on your way.

9-12: Good work, beginning to build a wealth of obscure facts.

13-15: Incredible effort. You may know more about Victoria than is sensible 🙂

16: Are you sure you didn’t write the quiz?

 

The photos are all mine

 

Wurundjeri Earth Rings

The history of Indigenous Australians is a vitally important part of the history of Victoria and Australia. It is something that nowhere near enough Australians, and I include myself in this, know enough about. It is a truly ancient history dating back roughly 70 000 years, making Indigenous Australians pretty much the oldest continuing culture in the world. There are Indigenous sites across Australia, many of which are thousands of years old, and if these were in Europe they’d be celebrated and visited by millions, even in places where there isn’t a lot to actually see. In Australia, however, they can be very hard to find. I’ve lived in and around Melbourne my whole life and I work in the heritage field, but I’d never even heard of the earth rings just out of Sunbury until they were part of a National Trust Heritage Festival tour this year. I jumped at the chance to visit and find out more.

I’d like to pause here to say that I am aware that as a non Indigenous person writing Indigenous history can be problematic. This post is intended to encapsulate the possible history of the site as was explained by a Wurundjeri Elder on the tour, and I claim no more than that. The rings are just so fascinating that I want to make sure people know about them and to help ensure that Indigenous history is a part of the history of Victoria.

I’d also like to say that the rings don’t show up amazingly well in photos, but I’m hoping the pictures will at least give you an idea of what I’m talking about. You can certainly see them when you’re on the site.

The rings are earthwork formations and can be found just out of Sunbury, which is an hour or so outside of Melbourne. The landscape has been farmed since 1842, but is slowly being reclaimed, and is surrounded by the curve of Jackson’s Creek. The land is being looked after by the Wurundjeri Tribe Council, using a mix of traditional and modern methods. You can see some general photos of the land and wildlife below.

IMG_0763IMG_0762IMG_0768IMG_0767The current site is 13 hectares, but it might be expanding as negotiations are currently in train to give the land council more land as part of another development.

Some of the land was owned by Salesian College, which you can see in the distance below.

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The Wurundjeri Tribe Council has begun revegetating the land, planting roughly 3000 trees and other plants. They have also cleared an extraordinary amount of weeds, including a lot of box thorn. They are using burning to help rejuvenate the land to bring back the native grasses and plants. Currently pasture grasses dominate the site, as you can see above. The smoke helps to stimulate seeds beneath the ground and regular small burns make it easier for native bushes and grasses to come back as the pasture grasses don’t regrow as easily if they are burnt regularly. You can see what I believe is an everlasting daisy which has come up below.

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While there would have been some trees originally, like the ones below, this area would have been a significant grassland.

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The Wurundjeri Tribe Council land managers have also been trying to build up the quality of the soil by raking together the leaves etc and letting them catch silt after rain before planting.

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So, that is the overall site, but what about the rings themselves. Development actually plays a key part in the history of the rings. No one knew the rings were there until a development went up on the edge of the reserve in the 1970s and they were re-discovered.

They are definitely man made and probably date to at least a thousand years, but in the invasion of western settlers in the 1800s the local Indigenous population was so decimated that the oral history of the rings was lost. They were dug out by hand with digging sticks, with nothing brought in from outside

On the site that I visited there are three rings, though there are others in the area. Unfortunately no one knows exactly what the rings were used for, only one has been archaeologically investigated. The Wurundjeri don’t want these sacred sites dug up, even for archaeology. Rings in NSW are thought to have been burial places, but there is no evidence of this for the Sunbury rings.

The first of the rings is in the worst condition. It has been too open to the public interference, especially from motorbikes. There is also a bad rabbit problem and a recent lack of rain has caused problems as well (this extends to the whole site)

The first ring was the one that was rediscovered in the 1970s with the nearby development. Once this one was re-found it was realised what the other two just over the hill were as well. You can see the ring in the photo below.

 

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IMG_0754It has been fenced off now, but even this doesn’t always work as you can see from the drain in the photo below.

IMG_0758The ring was dug out from the middle and the earth was piled up around.

The second and third rings are in better condition and it was the second one that was excavated in the 1970s. When the ring was excavated it had a pile of stones in the middle, it was thought that there might be burials underneath. There wasn’t, and it is thought that the stones were removed when the ring was dug (there is a lot of rock in the local soil) and piled in the middle. You can see the remains of the stones in the photos below.IMG_0773

IMG_0775The third ring is a little father up the hill and is actually a double ring. There is a larger ring with a smaller ring inside it.

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While it is not, currently, possible to know exactly what the rings were used for it is hoped that it will be in the future. New information is being discovered in diaries and old documentation all the time as for the first time researchers (especially Indigenous ones) really begin to look. The current theory is that the rings might have been used for marriage. You can’t see the first ring from the second and visa-versa and the idea is that the men would have got prepared in one and the women in the other and they would have joined each other in the double ring and actually married there. There is a flat section on the double ring where someone could have officiated from.

IMG_0782While at the moment this is only a theory, it is one that seems to make sense. Hopefully more answers will be discovered.

I am not in the least superstitious, but the rings do have a certain atmosphere. The atmosphere is of a place that has been used for a purpose for a very very long time, a land that has been shaped by human hands for time out of mind. It reminded me a little of the Hill of Tara in Ireland, a site that dates back thousands of years (which is perfectly possible for the rings).  This site and others like it should be part of the education of every Victorian child the way Eureka and the gold rush is. Places like the Wurundjeri rings and Indigenous history  in general needs to become an integral part of the overt history of Victoria rather than the background or subvert history. Indigenous history needs to become part of the historical consciousness of Australia, as important (if not more important) than the First Fleet and the ANZAC legends. It should be celebrated that we have this incredible history stretching back for thousands and thousands of years, and if doing this means coming to terms with and acknowledging how close European invasion came to destroying it all (much of the time quite intentionally) then so much the better.

 

References: Site visit 2018.

https://www.wurundjeri.com.au/services/natural-resource-management/

The photos are all mine.

Kells, County Meath

IMG_4212For a town with a population of not much over 6000 Kells has made an inordinately strong mark on Irish History.

It is best known as the original home of what is , arguably,  the most famous illuminated manuscript in the world.

But while the Book of Kells is truly incredible, and I’ll talk more about it later, Kells itself (especially the abbey) has its own fascinating history. I am also slightly biased as some of my family comes from Kells and the surrounding area. A plaque to one of my ancestors can still be seen in the church at the abbey.

This post isn’t going to cover the entire history of Kells, there’s simply too much of it. It will, however, look at the early history of the town, the Book of Kells, and some of the key buildings in town.

So to begin at the beginning.

There were possibly people in the area before, but the history of Kells as a settlement dates back to the 6th century, when it was a fortification of the High King Diarmait mac Cerbaill.  The site was gifted to Saint Colmcille who founded the abbey which remains today, though none of the exisiting building are contemporary.

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The second image is an etching from the late 1700s.

Saint Colmcille (known in latin as Columba) was born to the ruling family of present day Donegal. Still standing in Kells today is Colmcille’s cell which dates around the 10th century. It is too late to actually have been used by Colmcille and was in fact probably an oratory that may have housed his relics, with some sleeping accommodation for some monks. IMG_4260

In roughly 561 Colmcille travelled to Scotland as a ‘pilgrim for Christ’ and to convert the Picts. In 563 he settled on Iona and founded the abbey there. It went on to be one of the most influential in the area inspiring the foundation of other houses, including Lindisfarne. In the 9th century Iona was subject to fearsome Viking raids and they relocated most of the community to Kells in 804. It is agreed by most scholars that the Book of Kells originated in around 800 making it possible that it was originally made in either Kells or Iona. It was definitely at Kells by 1007 when the Annals of Ulster record it as being stolen from the stone church in Kells.

This is not the church we see today. From 808 to 814 a new church was built, though it was rebuilt after the Viking raid of 920 and most likely again after other raids over the years. By 1655 it was well and truly in ruins and it was used as a horse barracks by Cromwell. The current church dates to 1788.

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It is in St Columba’s Church that you can also see the plaque dedicated to my ancestor.

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However there are parts of the site that do date to earlier. Firstly the round tower. Round towers are honestly one of my favourite structures ever and I’ve visited quite a number. You can find out more about their history in this previous post.

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The Kells round tower dates to the 10th century and it is 90 feet tall without its roof, which would have been conical. Is has six floors and would probably have been accessed by ladders. There is still a lot of debate as to the purpose of round towers. It is possible that they were simply bell towers, part of the system of the call to prayer with the height made necessary by the size of the ecclesiastical sites. They may have also been symbols reaching towards the glory of God and illustrating the importance of the ecclesiastical site, conveying messages of spiritual and temporal power. There is also an argument, though currently thought of as a little less likely, that they were watch towers and were part of defence systems. They may have been built partly as a response to Viking and other attacks. The monks would have been able to climb in, store their treasures, burn the stairs to the door, keep the raiders out and possibly ring bells from the top of the tower to call for assistance. Essentially no one is absolutely certain as to their purpose. It is also plausible that there were multiple purposes, combinations of the possibilities listed above.

Kells Abbey also boasts three partly complete high crosses. There are between 60 and 70 high crosses remaining in Ireland (in varying states of repair), they are usually richly decorated often with biblical scenes and probably served as sermons in stone, telling the stories of the bible to the mostly illiterate population.

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The 9th century south cross depicts: the crucifixion, the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the sacrifice of Isaac, Daniel in the lions den, the fall of man, the death of Able, Saints Paul and Anthony and the Evangelists.

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The 10th century west cross depicts: the entry into Jerusalem, the presentation in the temples, the miracle at Canna, the baptism of  Christ, Noah’s Arc and the fall of Able. There would have been more on the arms of the cross.

IMG_4253IMG_4254The 12th century east cross shows the crucifixion

There is also a north cross, of which only the stub remains and I don’t have a photo. In the town of Kells itself is the market cross, which unfortunately I didn’t see on my visit, so I don’t have a photo of it either.

The high crosses in the church yard were constructed in a time of great prosperity for the abbey and the town. By the tenth century it was the most important Columban abbey in Ireland. The downside was that as it was wealthy Kells became one of the most attacked towns in Ireland. In 951 a Viking raid was said to have carried off 3000 people and goods. By the 12th century Kells had been burned twenty one times and plundered seven times. These were not all Viking raids, several Irish kingdoms were also responsible. It was also not all raids. In 1152 the Synod of Kells was held and many laws were codified. It was in this period that the other treasure of Kells (apart from the Book of Kells) was probably made. the Crozier of Kells dates to the 9th 11th and 12th centuries and is housed in the British Museum.

By the time the Normans arrived in 1172 Kells (along with the rest of Meath) passed into the hands of Hugh de Lacey one of  Henry II’s barons and one of the key Normans in Ireland. A castle was constructed in Kells in around 1176, though pretty much nothing remains today. The town’s walls were constructed by de Lacey in the early 1170s. The Normans also founded the abbey of St Mary and the priory of St John again pretty much nothing remains of the buildings.

Over the following centuries Kells suffered and profited with the fortunes of both England and Ireland. It was burned a number of times and rebuilt, it was caught in raids and rebuilt. Today it is a small Irish town steeped in history and its greatest legacy and claim to fame is the Book of Kells.

I’ll be using two of my favourite books to discuss the Book of Kells.

Meetings With Remarkable Manuscripts by Christopher De Hamel

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It is a fascinating dialogue with some of history’s most interesting illuminated manuscripts. De Hamel not only tells the stories of the manuscripts, he traces his own journey in accessing the manuscripts. It is a truly remarkable read.

The Book of Kells by Bernard Meehan

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This book is an in depth examination of the Book of Kells and contains truly incredible facsimiles of much of the Book of Kells. The photos you’ll see below are my pictures of images in Meehan’s book, I apologise for the glare in a handful of them.

So, as I explained earlier the first definite mention of the Book of Kells was when it was stolen in 1007. The Annals of Ulster describes it thus:

“The Great Gospel of Colum Cille was sacrilegiously stolen in the night from the Western Sacristy of the church of Cennas. It was the most precious object of the Western Would, on account of its covers with human forms. The Gospel was recovered after two months and twenty nights, its gold [probably a shrine it was housed in] having been taken off it and with a sod over it.”

The Book of Kells remains a ‘treasure of the Western World.’ It is a national monument of Ireland, it’s included on the Memory of World list put together by UNESCO, it’s been on Irish coins, Irish stamps and its designs and scripts are synonymous with Ireland. Today it is housed in Trinity College library in Dublin and attracts 520 000 people to view it each year, of which I was one in 2012. You can see the viewing queue below

IMG_6389The Book of Kells was absolutely worth the wait, it is truly remarkable.

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But how did it come to end up in Dublin at Trinity College?

The Book remained in Kells until 1641 when Irish rebellion against Protestant settlers caused serious harm to Kells. The church would remain ruined for another forty years. It was decided the Book wasn’t safe there anymore so it was removed in Dublin probably in 1653 by the Governor of Kells Charles Lambert, 1st Earl of Cavan. Henry Jones the Bishop of Meath presented it along with the Book of Durrow to Trinity College. The Book entered popular consciousness in the early 19th century and at this time it was assumed that it dated to the 6th century and had been created by Columba. Queen Victoria was shown it as the book of Columba. In 1874 it was described as the oldest book in the world, which is definitely not true. The Queen’s visit and the Exhibition in Ireland generated even more interest and the Book became cemented in the consciousness of Ireland.

The Book of Kells is a manuscript of the four Gospels:

Matthew

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The opening page of this gospel is portrait of Matthew

Mark

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The opening page of this gospel is the four symbols of the Evangelists.

Luke

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The opening of this Gopspel is the word QOU N IAM

John

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The opening of this Gospel is a portrait of John.

The evangelists aren’t the only portraits in the Book of Kells. Other key biblical figures feature as well. Such as:

Jesus

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and Mary

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Along with others. It is reasonable to assume that originally portraits of Mark and Luke were probably also intended. They may have been lost over the years. The Book of Kells has been rebound at least five times. One of the most disastrous was the rebinding in 1826 by George Mullen. He trimmed the pages so he could gild them (losing decoration in the process), he painted some of the margins with purple wash and filled in all the natural holes in the vellum with new vellum.

The current binding was undertaken in 1953 by Roger Powel, many of Mullen’s additions were removed and Book of Kells was split into four volumes, one for each Gospel. The Book of Kells has had a hard life and it is remarkable that any of it has survived.

It is a symbol of a time of learning and culture. The detail is extraordinary as is the depth of colour, even in the pages that are predominately writing.

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The work is very Celtic, very much of its time. We have no hope of understanding what all the symbols and imagery would have meant to the people of the time. We can, though, appreciate it for its beauty and have the enjoyment of trying to understand the people who could have made something this exquisite.

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The Book of Kells will always be inextricably be linked with the town of Kells, as it should be. But as I hope I’ve shown, the Book is not the only worthwhile part of the history of Kells. This small Irish town has been at the heart of Irish history for centuries, it is well worthwhile being celebrated in its own right.

References:

Iona Past and Present with Maps by Ritchie 1934

Meetings With Remarkable Manuscripts by Christopher De Hamel 2016

ISBN: 9780241003046

The Book of Kells by Bernard Meehan 2012

ISBN: 9780500238943

The Antiquities of Ireland Volumes I and II facsimile copy 1982

ISBN: 0946198020

The Story of Kells by  Leo Judge

ISBN: 18724901070

http://www.heritagetowns.com/kells.shtml

The photos are all mine apart from the photo of the plaque and one photo of the church which are by Penny Woodward (used with permission)

 

 

St Michael’s Mount

St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall.

IMG_4617St Michael’s Mount stands off the coast of Marazion in Cornwall.

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It can only be reached by boat or by a tidal causeway.

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The origins of the castle  are medieval, it began life as a 12th century monastery. The castle you can see today is formed from this original monastery, but the majority dates to much later. It is run and part owned by the National Trust but still part owned by the St Aubyn family who do still live in areas of the castle.

The origins of the rock itself are even older. The rock of the Mount is one of a number of granite outcrops along the Cornish coast. These are the remains of a granite intrusion that rose up some 300 million years ago and has worn down over millennia to the outcrops you see today. Others in Cornwall include St Agnes Beacon and the Godolphin Hills.

Geology aside, legend has it that the Mount was the work of giants. There are several versions of the tale, but one is that it was built by the giant Cormoran and his wife Cormelian. This particular legend adds that chapel rock, which lies between Marzion and the Mount, fell from Cormelian’s apron as she carried it to the Mount. You can see the rock below.

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Other stories tell of the Mount being used in the giants’ sports as a sort of platform where targets were laid to be hit by rocks thrown from Trencrom Hill. Looking at the Mount protruding so dramatically, it is very easy to see why it attracted stories of giants.

IMG_4606The Mount was probably used by the local Celts and has been caught up in Arthurian legends and the Tristan and Isolde myth in particular. It has also been tradition that it was a central point for shipping tin to the continent, but sadly this hasn’t been born out by archaeology.

The origins of the current castle on the Mount are medieval. There was probably secular occupation of the Mount before the 11th century, but in the late 11th century the Mount was granted (possibly by Edward the Confessor) to the monastery of Mont Saint Michel in Normandy. The matching  names of the two rocks is not a coincidence (but very confusing), their geographical and geological similarity wasn’t lost on the medieval monks.

Between 1135 and 1144 a church was built on the Mount by Abbot Bernard. It is this monastery which is the core of the existing building. The monastery was fortified in 1193 when it was seized by Henry de la Pomeray who disguised his men as pilgrims. Pilgrims were common on the Mount and the path you follow today runs along the main pilgrim route to the castle.

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The Mount was re-garrisoned a number of times through various English-French wars and the War of the Roses. The monastery was a casualty of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and came into Crown hands. In 1599 Elizabeth I sold it to Robert Cecil. In 1640 the Mount was sold to Sir Frances Basset and he fortified it for the Crown in the Civil War, the garrison surrendered in 1646 to Parliament and Captain John St Aubyn was put in charge. He bought the Mount from Basset’s son in 1659. It has been in the St Aubyn family ever since. The Mount has seen a number of battles including driving off a Napoleonic ship and being the site of  one of the beacons lit to alert London to the arrival of the Spanish Armada.

It was fortified again in World War II against German invasion and Ribbentrop had apparently chosen it as his residence if Germany won the war. In 1954 the National Trust was given part of the Mount and part remains in the ownership of the St Aubyns.

As you can see the Mount has had a long and varied history and any visit to it highlights its complex path. When I was lucky enough to go there in 2012 it was such a wet and miserable day that I certainly got a real feeling of how desolate the Mount can be.

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Getting to the Mount is very much tide dependant. Even in the horrific weather, which certainly added to to the drama of my visit, a large number of people were waiting impatiently for the tide to die down enough to cross to the Mount and climb up to the castle.

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The castle is very much not alone on the Mount. There is also an active harbour and town. IMG_4627IMG_4626There has been some sort of settlement on the rock for centuries and today 30 people live and work on the Mount.

The buildings that stand at the top of the Mount are collectively known as the castle, but also contain a church and a 19th century mansion. They are all built on the foundations, physical and metaphorical, of the original priory. There is also a Victorian garden clinging precariously to the edge of the Mount. I don’t have any photos of it specifically, it was too wet to get close enough, but you can see the very attractive wilderness in the photo below.

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When you reached the castle itself, its immensity is actually quite surprising.

IMG_4632I’m not going to cover every room in the castle, but just highlight some of my favourites.

The Library:

It was part of the monastic buildings, but from the late 18th century was used by the family for relaxing. What really strikes you as you walk in is how intimate and cosy the room is, especially when you consider the gale which was howling outside.

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The Chevy Chase Room:

This area was originally the priory’s refectory, but it became the great hall of the castle. The plaster frieze around the walls is of the medieval hunting ballad the Chevy Chase. The frieze was created some time between the late sixteenth and mid seventeenth century. It has been meticulously restored.

IMG_4638IMG_4643IMG_4645The other highlight of the Chevy Chase Room is the stain glass windows which were gathered from chapels and priories from all over Europe. IMG_4642

The Priory Church

It stands on the summit of the Mount and dates back to the original 12th century monastery, though the current building is very much an amalgam of the decades.

IMG_4650IMG_4656IMG_4657Protected inside the church is a truly beautiful 15th century lantern cross. It is carved from one piece of stone, which probably came from Padstow. The pinnacles are part of the nineteenth century restoration. It has four panels which depict: the Virgin and Child, a king who may be Edward the Confessor, the crucifixion and an ecclesiast who is probably one of the priors of the Mount.

IMG_4662The Blue Drawing Room

In complete contrast to the grand hall, library and the church is the Blue Room which is very late 18th-early 19th century

IMG_4665The room would have originally have been the Lady Chapel of the priory, which by the late 18th century had fallen into disrepair and was rebuilt as the drawing room you see today.

There are other intriguing parts of the castle, but what you are left with most after your visit is an impression of time, and in my case the power of the weather. The Mount reflects many eras and it remains in many ways a family home. It is a place steeped in legend as well as history and deservedly holds its place as one of the jewels of Cornwall.

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References:

Site visit 2012

Castles and Ancient Monuments of England by Damien Noonan. ISBN: 9781854106216

Cornwall: A History by Philip Payton. ISBN: 9781904880059

https://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk/

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/st-michaels-mount

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000654

http://www.cornwall-online.co.uk/heritage-trail/heritage-national-trust/stmichaelsmount/Welcome.asp

The photos are all mine: the rain drops on the lens in some of them were a bit unavoidable.

The Gothic Bank and Its Museum

This post is the first in a series I’m hoping to write about small museums and libraries, their histories and collections. They will predominantly be in Melbourne and surrounds, but I’ll add the odd international one too. These sorts of posts give me the excuse to explore my city and my state. To find new ways to look at the places I’ve probably driven or walked past hundreds of times and to explore the fascinating small pieces of history that they hold.

I am beginning with the Gothic Bank in Melbourne and the banking museum that is underneath the building.

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The banking museum itself is under the gothic bank in a space that was used for many years by Australia Post. It was first opened in May 1985. It was part of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of a Royal Charter which was granted to the Bank of Australasia, which was one of the banks from which ANZ originates. The museum was significantly refurbished in 2007, when ANZ redesigned the layout of the exhibits and updated the content.

While I was unable to take any pictures inside the museum it is a fascinating little institution. It tells the story of banking in Australia, beginning with the indigenous economy and going right up until the 21st century. I actually learnt a lot that I didn’t know.

For example:

From 1817 until 1910 Australian banks issued the bank notes. In 1910 the Commonwealth took over with the introduction of the Australian Note Act.

In World War I close to half the staff of the Union and Australian banks volunteered. Women were employed to fill the vacancies but they weren’t allowed to handle cash or deal with the customers.

The museum is open from 10-4 (traditional bankers hours) on weekdays and entry is free.

Now while the museum itself is interesting it is the building that it stands in that for me was more fascinating. As a medievalist living in Melbourne, I don’t get many chances to see medieval architecture and while the bank and its interior is Victorian Gothic, rather than the real thing, it is still very lovely.

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The bank was a collaboration between banker Sir George Verdon and architect William Wardell. Verdon was appointed General Manager of the English, Scottish and Australian Bank (which is now part of ANZ) in 1872. In 1881 he invited 3 architects to submit designs for a new headquarters in Australia. Wardell was successful. Work began in 1883 and the final cost was just over 77 000 pounds.

I especially like the attention to detail

IMG_1926IMG_1922And the gargoyles.

IMG_1932All buildings should have at least one gargoyle.

As magnificent as the exterior is, it is the interior that really shines

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IMG_1953The columns and brackets are cast iron which were made in a foundry in Carlton. They were covered with canvas, fixed with white lead and cement and had five coats of oil paint. The ceiling was hand painted and gilded. In the centre of each panel are the shields and arms of England, Scotland and Australia as well as the arms of the bank and the arms of the main cities in which it operated.

The sky light is a later addition and the banking room was expanded in the 1920s to include the entrance to the former stock exchange building.

The gothic bank does not stand alone. The stock exchange building was added in 1891 with architect William Pitt winning a design competition in 1888. The vestibule of the stock exchange, most of the actual work went on upstairs, is an impressive 20m by 15m. It contains six Harcourt granite columns which weigh between 16 and 20 tonnes. They are capped by white Tasmanian marble. They were transported all the way from Bendigo by teams of 30 horses. It is unsurprisingly known as the cathedral room.

IMG_1939The details on the walls are truly impressive

IMG_1943The beautiful tiled floor is not original but it was based on the original colours and patterns.

IMG_1940There is also a magnificent stained glass window. Up the very top you can see a miner ‘panning off’ which is meant to represent the origins of the wealth of Victoria. The central figure is a woman representing ‘labour’. The window also depicts the coats of arms of both Britain and Australia and symbols of the four divisions of the globe.

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There is also other decorative stained glass work.

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The other building constructed at the same time as the stock exchange is the Melbourne Safe Deposit. It was also designed by William Pitt and was completed by 1890. It is six stories above the ground, but there is a vault beneath it which holds 3000 safes. The floor was concrete which was laid directly onto rock. The walls were 1m thick. The actual strong room was raised off the floor and was built of wrought iron boiler plate and it was lined with un-drillable steel. The whole thing weighed nearly 200 tons. It was the first safe deposit building in Australia. It is still in use today. It is not open to the public sadly, but it is pretty incredible from the outside.

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In 1989 ANZ found itself with three significant and beautiful gothic buildings. More than 20 million was committed to restoring the old buildings and a linking atrium was built.

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At the same time a modern ANZ headquarters was being built and it retains elements of the gothic style to mirror the original buildings and to bring them all in together as one complex. IMG_1957

The gothic bank and its museum are a truly beautiful and fascinating building that are well worth a visit. I’m just pleased that this is the sort of thing I can go at look at in Melbourne. Exploring these sorts of buildings is why it can be so incredible to really look at your own city, to find the places that you’ve never noticed. To find the small corners of history that each city holds.

References:

Site visit 2018

ANZ’s Gothic Bank: A commitment to preservation (booklet)

The photos are mine.