I had some photos left on my phone from short visits to monuments and museums across the UK, which I thought would be a waste not to discuss! As such, here’s a rather unusual blog post discussing several things at once.
Christopher Wren‘s masterpiece is of course St Paul’s Cathedral in London. However, there are many more churches in the City of London by his hand. One of them is St Bride’s Church on Fleet Street, which was reconstructed by Wren after the Great Fire of 1666.
This church is a hidden gem: you’d hardly notice it walking on Fleet Street as it’s tucked away between other buildings at the end of an alley. Still, St Bride’s is the second tallest of all Wren’s buildings at 69m. It’s said that the church’s tower inspired the tiered wedding cake. It is not the first church built here. In fact, St Bride’s is the eighth church built here over 1500 years! It’s thought this site was home to a Celtic Christian community during the time of the Romans.
Being in the City of London, the oldest part of London, the church (and its predecessors) has witnessed many historic events and hosted many famous historic figures. King John is said to have held meetings here. Samuel Pepys, the great diarist, was baptised here. Charles Dickens is likely to have attended mass here as he lived nearby. Fleet Street has historically been known as the center of publishing, as a lot of printing was done here from the 16th century onwards. The first official English Bible was printed here in 1539 for Henry VIII, an important moment in the history of the Church of England. Up until the 20th century, Fleet Street was the preferred location for most British national newspapers. Now, however, it’s become a prime location for banking. St Bride’s is still sometimes referred to as the “Printer’s Cathedral” or the “Journalists’ Church”. This is also due to the fact that the first printing press with moveable type was brought here in 1500.
In rebuilding the church in the 17th century, Christopher Wren mostly used the original outline of the medieval church that had burnt down. The current tower was built over the ruins of the medieval tower. In 1940 the church was bombed, revealing Crypts containing some Roman pavement! Here you can now find an interesting exhibition about the history of the church and Fleet Street.
On a completely unrelated note, after the trip me and my father took in Cumbria and Northumberland, I needed to take a train back from Newcastle. I had some time to spare and visited the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art there. This museum is housed in an old flour mill. This massive building can house 3000sqm of art divided over 6 floors.
The staircase at this museum itself is a work of art! Two mirrors facing each other have been placed at the bottom and top of the staircase, which makes it appear as though the staircase goes on endlessly. Looking down from the stairs here made me afraid of heights for the first time in my life! This is a work by Mark Wallinger, and with this work he points out how a fear of heights is ultimately a fear of death.
I also visited an exhibition of Caroline Achaintre‘s work, which made a big impression on me. Her work shows how humans are primed to recognize faces in almost anything. Using paper, textiles and ceramics, she makes masks with minimal facial features. It’s almost as if she’s trying to find the bare minimum by which she can make people see a face. Her work is much inspired by Primitivism and Expressionism. You can see some pieces from the exhibition below.
Finally, in a recent visit to the British Museum I saw some interesting archeological finds I wanted to share with you. Firstly, the British Museum displays some of the Vindolanda tablets I discussed when I visited Hadrian’s Wall (see post here).
The Corbridge Lanx (‘lanx’ means ‘tray’ in Latin) is an incredibly well-preserved silver serving plate found near Hadrian’s wall in Corbridge by a 9-year old girl named Isabel Cutler in 1735 by the River Tyne, which was then owned by the dukes of Northumberland until 1993, when the British Museum bought it. It is estimated to have been created in the 4th century AD. It is unclear what the meaning of the engraving is exactly. A shrine of Apollo is depicted and the god himself can be seen on the far right with his lyre positioned by his feet. Further to the left, the goddess Minerva can be seen wearing a helmet and raising her arm.
The last Roman archeological find from The British Museum I want to briefly discuss is the Hinton St Mary Mosaic, a section of 4th-century mosaic floor found at a villa at Hinton St Mary in Dorset. It is a very early example of a Christian decoration in the Roman Empire. Commonly, the centre of a main floor in Roman times was occupied by the depiction of a pagan god or goddess, but this figure is most likely Christ as evidenced by the Greek letters X (chi) and P (rho) behind the figure’s head. The pomegranates by Christ’s head are a symbol of immortality.
Sorry for the hodgepodge of topics in this blog! In my next blog I will start reporting the epic hiking trip on the West Highland Way I took last summer!