Winchester Cathedral

Evening all! Welcome to part two of my Winchester trip. This was the Sunday when we went to the cathedral. (And a great little bookshop where I got four books for a fiver)

Here you can see the lines laid out in the grass which show where the original Anglo-Saxon cathedral stood. The signs you can just about see (I was standing on my tiptoes but I’m very short so a few snuck in) said that the original building, now referred to as the Old Minister, was the most important royal church in Anglo-Saxon England. Many kings were buried in it. It was demolished in 1093.


This, I was informed, is the oldest part of the current cathedral. Can I remember the date? No, I cannot, and Google is most unhelpful. Help?

This excellent webpage gives you much more information than I even understand about the architecture. I think I have finally grasped what a nave is, mind you.


This at first just looks like a huge stained glass window. Many colours, beautiful. However, I discovered there was more to it than that! The window was smashed by Oliver Cromwell’s forces, and the pieces were reassembled in a pretty hazard manner. There are areas where it looks like they’ve gone “I found some pieces that go together!”, but on the whole the placement appears random. Still doesn’t stop it from being beautiful.

Text reads: The font is used in Baptism, by which sacrament a person becomes a member of the Church. This mid-century font of black Tournai marble is decorated with carvings showing the miracles of St Nicholas, patron saint of children.

I’m a great sucker for anything earlier than 13th century, you might know that by now. I’m also a sucker for historical international trade, and a few seconds googling explains that this font is made from a type of black limestone found in the Belgian town of Tournai. There are a large number of these fonts in mainland Europe, and seven of them in England. According to Wikipedia, the fonts were brought by escorted caravan either across the land to the Channel, or on the exceedingly long river Scheldt, which passes through France, Belgium and a corner of the Netherlands.

So this font is actually Belgian! I just find that interesting, don’t mind me.

Ooooh these were my FAVOURITE things in the whole cathedral. THE GRAFFITI.


These were all over every single pillar we walked past. These were some of the earliest, but also some of the more interesting. Mainly because they seemed to demonstrate a distinct decline in the ability to carve over the years. I’m not even just talking about the frankly stunning bit of writing in the top right, but just the difference in depth and clarity between Thomas in 1629 and H. M. in 1931. Most of the graffiti was from the 17th century, and I wondered why that was. Thomas’ graffiti was in the year that Charles dissolved Parliament and told them to bugger off for eleven years. Still, could the large amount of 17th century carving here be at all related to Cromwell’s soldiers’ presence there? Just curious. Too many questions.

I did laugh, though. The latest we were finding graffiti was from roughly 1930 – one or two in 1960s. We hypothesised that perhaps people had stopped carrying pen knives around, or other potential carving implements. Then we saw one from 2013.

For some unknown reason, some lapse into irrationality,  I did not take a picture of it.

All of these previous bits of graffiti had solidity. Even the ones which were rubbed illegible you could tell had been deeply cut originally.

This one? Well, imagine any of the thousands of times in your life you will probably have seen words scratched into a table, desk, or bench. Chicken scratch. I  giggled at the inadequacy, I really did. Hint, if you want to make a lasting mark, you’ve got to put effort into it.

Seriously, though. I could have spent all day just looking at all the graffiti. From a names perspective as well. Maybe I’ll go back and do that some day.


Apparently I didn’t take a photo of the plaque describing this. I remember that it is a rare type of painting (fresco?), and that it is really really old (12th century?). Excuse me while I fill this alarming gap.

Google is slightly failing me on the method. Anyway, so these are in what looks to the uneducated like me to be a little side room but is called the Holy Sepulchre Chapel. It was decorated with 13th century paintings, but in 1963 it was discovered that underneath these paintings were even older paintings. You can see Jesus up the top, and the picture on the wall underneath apparently depicts him being taken off the cross and put in his tomb. According to this walking tour of Jews in Winchester, there are several Jews visible in these paintings, identifiable by the hats and badges they were forced to wear.


This was the crypt! It seemed like you could only get in on a Crypt Tour, but, it was open … so we just … went downstairs. This is one of the oldest parts of the building (apart from that sculpture), dating from Norman times, and it gets flooded. Seems an issue to have built a cathedral on a floodplain but hey, no-one ever said humanity makes good decisions.

These were creepy! Really, really cool, but somehow creepy in a way that gravestones and plaques in the floors aren’t. In the same kind of way that I find cremation urns creepy. It’s an object full of a dead person. Eeurgh.

But they were really old so my love of old things won out.

Text says: These mainly 13th century tiles are the largest and oldest area of tiling to survive in England. The tiles are very fragile and visitors are asked to walk on them with care.

WHY ARE WE STILL ALOWED TO WALK ON THEM??? Even with the best will in the world people’s feet will be wearing them down, and you just know some awful people will read that sign and immediately jump as hard as they can. Do not trust the public with old stuff! We break it!

That aside, they looked fantastic and it was a spine-tingling moment to realise that I’m walking on handiwork which is over 700 years old.

And just to finish off, officially my favourite accommodation I’ve ever seen. The text reads:

“Tactile model of Winchester Cathedral is for the use of visitors with impaired vision which enables them to feel the profile of the building. Further information on this or any of facilities for people with disabilities are available from a Guide, a (can’t tell, looks like Vitger?) or at the Entrance Desk.”

I just thought that was an excellent idea. Here’s the shape of the building you’re walking through. Not being visually impaired myself (well, it’s corrected with glasses) I don’t know how effective it is, though. I wonder how I could find out.

Well, thanks for reading about my Winchester trip! Hope you enjoyed yourself – I certainly did! See you soon.

Winchester Cathedral

Close cousins – the days of the week

Hi all! Today I’m going to show you how certain languages are very closely related using the days of the week.

If you’d guessed that I’ll be talking about Old English (OE) and Old Norse (ON) then you’ve learn what I enjoy, well done, but I’ll also be looking a bit more widely. Because that’s fun too.

First things first. OE and ON are members of a language family called Germanic. This doesn’t mean that they are all descended from German, though!

I’ve read that this language family is called “Germanic” partly because many of its languages fall into the geographic area the Romans called Germania, and partly because most of the 19th century heavyweight thinkers who solidified the idea of languages “relating” to each other, like families or species, were German and regarded those languages as “a central branch” (small mention here).

If the idea that languages can be related seems a stretch to you, then congratulations you were never forced to learn both Spanish and French simultaneously. This theory is the idea that all languages are descended from other languages. To pick a common example, all of the Romance languages, so, French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian and so on, are descended from Latin.

(No really, it goes on. The Romans got everywhere, and so their Latin was subject to countless different regional (and in the case in Ladino, ethno-religous) variations. Look at this list from Wikipedia! I didn’t even know some of these languages existed!

So, the Germanic language family is another load of related languages. Let’s go through a few.

So I’ve already said Old English is in that group. Old English gave rise to English (of course) and Scots (depending on your political views, don’t fight me). There’s also two extinct languages used in Ireland, Yola and Fingallian. And of course thanks to Britain’s invading imperialist colonialism (hello are my politics showing? oh dear) English is the ancestor to absolutely loads of creole languages, including the very widely used Hawaiian, Jamaican Patois and Singlish.

Old Norse too has its fair share of descendants: Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Faroese, Greenlandic, and Icelandic. (Icelandic is particularly cool because it is very much still Old Norse. They can read the Icelandic sagas without much trouble. Delightfully un-evolved language.) There was also Norn, which I’ve mentioned before when talking about Orkney surnames, and Russian and Norse traders did create a pidgin (which is a smushing together of languages together to try and reach a mutual understanding) called Russenorsk.

As you’d expect, modern German is also in this language family, and Dutch (and thus Afrikaans).

Ok, I’m probably the only one finding this language genealogy interesting, so let’s skip to the direct comparisons!

(Full confession, if you want to skip my rambling and just have a look yourself, I am largely using the relevant Wikipedia article.)

The Germanic days of the week are to an extent just pagan-ised versions of the Latin, since Roman gods were replaced by their Germanic “equivalents”. That in itself is very interesting, since it comes from both directions: the Germanic people noticed the similarities and adopted the Romans gods into their systems, and the Romans encouraged this because it meant that they could keep their pantheon across their whole empire, thus creating a symbol of “we are the same people”.

The Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings (to use my fall-back examples)  didn’t have exactly the same gods, but from what we know they had similar gods and you can see this in the names.

The modern Icelandic days of the week don’t fit the same pattern as their relatives so I’ve not used them here; they feel foul of an anti-paganism attempt by this guy.

So. To the similarities!

First, the Latin and the relevant gods:

dies Lunae, dies Martis, dies Mercuri, dies Iovis, dies Veneris, dies Saturni, dies Solis

  • Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Sun

Old English

Monandag, Tiwsdaeg, Wodensdaeg, Thunresdaeg, Frigedaeg, Saeternesdaeg, Sunnandaeg

  • Moon, Tiw, Woden, Thunor, Frige, Saturn, Sun

Old Norse

manadagr, tysdagr, odinsdagr, thorsadgr, frjadagr, laugardar, sunnadagr

  • Mani, Tyr, Odin, Thor, Frigg/Freyja, washing-day, Sun


Modern Norwegian (Bokmal)

mandag, tirsdag, onsdag, torsdag, fredag, lordag, sondag

Modern German

Montag, Dienstag, Mittwoch (was Wutenstag), Donnerstag, Freitag, Sonnabend, Sonntag

Hopefully you can see from these that not only did those languages all use pretty much the same gods in the same way, they also still show that they have a common ancestor. Even if you look at their words for “day” you can see it looks similar throughout.

Thanks for reading!

Close cousins – the days of the week

Anglo-Saxons and the continent

As promised, here’s a quick skimming of the surprisingly international world of Anglo-Saxon trade.

To be fair, perhaps you, dear reader, are knowledgeable and are aware that trade and travel between countries, even distant ones, has happened ever since there were people who wanted things. Or perhaps you are logical and think, well, we might have been an island but we had boats. Excellent points.

Still, you might then be surprised to know how many people believe that nobody ever went anywhere “in medieval times” and that the Romans leaving killed off all contact with the continent.

I’m going to be broadening “trade” to mentioning gifts from abroad, and people travelling for non-commercial reasons.

So, let’s start off with something I have a picture of from my previous post. This is a quernstone.


It’s just a grinding stone. It makes flour.

Another thing that people tend to think is that, ok, fine, goods from far away countries ended up in Britain, but only for the high status people, like the royal woman I talked about earlier. Nope.

These quernstones aren’t high status in and of themselves, and aren’t concentrated at high status settlements or houses, yet they were frequently imported from the Rhineland. Why? I don’t know. Was the stone quality better? I’ve read that they could actually be used as ballast on ships which carried light and expensive cargo, so that’s an interesting explanation for such a prosaic import.

If you look at this photo from my earlier post, you can get an idea of the varied trade routes of higher status items:


Coins from far away can be found in Anglo-Saxon England. Sometimes these are found as part of a “hoard” or deposited stash, as you can read about in my Silverdale post, and it’s thought that the Arabic coins might have been valued as gifts or art rather than as currency. Gold Arabic coins may have arrived earlier; silver ones were largely brought in by the Vikings. In the 8th century the powerful Mercian king Offa had what looks like an imitation Arabic coin struck. It was gold, and one of the more amusing ways we can tell that it’s not actually Arabic is because a bit of the text is upside-down. There are many theories for why this was necessary – was it trade? Was it a gift? Was is part of a payment? Whyever it was (I’m claiming that as a word now) we can be confident that it demonstrated a good, if not perfect, knowledge of foreign currency on the part of the Mercian Anglo-Saxons.

We know about a lot of expensive imported goods because they were buried as “grave goods”. However we don’t often know how the objects ended up there. Were they obtained just for that purpose? Did their use or owner in life lead to their value in death? Were they tokens from family members? So many questions.

Other known trading areas: Aquitaine, Italy and Sicily – in general there was a good set of trade links to the northern Mediterranean.

Next up to discuss: travel. While the Anglo-Saxons didn’t do the whole invade anywhere with water thing like the Vikings, individuals travelled far afield and for many different reasons.

One of the slightly more unusual was fosterage. It wasn’t uncommon for the royal Anglo-Saxons to foster their counterparts’ children, and even internationally with the Scandinavian nobility. King Athelstan, for example, was foster-father to the future Duke of Brittany, Alan II (that name is hilarious, I don’t know why. Alan the second.). Alan grew up in England and may even have been born here. Aethelstan may possibly have also been foster-father to  a Norwegian prince but there is no contemporary evidence of it. He also used the sponsoring/fostering technique as a diplomatic tool to help cement relationships.

There were two things which drove the Anglo-Saxons furthest afield. Both, ah, quite different from each other.

First: slavery. Yes, the Anglo-Saxons had a thriving slave trade, as had the Romans, as probably had most civilisations with enough wealth. There was domestic slavery as well as farmland slavery.

They probably enslaved the Celts, the people who were in Britain before the Anglo-Saxons and who ended up clustering in modern Cumbria, Wales,  and Brittany, as well as remaining pretty strong in Ireland for a while. The word for Celt, wealh, came to mean “slave” as well, and I really doubt that sort of semantic slide happens by accident.

They enslaved other Anglo-Saxons too. However they were also enslaved themselves, with Anglo-Saxon slaves being found in northern France and Ghent. The city of Bristol was apparently a well-known slaving hub.

Time for mood whiplash: the other major movement factor was pilgrimage. As Christians, Anglo-Saxon pilgrims were known to make the trip to Rome, and even the  astoundingly long trip to Jerusalem. In 884, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, two pilgrims set off for India! It’s not too difficult to believe that the pilgrims would have picked up objects and coinage along the way. Certainly there were merchants along the routes! Offa (he of the golden coin) was sent an angry letter by a continental king telling him to please stop his merchants posing as pilgrims along the route to ambush unwary people.

I like to imagine that more than a few Middle Eastern people ended up in Britain during the Anglo-Saxon period. Maybe the Anglo-Saxons had a few Aramic-speaking traders. It’s all fun speculation. The world is a big place.

Thank you for reading! I hope you found some of this interesting! See you tomorrow!

Anglo-Saxons and the continent

The Round Church

Ok, and building number 2 from my trip into Cambridge this weekend! This is the Round Church, actually called The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Exterior! The round bit at the front is the earliest bit:

“… built in about 1130 by the ‘fraternity of the Holy Sepulchre’. They were evidently influenced by the Round Church in Jerusalem; this church, called the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was built by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century.”

The church website

After paying my £2.50 entry free (in Cambridge that’s less than most of the ice-creams!) I had a nice chat with the volunteer who handed me a summary leaflet of the place. I’ve scanned it in for you, since it saves me trying and failing to explain through the pictures, or worse just plagiarising the words.

Scan 171000001

Scan 171000003

Ok, so you’ve definitely seen the outside now! I stood right up against a wall to take the longer shots successfully, got some very odd looks!


As you can see, the floor here was too large; I couldn’t get a decent shot of it. But hopefully this woeful snippet gives you an idea of what we’re looking at. This used to be all there was of the church, just this tiny round building. For an idea: the round area was crossable in about four stretching steps on my tiny 27 inch legs.  I’m not surprised that according to its website this church only operated as a chapel for passersby until it was expanded sometime in the 13th century. It couldn’t fit anyone else in!


Here we have a sadly slightly blurry picture of the ceiling of the round bit. (According to the PDF this bit is called the nave.)


Here you can see the original Norman big thick chunky stone pillars and low rounded arches. No wonder they were good at castles; they knew how to build big bulky stone things! I can’t 100% remember where I was standing to take this, but I’m pretty certain that in the centre you can see the choir room and to the left is the north aisle, also called the scriptorium.

I can transcribe this image if anyone asks, but it basically just says that a scriptorium means “a place for writing”, found in medieval European monasteries. Then it goes on about the University of Cambridge, and says (relevant info at last!) that when this church was just a wayfarers’ chapel it was manned by a priest from the Hospital of St Johns. It goes on to say, in very pretty words, that the church offers this space to the scholars and graduates of the University to allow them a space to study away from the “pressure-driven, isolating and even dehumanising” academic experience.

Fun fact: I didn’t see that there was a rope barrier at shin level barring entry into this room and nearly either fell over or knocked over the barrier, I’m not sure which would have happened first …

So this room was added later, though I can’t quite work out when? The roof is 14th/15th century apparently and is an excellent example of a tie-beam ceiling, including cute carved angels!

And then there was also the choir, added sometime after the 13th century, and the south aisle, which I think was added as part of a 19th century restoration.

I found the purely Norman bits of this the most interesting – both because of how strikingly castle-like the pillars seemed to me, but also because I had never been in a round church before. According to Wikipedia there are only four left in use in England, since most other churches were built in a cross shape. I did a quick google and came up with this blog post about them and a few websites.

The Temple Church

The Holy Sepulchre

Do have a look if you liked this round church! Maybe I’ll go and see the Northampton one sometime.

Well, thanks for flipping through another quick photo tour with me! I’ll be back tomorrow with probably a more text-heavy piece.

The Round Church

St Benet’s Church

Surprise surprise, I didn’t get two posts up today. I’m not even sure if I’ll finish this one by bedtime or whether I’ll be trying to finish it while eating breakfast. It’s partly because I watched Arrival, and partly because it took me nearly half an hour to work out how to transfer only 17 photos from my phone to the computer. For flip’s sake.

So this is a post-in-progress, please feel free to bookmark it to read tomorrow when it might be better.

On this gloriously sunny day I went into Cambridge and had a quick wander around St Benet’s Church.  You should check out the website, they have a whole section of the architecture which, as previously stated, I really need to start learning about. Thanks to its Anglo-Saxon tower, this church is the oldest building in the entire county!


[Sign] “The ancient parish church is an Anglo-Saxon foundation dating from around 1020, when Canute (sic) was King of England. It is dedicated to St Benedict and has been a place of Christian worship for nearly a thousand years.”

The rest of it is all very modern ecclesiastical information, let me know if you want it transcribed too!

I got pictures of all the relevant Anglo-Saxon stuff! Diagram here:


Here’s the “magnificent Saxon arch”:


I was very happy that this photo came out ok. A bit of a weird angle, oops, but on the whole everything is included and it’s not blurry! I tried to get a better view of the little window  above the arch, but I don’t think it improves matters much:



Crouched animals. Apparently these are lions … ok, I’m leaving animal identifying to the experts, definitely, but … really?


“Distinctive horizontal and vertical stones at the corners” (sorry the right and lefts are the wrong way around here):

And the exterior of the tower. It was genuinely a spine-chilling moment looking up at it from that angle and realising that someone stood here nearly a thousand years ago would have seen basically the same thing.


There were some slightly less old but very cool things. The 19th century stained glass was pretty:

Then, to go back to the excellent guidelines (I do love it when these places make my life easier):


I got a decent picture of item 3 here, the 14th century arched recesses which possibly show Middle Eastern influence. Remember folks, anyone who tries to tell you that medieval people lived their whole lives in one village and never went anywhere are generalising and grossly unaware of history!

This was my favourite: a medieval coffin lid! I remember reading that it was 13th century, but I can’t find any photos I took of any signs saying that, so take that with your usual sodium dosage:


Then there was this mystery door, which was inside the room with the Anglo-Saxon arch,  and cannot be more than 5 foot 5 five tall. I should have taken a selfie to show you the scale. (I’m 5 foot one and a bit.) Quite incredible. It is a weird, tiny door. Any church-y people know its purpose??


And last then, a shot from the outside. I picked a truly fantastic day to do this, weather-wise, but it made seeing enough to take this photo really difficult as the blazing sun was, as you might be able to tell, just to the right of the tower.


So thus ends the whistlestop tour of the oldest building in Cambridgeshire! I really enjoyed this one – the last time I got chills like that was when I went into the crypt at Hexam Abbey (read about that here). Just every now and again I step back from the camera and realise how old these places are. How many years they’ve been standing there, how many people they’ve seen pass by.

Thanks for reading, all! I did visit one other building today, but it was younger (those pesky Normans) and anyway, there are probably enough photos here for now. I’ll show you the other one tomorrow!

St Benet’s Church

Saxon Tower of St Michael

In the same situation as my visit to Hexam Abbey, I was in Oxford visiting friends (actually some of the group as before too) and happened upon this gem in the middle of the city. My friends can now attest I am magnetically attracted to signs with “Saxon” written on them.

(Also to bookshops but that’s another problem entirely.)

The website for the tower suggests that this is the second-oldest building in Oxford, with a date of about 1040-50. So much of Oxford seems ancient anyway, especially since we’d been around a few colleges too, that to go inside something that much older than its surroundings was quite impressive.

So without further ado, let’s start the tooouuuuur …

You entered the tower, as opposed to the rest of the church, through the gift shop. Which is a hilariously blatant bit of fundraising, I love it. Sadly I didn’t buy anything there, though I really wanted some of the fake stained glass. Here’s the sign at the bottom of the spiralling tower steps, telling you what to expect as you climb:


Next, I climbed to the bit which various signs told me might be the nave? I don’t know churches; I really need to get this sorted if they will insist on being the only surviving Anglo-Saxon structures for me to “oooh” over. So looking out from that I got a picture of the gorgeous church. It gives you a good sense of how high up we already were!



That second picture shows you the material of the tower: rough stone. It has, of course, been repaired and restored over the years, as detailed by various signs on the way up. Below is some information (and a photo-of-a-photo) that I took of an Anglo-Saxon remnant in the wall just behind where I was stood for the above photo. You might have to squint at the photo to see the arched doorway referenced, sorry!


So fifteen minutes later when I had walked about ten steps (interest is not conducive to speed) I finally came upon the little display area, where they keep old documents and other artefacts. I tried my best to take legible photos of signs!


I love old keys, ok? Massive hulking 3D chunks of metal. Much cooler than the tiny things we open our doors with today, or the buttons we press to get into our cars. Although I do appreciate they are harder to actually use. Form over function, that’s me.

We also saw a chest like this with multiple locks and key-holders in one of the Oxford colleges – the name escapes me right now. The one that doubled as the Harry Potter infirmary?! I’d never really put any thought into how belongings and valuables were kept secure for large administrations before. Shame on me.


I’ll just give you the first bit of the sign there. This is from 1612, (top left corner) and it’s basically a record of some property transactions.

A Charter, which is an exemplification of a chancery decree. Endorsed (given at the request of Thomas Flexney Esq.,). It is on four sheets of parchment, sealed with the great seal in white wax. 

This next set is the earliest set on display, and I was very sad that I couldn’t read them. Ah well, at least we can see old handwriting …

Sign for exhibit Church Warden's Accounts

I don’t quite know where this next one fits: I think it might be a header to the church warden accounts but it looks later … anyway, here it is.


That’s actually come out much clearer than I thought it would, but I’ll give you the text as best I can anyway – modernised spelling:

“The [UNKNOWN-possibly books?] of the parish Church of St Michael at the North Gate of the City of Oxford, wherein are contained diverse gifts and legacies [UNKNOWN-possibly unto?] the said parish Church and Parishioners given & bequeathed.”

I left the display room after that. There was an entire silverware section I have no photos of, but time is precious and I am slow. On the way up I passed by numerous signs detailing the restoration process in the tower. It was an amazing tale, but I was running out of phone charge! Had to reserve it for the really interesting stuff like:


I do apologise for the blurry door. And the sign glare. The modern white sign) reads:

This is a door through which Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, known as the Oxford Martyrs, were led to the[sic] deaths. It was the entrance to their cell, originally located in the ‘Bocardo Prison’, which was constructed over the North Gate of the city and could be entered through this tower.”

These martyrs were Protestants who were executed by the order of Queen Mary I, also known as “Bloody Mary”. You can see a little more about them here and here (and, of course, on many other sites that you can probably find more quickly than me).

On the last stretch before coming out onto the roof, I saw the bells mentioned earlier: both the 19th century chiming mechanism (sadly broken at the time) and the huge bells 17th century bells themselves. Unfortunately they were too big for me to get an adequate photograph of them within the confines of the tower. They aren’t allowed to be rung any more, only chimed, as it is feared they might damage the tower.

And a quick view from the top!

Since I was limited for time by my travel arrangements (public transport, everybody … ) I sadly didn’t get a chance to look at any of these bits:

“After the tower, the earliest surviving parts of the church are the chancel, the eastern part of the south aisle (nearest the altar), and the south door, all dating from the 13th century.

The east window of the chancel contains four panels of high quality stained glass dating from the 13th century; it is some of the earliest stained glass in Oxford.”

Hopefully I’ll go back there at some point to stay there all day (ahem) to see my friends again.

Thanks for reading! Hope you found the photographs interesting!


Saxon Tower of St Michael