Gift #1180: British Museum

Happy New Year to one and all!  I hope the days of January have been pleasant ones for you.  I’m recently returned from Christmas visits with my family and had a wonderful time.  The tail end of the year rather got away from me in a flurry of festive preparations and traveling and I didn’t blog as much as I had hoped.  I had planned to finish blogging about my England trip by the end of the year, but since that didn’t happen, we’ll have a few more days of that to enjoy in January instead!

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Today we’re back in London and visiting the British Museum.  History was one of my majors in college and in our classes we discussed the British Museum in hushed, reverent tones, as if mentioning the Holy Place.  It was the repository of the world, the treasure chest of the historian, and we all dreamt of what lay in those hallowed halls.  Our professors had us study collection pieces from their website online and to finally see the beautiful objects in person had me quivering with anticipation to the point I thought I might faint.   Now it’s absolutely impossible to see everything in one day and I’m just going to give you some of my favorite highlights today.

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In Ancient Middle East we saw what was probably my favorite item in the museum – “Ram in the Thicket”.  I had been intrigued by this in the guidebook we procured ahead of time because of its name and association with the biblical account of Abraham.  This was found in a grave in Ur, the ancient Sumerian city, and dates to 2500 BC.  It took my breath away – overlaid in gold with gems on the base – it was indeed a treasure.  there were so many beautiful items in the ancient Ur section of the museum – jewelry, pottery, and cuneiform tablets (I think the British Museum has every one that was ever dug up).  It took me back to my days in early elementary school where I fell in love with history studying Sumeria.

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This was the other singular find of the Ancient Middle East galleries.  It is a portion of the facade of King Nebuchadnezzar’s throne room.  I was stunned – I never expected to see something like this with my own eyes.  This is the King Nebuchadnezzar from the biblical accounts of his siege of Israel and resulting captivity in Babylon.  His story is one of my favorite in the Bible because I think it incredible that the God of the Israelites revealed Himself so personally to Nebuchadnezzar and showed Himself to be the God of all peoples.  Nebuchadnezzar’s words of praise to God for His power and authority over kingdoms of the earth is a magnificent example of worship.  It was thrilling to see with my own eyes something that he had created and saw.  It’s the power of archeology to connect people across thousands of years of history with the objects that have been discovered and restored.

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Ancient Egyptian collections are scattered throughout the museum, but the most impressive display is on the ground floor where the large statues are housed, including the famed Rosetta Stone.   It was discovered by Napoleon’s army in 1799 and surrendered to the British in 1801.  After presentation to King George III it was installed in the museum and scholars unlocked its secrets within 25 years, opening up a new understanding of the ancient world.

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Almost everything in the hall is displayed out in the open, to the point where you could touch them.  You can stand right up next to them for photos and such.  And the statues were immense!

From Ancient Egypt, we moved to Greece and admired the famed collection of Elgin marbles from the Parthenon.  Actually, my favorite of the Grecian sculptures were the Nereids.

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These are from the Nereid Monument in Xanthos and are sea nymphs that were thought to escort the souls of deceased to their afterlife.  The wind-blown drapery and weathered condition made them beautifully ethereal, like they were made more of clouds than marble.

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One of the collections I was most excited about was Ancient Britain and the Sutton Hoo burial.

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This section of the museum was fascinating, charting the earliest known peoples in Britain, through the Roman occupation and into medieval times.  Many of the artifacts were burial hords, like the one pictured above, with vessels, money, and jewelry.

The Sutton Hoo display was fabulous.  Ironically, just a few nights before, we had watched a documentary on the discovery of Sutton Hoo on BBC while we were in the Lake District.

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The burial dates to ~ 600 AD.  The helmet is perhaps the most famous piece of the collection.  I was surprised by how little of it actually survived.  If you look closely you can see the original fragments of metal have been mounted to a base plate.  The ship burial has a fascinating history and discovery.  In the late 1930s the landowner (Mrs. Pretty) invited a team of archeologists to excavate the site, in conjunction with Ipswich museum.  The process was cut short by declaration of war in 1939 and the grounds were slated to become tank training grounds, so the archeologists heroically managed to finish the excavation in less than 20 days before the site was destroyed.  Mrs. Pretty presented the treasure to the people of England as a gift to the British Museum then the artifacts promptly went into hiding in the bunkers and underground storage of London.   She did not live to see the end of the war and the installment of the artifacts in the museum, but her generosity is one of the crown jewels of the museum’s collection.

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As we moved into medieval history, mom and I were doing an admirable job of not getting too far behind our pace in trying to see as much as possible.  But then we hit the clock rooms and things came to a screeching halt while I felt the need to photograph every single piece on display.

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But just look at how beautiful they are!  And they were gloriously steampunk too!  Most of the pieces dated from 1500s-1600s, though some were as early as 1300s.  The artistry and technical skill needed to fashion these intricate machines is just incredible.

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It would be very difficult to have a favorite in this collection, but this automaton from 1585 might take the cake.  The metalwork on this was exquisite.  It was created to announce banquets at court.  As the first course was served, a miniature organ inside the ship began playing and tiny figurines would move into procession.  The ship would travel across the table throughout the meal.  When the ship stopped, the front cannon would fire, causing a chain reaction to fire all the other guns on the ship, announcing the end of the feast.

Now the last section of the museum I wanted to show you is the Enlightenment Hall.  After all I’d seen, I didn’t think anything else could be more marvelous – but this was my very favorite part of the museum.  This magnificent hall, lined with windows and glass bookcases, was filled with dozens and dozens of display cabinets, and was an entire room of Cabinet of Curiosities.

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In fact, this room housed the seed collection that formed the British Museum.  This was the collection of Hans Sloane – a noted physician, explorer, naturalist, and collector. Also among his attributed accomplishments was the introduction of drinking chocolate.   The room was divided into 24 themes that represented the way that artifacts would be organized in the 1700s during the Enlightenment.  These included topics such as botany, minerals, pottery/ceramics, writing, exploration, religion, and culture.  Here are a few pictures of the collections.

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A collection of seashells – from James Cook’s explorations.  They even had letters from him!

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A  collection of bronze brooches and hair pins

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An assortment of artifacts housed in floor to ceiling bookcases – these are dealing with culture.

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One of the books on display that delighted me was a work by Maria Sibylla Merian.  Dr. Sloane collected this coveted album of her watercolours from her 1699 voyage to Surinam to study and paint the flora and fauna.  She traveled throughout the world and left behind an exquisitely detailed and beautiful portfolio of the world’s unique plant life.

As you can tell, we had a full day at the museum and it still felt like we’d only scratched the surface.  If I could have my way, I’m pretty sure I’d still be there marveling at all the collections and history.  As we left, minds whirling with all we’d seen, I took one more photo of the museum at night.

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The treasure chest of the world.

Blessings to you,

Sarah

 

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Gift #1179: Handmade Christmas

Hello everyone! I hope you all have enjoyed a peaceful Christmas and are looking forward to the new year. Today’s post will be a bit brief and heavy on pictures as I’m enjoying the holiday break with my family in Texas. We’ll start off with the Christmas cards I made for friends and family.

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These cards are heavily inspired by a Victorian vibe and I especially loved the quote from “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”

Earlier in the season, I participated in a Christmas swap with one of my knitting groups. After several false starts, I made my recipient a hat with a fern motif.

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Because we’re knitters, that means we always need lots of notions, so I made her some stitch markers with a winter floral pattern.

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And finally, I also made her a necklace featuring chickadees, which are her favorite birds.

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I also made a warm cozy cowl for a friend for Christmas. It was a quick knit and lots of fun to work up.

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And what’s Christmas without ornaments? A few years ago I started making ornaments for friends and family and it’s one of my favorite parts of gift-giving.

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This year I purchased some earring dies at a rubber stamp convention, along with faux leather. I’ve been having fun making earrings and jewelry pieces with them, and I thought that they would be perfect for making ornaments too. They turned out great! I had a few extra that I’m planning to convert to pendants.

I also participated in the Art Bead Challenge. For our inspiration artworks, we had wintry Japanese scenes painted on silk. They were filled with snowy buildings and birds and berries. Here are the pieces I created.

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“Chickadees” is made with a faux tin piece from Humblebeads that features her own illustration of the birds and berries. I paired it with Czech glass and metallic shimmer to give it an opulent winter feel.

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“Winter Bird” was a quick and easy necklace using polymer clay beads from Humblebeads dressed up with more Czech glass in cranberry, bronze, and white.

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For a more wintry look, I turned to a beautiful cane long bead by Humblebeads. I turned it on it’s side for the focal and surrounded it with chunky pieces of raw cut icy stone. I added a snowflake charm for good measure.

My last creations are a bit unusual for me. I don’t do much baking but I couldn’t resist this recipe for gingerbread Bundt cake with eggnog whip cream. I don’t mean to brag, but it was pretty amazing. I’ll be making it again this winter for sure.

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And finally, a bit of home decor. My mom and I wanted to refresh a wreath we’d had on the mantle for some time. After a trip to Hobby Lobby, our arms were loaded with festive trimmings and we set to work. This beautiful wreath was the result of our efforts.

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It sits atop our nativity scene on the mantle. On that note, I wish you all the peace and joy and comfort that Christmas offers and hope that your new year will be full of adventure, wonder, and creativity.

Blessings to you,
Sarah

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Gift #1178: In the Lake District with Beatrix Potter

I hope you all had a wonderful week.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and one of the experiences of the year I was most thankful for was the opportunity to visit England with my mom.  Today on the blog we’re going back to the Lake District so I can share with you our tour of Beatrix Potter.  I was giddy for this tour –  so much of Miss Potter’s life and character fascinates me and I was very eager to see the places she loved.

Our first stop of the day was Wray Castle, where the Potter family vacationed when Beatrix was 16.  This was her first visit to the Lake District, and she immediately fell in love with the area.

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Wray Castle was built in 1840 in a style to mimic the Medieval castles that had been bought by wealthy families.  Our guide informed us, with a slight note of disdain, that up and coming business owners were eager to flaunt their new wealth by building ostentatious estates to be more accepted by landed, established aristocracy.  From what we could tell, it didn’t seem to go over well as the neighbors were not impressed with the lack of attention to historic detail.  The owners decided to let (or rent) it and that’s how the Potter family found themselves there in 1882.  It is now just a facade, but you can rent out the building for business meetings or large celebrations.

However pretentious the castle’s origins, the land surrounding the castle was beautiful and you could easily see how it won the affections of Beatrix.

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Our next stop was to Hilltop Farm, which is the first farm that Beatrix Potter purchased when she decided to move to the Lake District.  Once settled, she began to buy up additional farms as they went for sale, so that she could keep them running as working farms and protect the land from industrialization.  She eventually became one of the largest landowners in the Lake District.

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I was so excited by this point I was vibrating from head to toe.  I’ve read many books about Beatrix Potter and one of my favorites was a series called The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter by Susan Wittig Albert.  In these stories, the Hilltop farm is meticulously described and functions as an important character – I felt I knew it already from my time in these novels.  We explored the gardens first because the rain had slackened off to a light shower.

The gardens were as lovely as I could imagine, and had been maintained so that the plants that Beatrix would have grown are still in cultivation.  Everywhere you looked was a charming vignette.  Our guides pointed out a few views that Beatrix had painted that were included in her books.  I was especially fond of these sweet bronze hedgehogs that were scattered about the gardens.

As we got ready to go inside, I thought I might burst with anticipation and excitement.  We stood at the entrance and took a steadying breath before entering.  They had kept everything exactly the same as when Beatrix lived there.  And indeed, it felt as if she had just gone out for a stroll and would be coming back in any minute.  The home felt so peaceful and loved.

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I was most charmed by her hat and outdoor shoes placed on the chair, as if they had just been removed.  Her spinning wheel was also exquisite.

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Her china cabinet and dishes were displayed beautifully.

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And her bedroom was a peaceful retreat.  She embroidered the bed curtains herself.  And look at the beautiful wallpaper!  I remembered the design being described in books I’d read about Hilltop.  It is lovely.   Scattered throughout the house were tiny felted animals from her books and little vignettes featuring her books, such as this one in the kitchen.

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I was loathe to leave this home, but our guides gently ushered us back to our vehicle and took us to our next destination – the nearby town of Hawkshead.  Beatrix would frequently walk into town, or drive her horse and cart.  We walked about the town for a bit and then were brought to the Beatrix Potter Gallery.  The Gallery is housed in the building that served as her husband’s office.

Oh the gallery!  It maintains all the original watercolor illustrations from her stories and other works – over 10,000 of them!  And even includes her watercolors!

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It was so thrilling to go through the rooms and explore the beautiful watercolors that Beatrix made.  To look on something that she had made with her own hands was just a dream come true.  I found myself quite envious of those who curate and manage this beautiful collection.  It is obvious that they have a great love for Beatrix’s work and her legacy too.

Here are a few of my favorites from the gallery.  The squirrels and mice are my absolute favorites.  Both Beatrix and I share a deep affection for small rodents.  Did you know that Beatrix drew her animals by using her pets as models?  Throughout her life she kept a variety of pets near her and enjoyed studying them for scientific interest as well as for her art.

We stopped for lunch at Hawkshead at a little tea shop our guide led us to.  It was raining again by that time and we had hot bowls of soup, scones, and tea.

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We didn’t eat outside obviously, but it was a lovely front to the shop.  From there, we drove around the Lake District and they pointed out various scenes of interest for us, including some of the other farms that Beatrix owned and estates that she donated to the National Trust.  It was heart warming to hear the tone of respect and appreciation that they use when talking of Beatrix Potter.  She did so much to form and preserve the Lake District area and it is one of her greatest legacies.

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In addition to being a formidable business woman, Beatrix also became a very respected farmer.  She faced prejudice on many levels, especially from local farmers who didn’t take kindly to an unmarried city woman moving in and buying up farms.  But she applied herself to understand the farms and how to best work them and won their eventual respect.  She was nearly single-handedly responsible for bringing back the native sheep breeds to the area, especially the Herdwick sheep, which now make up the majority of the flocks in the Lake District.  She was even invited to serve as the president of the Herdwick Sheepbreeder’s Association, an achievement of which she was deeply proud.  Her close attention to detail and deep understanding of sheep breeds allowed her to consistently produce award-winning sheep for her farms.

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Our last scheduled tour was to the town of Ambleside, where the Armitt Library is located.  I picked this tour specifically because we made a stop here.  At the Library is where Beatrix Potter’s mycology illustrations are kept. Another area where she faced prejudice was in the scientific community.  Beatrix was a devoted and careful scientist in natural history.  She formed a close relationship with a Scottish mycologist, Charles McIntosh, who fueled her interest in fungi and honed her scientific skills.  She sketched around 350 plates of fungi, moss, and spores.  She also wrote scientific papers but struggled to get them published in journals at the time because she was a woman.  However, her work was presented at the Linnean Society of London (but not by her).

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Seeing her mushroom illustrations with my own eyes was something I’ve longed to do for years and years.  It was absolutely thrilling to see some of them on display.  My mom and I collect books that have her mycology illustrations in them, but to see the originals was incredible.  They are so delicate and beautiful and precise.

I couldn’t believe how fortunate we were to be able to come here and see them for ourselves.  The museum also had a fine display on Beatrix’s forays into archeology, as well as her legacy in the Lake District.  In the front room was a little used bookstore and they also sold postcard sets of her mushroom illustrations.

Now that was our last scheduled stop for the tour, but we had special guides.  I didn’t mention this, but mom and I were the only ones on the tour that day.  I was afraid they would cancel, but instead they showered us with information, answered questions, and we had exciting conversations throughout the day.  I think they were happy that we knew a lot about Beatrix’s life, beyond her books, and had a deep appreciation for her.  Throughout the day, our guide realized we were fond of churches and she wanted to take us to her favorite church in the area.  So she directed the driver to the little village of Troutbeck.  And we got to see a beautiful country church with fabulous Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows designed by William Morris.

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I loved how each church had it’s own personality, and this was very clear especially in the churches of smaller communities.  Our guide explained how churches are the anchor of these tiny communities and provide support and a place of belonging.  The residents of this community took great pride and care of their church.  And the ladies sewing group and had made special kneeling cushions for the church.  They created patterns based on the local flora and fauna and decorated the pews with them.

I was beyond enchanted by this.  Aren’t they beautiful? On this note, we ended the tour with  hearts full of all the beauty we saw and the enduring legacy of a determined woman who loved nature and art and transformed her world forever.

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Blessings to you,

Sarah

 

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Gift #1177: Thanksgiving Prayer

For a couple of weeks I’ve been reading A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie.  It has morning and evening prayers listed for thirty one days.  I bought it on our last trip to Cincinnati.  Many, many years ago I had found a book of prayer at the local book store and for some insane reason, I didn’t purchase it and then have spent all this time regretting it since.  Every time we’d go to Cincinnati I’d look for it and this last time we finally found it.  It’s been a special book to me so far and I deeply appreciate the ability to begin and end the day with a focus on God’s word and in prayer.  I really struggle with prayer and having written prayers to read and mediate over is a great help for me.

And in one of those God-moments, the prayer I read last night was perfect for Thanksgiving.  It wasn’t written for the occasion, but it was a sweet reminder to me that God is present and remembers me.  I thought it would be lovely to share with you all today on this Day of Thanks.

To you O heavenly Father, be all praise and glory, as day by day you richly fill my life with many blessings:

A home to share, family to love, and friends to cherish;

A place to fill and work to do;

Your gift of a green world, blue skies above, and the air we breathe;

Healthy exercise and simple pleasures;

Humanity’s long history to remember and its great people to follow;

Good books to read and many creative activities to delight in;

So much that is worth knowing and the skill and technology to know it;

Thoughts of eternity and great things that sometimes fill my mind;

Many happy days, and that inward calm that you give me in days of gloom;

The peace, passing understanding, that comes from your living in me;

The faith that looks through death, and the hope of a larger life beyond the grave.

O Lord God, thank you that although you have always generously showered all people with blessings, yet in Jesus you have done greater things for us than you have ever done before:

Making home sweeter and friends dearer;

Turing sorrow into gladness and pain into the soul’s victory;

Robbing death of its sting;

Robbing sin of its power;

Renewing history;

Making peace more peaceful and joy more joyful, making faith and hope more secure.

Amen.

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May your hearts by filled with gratitude and warmth on this Thanksgiving.

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1176: Exploring the Lake District

Hello everyone!  I’m back after a busy couple of weeks both at work and in personal life.  But I have two weeks of vacation coming up, so I’m hoping to get it several more blog posts about my England trip.  Today I’m taking you to the Lake District – one of my most anticipated destinations!  We got in to the Lake District late the night before, enjoyed a wonderful night and hearty breakfast, and then we were off for our first day tour in the area!  The day dawned grey and rainy and pretty much stayed that way the whole time.  However, the glory of the Lake District is that it is intoxicatingly beautiful regardless of the weather.

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We had a delightful guide named Gerry who gave us all sorts of information about the Lake District as we drove through the beautiful countryside.  Most of the Lake District is a Heritage site, meaning that it is protected by the government and there are strict regulations about building and land use to preserve the integrity of the area and traditional way of life.

We stopped briefly at Ullswater Lake for a quick stretch and photos.

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Note the teasing flash of sunlight here – that’s about all we saw of the sun this day.  But the clouds and fog made for some spectacular views in an of themselves.  Then we were ushered back on the bus and we drove to Castlerigg – in Underskiddaw, Keswick.  (Aren’t those fascinating names?!)

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Here we admired the Castlerigg Stone Circle, which dates to at least 4000 years.  It was our guide’s opinion that this stone circle was much more preferable than Stonehenge because it wasn’t as touristy and crowded.  On that point, I had to agree with him.  We were able to walk all around the stones and it was just our group and a bunch of sheep.  The heavy fog and misty rain lent an air of mystery and otherworldliness to the experience and it did feel as if we had gone back in time.

All to soon we were ushered back on the bus to get to our next stop – at Windermere Lake.  We were delightfully surprised to find that we were going to ride a ferry around the lake!  This wasn’t mentioned on the tour itinerary and I was really excited about the opportunity to be out on the lake.

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Our ferry was the larger one moored to the ramp.  Mom and I secured a seat inside the covered area as it was quite chilly and damp outside.  And from the inside we could better enjoy the views without the wind and rain blowing in our faces.  The ferry ride took 40 min and while we were on the lake, I pulled out my knitting project for a few rows.

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This was a very special moment for me.  You know that I like to imprint my knitting project with the places I visit, and this particular shawl was part of the Shawl Society, with a theme of a happy place near the shore.  At the beginning of the pattern release we were invited to share our happy spots and memories of being near water.  I shared that I was looking forward to a trip to the Lake District in the summer and so it seemed perfect that I should knit on this shawl while on the water of Windermere.  It hereafter became dubbed “The Lake District Shawl”

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We saw lovely scenery along the banks of the lake and the trees were dripping with mist and fog – it was so ethereal.  It was at this point that Mom and I vowed we would return and do some hiking in the Lake District area so we could better appreciate the beauty of this place.

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Then we drove to Keswick for lunch.  At this point it was raining rather heavily, and being warned by our guide not  to eat at a sit-down restaurant, Mom and I voted on fish and chips from this little shop.  We stood inside to eat it and it was the best fish and chips we had on the trip!  Yum!  I can still taste it – piping hot and we ate it with our fingers and tried to stay warm.

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The scenery as we drove along was spectacular.  I was charmed by the little rivulets and waterfalls that flowed from the higher peaks.  One of our afternoon stops was to the Honister Slate Mine.

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Our guide told us that all of the historic buildings and the stone walls were made of slate mined in the Lake District.  Now because of regulations and price, newer buildings import slate from other regions, especially China, which is matched as much as possible. At the mine, we were able to visit their processing factory where they cut the slate and fashioned it into various objects and signs, which were for sale in the shop.  It was neat to watch them cutting the slate pieces.  Our guide told us not to buy any pieces from the shop because it would be heavy and “you wouldn’t want to lug that around on the rest of your holiday”.  However, mom and I did purchase some of these wooden mushrooms and we picked up some smaller slate pieces outside.

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I liked this photo because it shows off the beauty of the slate.  Our next and final longer stop was in the village of Grasmere.  I must confess to being in love with this village.

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For starters, there was this charming Gingerbread Shoppe.  Grasmere is famous for its unique gingerbread, so of course we needed to stop and get some.  Additionally, this is also the village where the famed poet William Wordsworth lived.  The residents have planted a lovely garden in honor of him, right near the Gingerbread Shoppe.  We wondered around for a bit and, shockingly, found ourselves near the village church.

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I was trembling with excitement about the beautiful old cemetery covered in large trees and was wondering to myself if they might be yew trees.   One of the bucket list items I had wanted to see on our England trip was an old cemetery with yew trees.  As if on queue, our guide turned the corner, came up to us, and said “now these are yew trees that Wordsworth planted to make the church’s cemetery look more inviting”  Score!  Wordsworth attended this church and he and his family are buried here.  Our guide asked if we’d like to see inside the church and we eagerly agreed.  He gave us a private tour of St. Oswald’s Church.

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And he even let us through the barrier to get a closer look at the organ.

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It was a really special experience and one of the highlights of the day.  As we left, we got some lovely views of the lake there.

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After dinner, we returned to our hotel for hot showers – it had been a very cold and wet day, but full of beauty and delight in this special part of the world.  Our hotel – Southview- was itself a treasure, tucked up in a neighborhood not far from the train station and absolutely beautiful.  We had a spacious room with a view overlooking a garden courtyard.

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Warmed and dry, we settled into our room, turned on the BBC documentary channel, and had Grasmere gingerbread and hot chocolate.

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It was the perfect ending to a magical day and we went to sleep excited about the adventures of tomorrow.

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1175: York Minster

Well, you knew it wouldn’t be too long before I found another cathedral to blog about.  Today I’ll share with you York Minster, the crown jewel of York.  I was so excited to visit the Minster – it is one of the grandest and most beautiful in England.  Here’s what the website says about the cathedral:

“Since the 7th century, the Minster has been at the center of Christianity in the north of England and today remains a thriving church rooted in the daily offering of worship and prayer. The Minster was built for the glory of God. Every aspect of this ancient building – from the exquisite, handcrafted stone through to the unrivaled collection of medieval stained glass – tells the story of Jesus Christ. We invite you to discover this sacred place and the love of God at its heart, which has attracted people from across the globe for more than 1000 years.”

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It could be considered a sister cathedral to Westminster, with both being extremely important centers in England and built roughly about the same.  But I loved the feel of York Minster much better.  This was probably because at Westminster you were kept on strict walking paths; at York, they invited you to explore the cathedral from top to bottom and you were free to roam about at will.   And that’s exactly what we did…starting with the tower tour.  This basically consisted of walking up hundreds of steps, punctuated with brief excursions outside along narrow walkways, and more stairs until you came to the top of the tower.  Tellingly, there was a person at the top taking count of the people who emerged and making sure it tallied with the number of people who entered.

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The views of the Minster up on the high walls, as well as the views of the surrounding city were breathtaking.

From the towers, we went immediately on a tour of the crypt and underground Minster.  We were able to see fascinating aspects of architecture – such as remnants of the Roman buildings and early church foundations.  In some of the storage rooms we visited were shelves and shelves of medieval stone carvings and remnants that they keep from previous excavations.

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Once we had finished this tour we were free to explore the main cathedral.  I’ll share some of the areas I found most interesting.  First was the war chapel – I’ve mentioned in some previous posts that pretty much every cathedral we visited had a memorial to those in the community that had died in wars.

The one at York was especially beautiful.  The main altar piece was created with celestial imagery and says at the top “As dying, yet behold we live” from 2 Cor 6:9, which I thought was especially meaningful in this context.  The wooden wall paneling had been restored and was a perfect complement to the Gothic architecture.  Inside the cabinets at the bottom are lists of all the women who perished on the war front.

We also visited the Chapter House, which historically was where the monks would meet for teaching and receiving instructions.  Now they function as quiet, reflective areas.  They are round rooms typically surrounded with stained glass or decorated stone work.  The one at York was highly carved with columns, filigree, and decorative heads and animal-like figures.  It added an unexpected touch of whimsy in this room – if you expand the picture, you’ll see a couple of head and a pig-like figure.  The ceiling (also pictured) was exquisitely beautiful.  One of the endearing memories I hold of this room was watching a group of visitors sit here and sketch the architecture.

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Back out in the main cathedral, I was enamored of all the elaborate stone carving.  It’s important to note, that while these buildings are ancient, they are living as well.  So each generation has put its hands, heart, and touch on the building and made it relevant for the age.  The picture above is a seamless example of how this is done.  On a wall of medieval stone arches, is a ledge where modern-created figures stand.  This group of stone saints was created in 2004 for an art exhibition and then donated to the cathedral.  They stand at the west end of the nave and use halos in semaphore positions to spell the message of the cathedral:  “Christ is here”

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The cathedral is filled with intricate medieval glass.

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Ironwork screens set off the Gothic arches and stained glass spectacularly.

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And skilled woodcarvers also left their mark in the cathedral – with this breathtaking quire.

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In all the cathedrals, memorials to revered people from the community can be found all along the outer walls.  Here at York, these were exceptionally beautiful works of art as well.  Here are a few of my favorites.

As if all this wasn’t enough, there was a museum of the Minster down in the crypt area too.  The exhibits there chronicled the Minster’s history, and revealed ancient architecture elements deep in the foundation through windows in the floor.  Also on display was the York Gospels, one of the oldest and most valuable books at the Minster.

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After seeing all the ornate decorations of the main chapel, this ancient book was elegant in its simplicity.  It came to the Minster in 1020 is the only Anglo-Saxon book to have survived the Norman Invasion here.  It is a collection of the four gospels chronicling the life and words of Christ.  It was a sweet way to end our time at the York Minster by focusing on its past, and the words of truth which still direct its future.  I’d like to end the post with the words from a sign as you left the museum and entered back into the cathedral.   It perfectly sums up the purpose of the Cathedral and how time is so meaningful here.

“Although ancient and fragile, the York Gospels and its eternal message have endured.  So too, the Minster is a meeting point between the fleeting and the eternal.  The building has stood for centuries, yet it is also fragile and in need of constant care.  Everywhere there are reminders of the past and yet the Minster is a living church, a beating heart in the middle of the city.  Through worship and prayer, or simply through wandering and wondering, within these ancient stones people can experience a sense of eternity.”

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Blessings to you,

Sarah

 

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Gift #1174: Touring Yorkshire

After spending a day walking around the city of York, we were excited to participate in a bus tour of the surrounding Yorkshire country.  Now, actually I was a bit apprehensive because my only experience with bus tours in England has been courtesy of a Miss Marple episode – and after a couple of murders, it didn’t fare so well.  I was a bit concerned that perhaps we would end up solving murder mysteries with the other guests on the tour…. but happily that was not the case.  Instead we spent the whole day exploring the natural beauties and cultural history of Yorkshire.

Our first stop was the Bingley Five Rise Locks, which was built in 1774 as part of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

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It is the highest staircase lock in the UK and we were lucky enough to get to see it in action, as 2 canal boats were going up the lock.  There’s a series of five compartments and after closing the door of the compartment, you open the gate to the one above so that water enters the lower compartment until the water equalizes in both and then you can move to the next higher level.

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Although we could walk around and have a snack at the cafe, most all of us stood entranced at the locks watching the clever workings.  And we even got to help open and close the gates.  Our tour guide ushered us all back on the bus and then we were back on the narrow winding roads.  I spent much of the time on the road wondering how many inches we were away from the rock walls and admiring the vegetation that was sticking through the bus windows as we squeezed through tight spaces.  But the views were breathtaking.

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Our main stop of the day was in the town of Haworth in West Yorkshire.  This was our longest stop – for 2 hours, in which we were told to explore the museums, parsonage, visit the town, and have a leisurely lunch.  Quite frankly, that seemed a bit ambitious for 2 hours… especially with there being a museum.  Haworth was the home of the Bronte family and the parsonage where they lived has been converted to museum.  And conveniently, that’s exactly where our tour guide dropped us off.

The gardens of the home alone were incredibly beautiful, and overlooked the church.  The museum was fascinating, taking us through the living rooms, study, and bedrooms of the Bronte’s – complete with their own furnishings, clothing, and belongings.

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The study

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Charlotte Bronte’s dress and pair of slippers behind

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Emily Bronte’s writing desk

Upstairs was a very thoughtful display with many of the family’s personal papers, letters, and editions of their books.  Charlotte Bronte is my favorite of the sisters and it was incredibly emotional to stand in her room and look at her belongings, clothing, and paintings.  She died in that room.  All of the Bronte’s died young, though we learned from the museum that mid-30s was average life span for Haworth in the early 1800s because of the poor quality of the air and water.  The Bronte’s sisters loved to take long walks to the moors and drink in the wild beauty of the untouched natural surroundings there.  The landscape heavily influenced the emotional heart of their novels.  In the gift shop, we bought a book about the museum and I bought a jewelry set for my mom and I of heather blossoms preserved in resin.  It’s one of my favorite souvenirs from the trip and every time I hold it, I think about Charlotte Bronte and how she loved the heather-covered moors too.

The church was right next door and I was amazed by the graveyard.  It had rained some that morning, so the air was damp and the moss and ferns that covered the tombstones were dewy emerald.  The tombstones were so old that many had cracked in half over the centuries.

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The church was small and beautiful – the stained glass at the altar was exquisite.  The entire Bronte family is buried there except for Anne, who passed away at sea.

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After lingering in this special place, we had no time to explore the rest of the town.  We ran down to a nearby tea shop for tea and scones to eat on the bus for our lunch and then we were on our way again.

We drove up to Penistone Hill on our way to Yorkshire Dales National Park.  Here we were able to take a short hike through the moors and admire the views much like the Bronte sisters did so long ago.  I had long dreamed of seeing the moors in bloom – several books I’ve loved since childhood take place on the untamed moors of Yorkshire – and it was an incredible gift to stand among the blooming heather and breath deep of the wild, sweet air.

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Our next stop of the afternoon was at Linton, a picturesque village in Dales.  Here we were able to photograph Linton Falls and do a bit of hiking down lush trails along the river, and envy the residents who lived there… all in a gentle patter of raindrops.

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I mean who wouldn’t want to live here in the middle of Yorkshire, with stepping stones across the river no less?  And a little picket gate!

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And don’t get me started on the beauty of those stone walls that were everywhere.  Oh the moss, the ferns!!!  I won’t tell you how many photos I took of stone walls on our trip. (that will be my secret).  Our tour guide bustled us all back on the bus ( a bit soggy by that point) and we set out for Bolton Abbey, our main afternoon stop.

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I should point out that by the time we got there, that rain had turned into a downpour with gusty winds.  And then he stopped and said to get out and he’d pick us back up in 45 min.  I must confess that at that point, I would rather have stayed on the bus – especially since to get to the ruins required a long walk through open fields…  but I told myself sternly that we had raincoats on, waterproofed our shoes, and brought an umbrella, and how often do you get to stand in 23th century ruins in the rain in England?? Besides, it made for some really cool photos with the fog and all, and eventually it did stop raining (about the time we found a building with a roof).

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Now, how gloriously gothic is that?  I’d like to point out that Bolton Abbey and the extant Priory Church is part of the Yorkshire estate holdings of the Duke of Devonshire, who’s home estate is Chatsworth.  I had to remind myself about we were not to covet.  What joy to own such beautiful tracts of land!!

We drove through several more towns and enjoyed the idyllic scenery of the Dales on our way back to York.  We still had several hours of daylight and so Mom and I explored an area that we had found on our walk around the wall the previous day – the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey.  In fact, the street we stayed on in York was called St. Mary’s – for this very abbey.

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All that’s left of it now is picturesque fragments of walls, which lent a lovely gothic feel to the gardens.   Then we had the most amazing dinner at a pub called The Botanist.  The pub was decorated with a theme of 17th-18th century botanical journeys, with some rooms designed to look like potting sheds.  Oh, it was lovely… absolutely lovely.  The food was delicious and we also splurged on special drinks.  They were the most delicious drinks we’ve ever, ever had.  I’m still dreaming about how exotic and amazing they were.

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I had Botanist Lemonade (on the right) with thyme, lemon juice, and elderflower cordial.  Elderflower was one of the flavors I fell in love with in England and I need to find some to experiment with now I’m home.  Mom had Juniper Garden, an incredible elixir of seedlip garden, edlerflower cordial, vanilla and sage syrups, apple juice, lime juice, and juniper berries.  I’m not sure how to describe the taste of this – it was something like sundrenched, raindrop kissed forest.  It will go down as one of the most delicious and elusive flavors in my memory- like the notes of the most beautiful song you can imagine, but now only hear echoes of in a dream.

As a matter of fact, that’s how the whole day felt – surrounded by ruins, heathered moors, the memory of wildness in nature, the melancholy of lost centuries, and the joy of experiencing it all.

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Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1173: A Walk through York

Today I wanted to share with you the special time we had in York.  We spent 3 wonderful days here and I instantly fell in love with this city.  It was probably my favorite place in our trip, but that’s hard to say because every place was so beautiful.  But York….  you stole my heart in a way I was not expecting.

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Our first day there we spent exploring the city.  (We were going to visit York Minster, but it was closing early for a wedding).  One of the reasons I loved this town so much was because it is very walkable and all the streets are charming.  We started off at Minster Gardens and enjoyed people watching and strolling the beautiful grounds in the shadow of the Minster.

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I had wanted to see the famed Shambles Street and we spent some time walking up and down this old medieval street.  It is famous for its narrow passage way and the buildings somewhat slant together at the upper levels.  It turns out that there are several Harry Potter themed stores on this street, which allegedly inspired Diagon Alley.

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One of the side alleys leads into a Shambles Market – with food, vendors, and antiques in an outdoor courtyard.  It was so crowded there and on the street, but it was great fun to stroll by the stores and think about all these streets had witnessed.

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We escaped a late morning shower by visiting the York Castle Museum, and when we had finished there we were hungry for lunch and a spot of tea.

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One of the things on our to-do list while in England was share a formal tea.  And we found the perfect place in York – Betty’s Cafe Tea Rooms.  This beautiful place had 6 tea rooms and we were able to sit upstairs next to a large bay window overlooking the street below.  They were celebrating their 100th Anniversary at the shop, which was quite special too.  The tea was lovely – they had vegetarian sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and an assortment of delicate sweets.

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While I’m still not a big tea drinker (I’m trying, I really am), I am enamored with all the accoutrements associated with tea – silver tea service, straining spoons, ceramic tea cups, sugar cubes, and these amazing tiered trays – I love them!!  Having tea here was a delightful experience.

Later that afternoon we decided we would walk the York city wall.  This wall was built in Roman times and expanded during the Medieval period.  Most of the wall is still standing and walkable, there are just a few gaps where you have to find the next segment of the wall.  The weather had cleared up and was sunny and it was a perfect time.  We entered at Bootham Bar (Bar means a gate-house in York).

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From there we commenced to walk around the Minster and beautiful homes and gardens in the area.  This section is called the Lord Mayor’s Walk and is arguably one of the finest walks in a English city.

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The gardens were absolutely breathtaking, as were the views of the Minster.  Yes, I was thoroughly in love at this point.

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We stopped to enjoy the sunshine and views for a bit and to do some knitting.  Here is my project making itself right at home on the wall.

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An enchanting aspect of the walk was that at many of the bar (or tower gates along the wall) were cafes and tea shops.  We stopped at one called Dyl’s at the Skeldergate Bridge on the banks of River Ouse.  We had a lovely view of the river while enjoying some refreshments.

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We continued walking along in the bright afternoon sunshine, which bathed all the buildings in golden light.

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And we watched the start of a magnificent sunset on the River Ouse.

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After we finished walking the wall, we continued to walk the streets of York, admiring the architecture.  We had a brief light rain and then when we turned the corner to return to the main street, we were greeted with this incredible view.

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It was a miraculous moment and one that encapsulated how I felt the entire day.  Walking the wall of York was one of my most favorite times of our whole holiday in England.  I loved getting to see the city, walk its streets, admire its buildings, and appreciate its gardens and green spaces.  By the end of the day, I had found a new home in York and can’t wait to see it again.

Blessings to you,

Sarah

 

 

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Gift #1172: The Legacy of Coventry

Are you ready for more cathedrals?  I hope so, because I have a very special one to share with you today.  Our last stop in the Midlands was to the town of Coventry, and the cathedral there shares a very important story.   Coventry Cathedral is unique, in that while all the other ancient cathedrals and churches we visited managed to survive many wars, Coventry did not.  Incendiary bombing during WWII burned out the beautiful medieval cathedral.

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And all that was left among the smoke and ruins was the exterior walls… and a charred cross that was pulled out from the ashes.

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The Bishop of the Cathedral walked among the wreckage that following morning (after struggling all night to put out the fires).  He said two words that changed this church forever:  Father forgive.  This short and simple prayer gave new direction and mission to this church and since that day, Coventry Cathedral is a dedicated place of reconciliation.  They share the message of hope that God has come to reconcile us to Himself through the forgiveness of sin and that through God’s grace people can also be reconciled to each other.  Individual to individual, city to city, nation to nation… this church spearheaded a now-worldwide ministry that works to heal the wounds of war and partner cities with each other to rebuild and restore each other.  Coventry itself partnered with Dresden at the end of the war to bring healing to the war-torn German town.

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I was deeply moved by how beautifully this church has lived out the Gospel to the world in the days since WWII.  Walking through the ruins was powerful – I almost wanted to take my shoes off because it felt so holy.  Instead of finding bitterness, the ruins literally spoke of forgiveness.  Instead of hatred, love dwelt here.

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This poignant sculpture was dedicated in 1995, on the 50th Anniversary of the end of WWII and was donated as a token of reconciliation.  A sister statue was gifted to the people of Japan by the people of Coventry and it sits in the Peace Garden of Hiroshima.

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Inside the ruins are places for people to sit and reflect.  And at the place where the altar stood, a replica of the charred cross is mounted (the real one is inside the new cathedral). On the day we visited, we had the opportunity to participate in the Litany of Reconciliation at the altar in the ruins.  The priest shared the history of the cathedral and then said words which I’ve committed to remember always.  He said: “Isn’t it glorious that the God we serve has the power to take experiences that leave us in ashes and transform them in ways we can’t imagine to further His kingdom of love and forgiveness”.  Nowhere else in all the places we visited in England did I see the glory of God so clearly on display as in this place.  Out of the depths of destruction, the people of this cathedral had the faith to believe God’s promise that “what the enemy meant for evil, God means for good.”  That faith in God’s power and mercy propelled them into an attitude of forgiveness that has touched the world and empowered future generations to take up the call to live in God’s kingdom.

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The cathedral was rebuilt on land adjacent to the ruins in the 1950s.  This powerful sculpture stands outside the main entrance and depicts the Archangel Michael standing victorious over the chained devil.   Again it speaks of a bold faith that knows God’s righteousness and love will ultimately triumph over all evil and will one day restore the world.

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Inside the new cathedral, the feel is distinctly modern.  The stained glass is abstract, but still beautiful – especially when the sun shines through and illuminates the colors.

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One of the most striking aspect of the new cathedral is the wall of glass that overlooks the ruins.  Etched into the glass are images of saints and angels.  These were exquisitely strange and beautiful, ethereal and skeletal.

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Our tour guide explained how the building itself tells the story of God’s redemption.  You come from the ruins, which depict the destruction that sin causes, and enter the sanctuary in the company of the saints and angels (in the glass) with your eyes fixed on Jesus in faith (as shown in the image above as you look to the main altar.  Your voyage up to the altar (as a metaphor of your journey of faith in this life) is marked by trials and hardship – this is reflected in the stark gray columns and the spiked imagery which reminds one of the nails and crown of thorns from the crucifixion.

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Once you reach the altar, where communion is taken and is symbolic of the unity we will share with Christ in heaven, you turn around to look back at the path you’ve taken.  Those gray columns you saw on the way up are transformed into brilliantly colored stained glass that paints the sanctuary in beautiful color.

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In a similar way, we are promised in the Bible that our “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  Again, I was amazed by the faith of this congregation that built the story of redemption and the promise of eternal reconciliation into the very walls of their new building.

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Spending the day at Coventry was a deeply moving experience and one that I hope will stay hidden in my heart for the rest of my days.  God’s power, grace, and forgiveness were so deeply etched in this place and in these people who carry on His work of reconciliation in a sin-sick, war-torn world.  Being here challenged me to consider how deep my faith in God is and how far would I trust His promises when trials come.  Like the people of Coventry, I pray that in such a time I would see a cross instead of ashes, and a redemption instead of ruins.

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1171: A Visit to Lincoln

Today I want to share with you the lovely city of Lincoln.  This was our third day in the Midlands of England, and we spent each day visiting a nearby town or estate (as in the case of Chatsworth).  The country here was lovely – with rolling hills and meadows and quaint towns tucked into the valleys or along the slopes of higher hills.  We often saw sheep and hay bales as we rode the train to and from our destinations.  Lincoln was my favorite city of the ones we visited – it was immensely beautiful and full of charm.

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Here are some pictures I took as we arrived and meandered around.   Flower shops popped up on the street corners and in tiny alleyways.

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One of my favorite shops there was this cheese shop with an adorable name.  We slipped inside to nibble on some samples before heading to the cathedral (you knew there would be a cathedral in this post, right?)  The cathedral is at the top of a very steep hill and the main street going up to the cathedral is appropriately (and unimaginatively) called Steep Street.  In fact, it has railings along the sidewalks so you can keep your step going up and down – and no car traffic allowed.

Now because I’ve already had several posts of cathedrals, I didn’t want to bore you with another slew of pictures that might all start to look the same.  So today I’m going to show you Lincoln Cathedral from a different angle.  However, because this was one of my favorite cathedrals, there might be a post later on to reveal more of the magnificence of this beautiful edifice.  But for today, I’m going to take you on a tour of Lincoln Cathedral that my mom and I went on – the Rooftop Tour!

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This 2-hour tour took us up dizzying heights to see parts of the cathedral that mere mortals don’t even dream of (maybe I exaggerate a bit).  At each cathedral we visited, we did something unique – a tour or a service – so that we experienced each place more intimately and individually than just as a generic tourist.  One of our first stops on the Rooftop Tour was the Bell Ringers Tower.  This was a lovely room filled with nostalgia, old pictures, displays, and of course… the bells.  The cording hanging from the ceiling above each connects to one of the bells.  And that cool looking door in the back – yep – we got to go through that door and up circling stone staircases.

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I’m not going to lie – I found crawling through the passageways and up the staircases immensely fascinating and satisfying.  You got to feel the character of the place by seeing behind the walls.  This is up on the roof top – so at this point we are above the cathedral and walking along the roof join.  We could look over the railings and see the back, uncarved portions of stone that formed the arches in the main cathedral below.

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At a few times during the tour we’d find ourselves ducking through an old wooden arched door and finding ourselves out on a roof parapet with breathtaking views – both of the town below and of unusual vantage points of the cathedral.

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Then we’d duck inside through another door and file through narrow stone passages up and down stairs, passing tiny windows like this one.  Occasionally our guide would stop us to show us a bit of interesting “Cathedral life” – like this photo below.

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This is actually a peep hold into the atrium of the cathedral down below.  The grating can be removed and during official remembrances of war, poppy confetti is sometimes blown down the hole to rain into the cathedral.  Some remnants of poppy petals remain from the last service – which I think was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ending of WW1.

Then we’d be on our way again until we’d burst out of another door.  Every time, I’d gasp with amazement at where we’d end up.

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Like this amazing view looking down the length of the church to the quire (where the stone wall is about 2/3 back) and the high alter beyond that.  If you look carefully you can see the chandeliers suspended below us.  And look at all the layers of carved arches!!  Oh, my heart was beating wildly (and not just from how high up we were).

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We also had a bird’s eye view into the of the private chapels.  This one is in honor of the fallen soldiers of England – most of the branches of service have their own chapels and hang their regiment flags there.

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Eventually the tour ended and we found ourselves back on ground level.  For reference, we were able to go as high up as the rose stained glass at the top of the arch.  There’s a narrow passageway that runs the width of the arch at the base of the stained glass.

There was a lot to see on the ground level too.

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Remember me mentioning Sir Joseph Banks during the Kew Gardens post?  He was a famed naturalist and botanist who accompanied James Cook on his explorations.  His collections helped found the British Museum (so you’ll be hearing me talk more about him later too) and he founded Kew Gardens.  Lincoln Cathedral was his church and this monument was erected in honor of his legacy.  When asked his favorite view in England, he replied it was the inside of the Lincoln Cathedral.

One of the sweetest memories in this cathedral was the way the sun illuminated the interior.

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When the sun came out from the clouds and hit the stained glass, it painted abstract reflections from the glass over the columns and floors of the cathedral.  In those few moments, I felt I understood better what heaven will be like.  The light felt alive in this place.

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It also created glorious sun rays that looked like halos.  The time spent here at Lincoln Cathedral felt reverent and worshipful.

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Here’s a glimpse of the cathedral from the outside – some restoration work was ongoing to re-carve areas that had been weathered away.  The sandstone is very soft and the carvings have to be sharpened and cleaned to be preserved.

Here are a few more pictures of the city from our walk back:

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A tea shop had an Alice in Wonderland tea display in the front windows –  I was enchanted!

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We passed by a charming bookstore.

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And a view down one of the streets.

It was an enthralling day spent exploring behind the walls, up the towers, and on the roofs of a beautiful cathedral, and all the streets and alleways of a quintessential English country town.

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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