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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Gift #1170: Chatsworth

When planning our itinerary to England, there were about a hundred grand estates that I would have loved to visit (and I still hope to one day), but at the tops of my list was Chatsworth.  This was the main reason I wanted to head to the Midlands – although the other towns that we visited in this area made the trip even more worth it.  Now, I have a slight confession to make – the reason I wanted to visit Chatsworth above all the others is because of the gardens.  My botanist heart had eagerly read all about the incredible gardens and plant collections in the estate’s heyday and I wanted to see these treasures with my own eyes.

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The magician responsible for the famed gardens was Joseph Paxton (you might remember that I mentioned him in the post on Kew gardens).  He was invited to be the head gardener at Chatsworth when he was 20 years old and is largely responsible for all the glorious features of the grounds.  I should mention here that Capability Brown designed and landscaped the grounds from 1750s-1760s – altering the terrain, putting in lakes, and planting trees to give the now-iconic look of an English country estate.

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Paxton was retained by the 6th Duke of Devonshire in 1823 and was allowed free-reign on the grounds.  One of his fabulous contributions was the rock garden.  I won’t tell you exactly how long Mom and I wandered about the rock gardens, but it was at least a few hours.  The garden, hands down, was the most beautiful garden I’ve ever seen.

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This huge monolith was fashioned into a towering waterfall, with huge aquatic plantings surrounding the pond.  Meandering paths allow you to wander about, always coming upon a new scene of beauty.

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Moss covered boulders built up into small mountains are interspersed with ferns and flowers in a stunning display.  The main trail eventually brings you to this breathtaking view.

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The rock garden flows seamlessly in a garden pond filled with water lilies, boulders, and banked up with a breathtaking assortment of blooming perennials.  Benches with snowdrops carved into the backs line the path so you can stop and admire the amazing view and maybe do a bit of knitting.

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Along the back of the rock garden is the whimsical Willow Tree.  I had read about this and was very excited to see it in person.  The original was crafted in 1695 as something of a practical joke, as the copper tree was designed to randomly squirt water on unsuspecting visitors.  In Paxton’s day, he reconstructed the tree and moved it to its current location along a path that winds away from the rock garden.  It’s a delightful sculpture and now acts as fountain since it sprays water all the time.

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The other main reason I wanted to visit the Chatsworth gardens was something of a personal pilgrimage for me.  Paxton designed multiple conservatories for the Earl of Devonshire’s extensive collection of tropical plants, including the famed Great Conservatory (started in 1836).  At it’s completion it was the largest glass house in the world, and quite possibly one of the greatest world’s wonders at the time.  It housed the Earl’s collection of orchids – which was also the largest in the world at the time.  I have dreamed of what this magnificent structure filled with exotic and rare orchids would have looked like.  It gives me goosebumps to imagine it in all its glory.

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Such extravagant dreams never last and unfortunately the Great Conservatory became prohibitively expensive to heat and maintain.  By WW1 there wasn’t enough coal to heat the greenhouse and the remaining plants died.  The Great Conservatory was dynamited in the 1920s.  I was gutted when I read about its fall and I shed tears for the great loss.  All that remains is the foundation (shown in the photos above).  It now houses a maze and garden area.

Eventually we managed to pry ourselves away from the garden and enter the house.

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The magnificent staircase and wrought iron filigree railings made a magnificent statement in the main hall.  The home was elaborately decorated and each room was like a darkened jewel box full of treasures.

The room on the left was unique in that it held a collection of china plates in rows from floor to ceiling along all the walls.  It was fun to move through the rooms and imagine what they must have seen in all the centuries they’ve been standing.

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There were so many things to look at – the floors, ceilings, artwork, collections, but I was immediately drawn to the light fixtures in nearly every room we went in.  The dining room boasted the most elaborate crystal chandelier.  My favorite room had to be the library though.

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I loved everything about this room and could have happily lived here as a little mouse.  The ceiling, carpeting, and woodwork paneling are just gorgeous and lit to perfect effect with all the lamps.  The comfortable chairs and floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with books would keep me occupied for the rest of my life.  Ahh.. bliss.

The final room you pass through on your way out of the house and into the gift shop (in the old orangery) is the Sculpture Room.  This room was built specifically for the 6th Duke to house his enormous sculpture collection.  He had originally planned for the walls to be brightly painted, but fortunately they were left natural and this lends a much more soothing aspect to the room.  Here are a collection of some of my favorites on display during our visit – a woman spinning. a carved lion, and a sculpture of Napoleon’s mother.

It was an idyllic day spent at this iconic estate.  I’ve roamed the gardens often since then in my mind and I’ve imagined meeting Joseph Paxton among the rocky boulders he placed in the grounds.  This beautiful place will long haunt my dreams.

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Blessings to you,

Sarah

 

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Gift # 1169: Cathedrals and Gardens

Whew!  It was a long and busy week.  I’ve been trying to rest and gather strength for the one coming up.  As I’ve enjoyed some quiet peace this weekend, I wanted to share one of the special places that we visited on our England trip – the city of Lichfield.  We had migrated up from London for our next stage in our trip – exploring the Midlands and Peak District.  This involved my first experience with the National Rail System.  I had been looking forward to all the train travel we would be doing and I loved being on the trains.  In less than 2 hours we found ourselves on the outskirts of a quaint city with a whole day of exploring to do.

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Naturally our first order of business was the cathedral.  Lichfield has a beautifully impressive three-spired cathedral (the only Medieval cathedral in Europe to boast 3 spires).  It was so large that I couldn’t manage the whole thing in my viewfinder from any vantage point.

Construction on the cathedral was started in 1195 and was completed in the 1330s.  It is built of sandstone quarried at Lichfield and is heavily carved with ornate motifs, kings, queens, and saints.

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The inside is stunningly beautiful.  A9E06F63-EAE8-4B53-904C-C7BA9ED65D23Although we visited a number of stunning churches I never got tired of gazing down through the center of the church and marveling at the arches and and columns and high vaulted ceilings.  They sent chills up my spine.  In this photo you can see the interior lights from the church mingling with the stained-glass tinted light filtering in through the windows and playing along the sandstone walls.  The original stained glass from the church was destroyed during the Civil War, but has been replaced with medieval stained glass from other sources.

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As you enter a cathedral, you move down the nave – which is the center aisle leading to the crossing.  At the crossing, there are north and south transepts that host quiet, smaller chapels for prayers and reflection.  In this crossing area, is the lectern, which I took pictures of in every cathedral we visited.  This one at Lichfield was stunning in the way it wrapped around the sandstone columns with the ornate metal screening on the railing.

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As you continue moving eastward through the cathedral, you enter the Quire, which is usually separated with a carved or decorated screen.  The Lichfield Cathedral’s screen (pictured above) dates from Victorian era when this intricate metal screen replaced the stone carved medieval screen.  I was absolutely enchanted with the Quires in all the cathedrals we visited.  They were filled with ornate metal and woodwork and there’s scarcely a square inch in these spaces that hasn’t been embellished. Along the sides of the Quire are the stalls where officials of the city would gather during services and these featured beautiful carvings and decoration as well.

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Beyond the Quire lies the heart of the cathedral – the sanctuary, or high altar, where eucharist is offered.

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At this point I must confess to a certain amount of envy.  The churches that I’ve attended did not emphasize architectural beauty and I’ve never had so much as a pane of stained glass, let alone sculpture in a church.  This filled my heart with inexplicable joy and awe.  My soul was fashioned to worship in such surroundings as these.   Everything in the cathedral is designed to lift the hearts and souls of the worshipers to see God in these surroundings and to tell His story of redemption.  The church was meant to be a separate and sacred place from the dirt, grime, and distress of daily life; a place where those who entered could find refuge, restore their souls, and catch a glimpse of heaven.

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Cathedrals are a feast for all the senses – not just the eyes.  The music of worship is an integral part of the cathedral.  Glorious music is designed to capture the heart and lead worshipers in praise and honor of God, celebrating His mighty deeds and His faithful love.  It was a delightful experience to be able to hear the organ and choirs throughout our visits to the cathedrals.

After our wonderful time in the cathedral, we sought out a brief respite of tea and scones before exploring the rest of the city.  Several notable individuals lived here, and Lichfield was known as a city of residence for philosophers and poets.  We spent some time exploring the gardens of Erasmus Darwin.  (His home is open for tours as well, but we got there later in the afternoon and didn’t go inside).

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The gardens were beautiful and in the height of blooms.  Afternoon sun drenched the area in golden light.  The gardens were arranged down a winding brick path according to the plant’s uses – cutting garden, medicinal garden, dyer’s garden, etc.  While we were there admiring the garden, we met the garden caretaker herself:

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She was deeply appreciative of our admiration of the garden and only demanded many pets as admission.  She was an enthusiastic and affectionate guide who proceeded to accompany us through the garden and show us her favorite spots.  (Apparently she was also quite fond of our feet as she planted herself on them frequently and refused to move till we had petted her).  Artwork and sculpture dotted the garden and this was our guide’s favorite one (I know because she told me so).

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I complimented her taste and told her it was my favorite too.  We thanked our hostess and gave her many goodbye pats as we had to start making our way to the train station.  As we left I turned back for one more look and took my favorite photo in Lichfield – the view of the Cathedral framed by Darwin’s garden.

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I hope you enjoyed this peaceful stroll through Lichfield.  It was a charming English country town and I enjoyed every moment here – from cathedrals to gardens, there were ordinary miracles everywhere you looked.

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1168: Out and About in London

Today we’re back in London with a walking tour of a lovely sunny day.  This was our last full day in London before heading to our next destination and I wanted to make sure that we spent time at Westminster Abbey.

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After waiting in queue for a bit, we entered the sacred halls of this iconic church.  They didn’t allow photography inside, so unfortunately I don’t have those to show you.  They had audio tours that you picked up on your way in and followed a pre-laid out route to see the ground level of the church.  In this way, it was not quite so intimate as exploring on one’s own, but it was more efficient.  This was my first English Cathedral and it was overwhelming.  It’s probably just as well that they didn’t allow photography or they might never have gotten rid of me.  The cathedral itself was glorious and being aware of all the history that has occurred on that site in over 1000 years of worship was awe-inspiring.  All of the cathedrals that we visited are first and primarily functioning places of worship, and at Westminster, they periodically asked that visitors maintain an attitude of silence while prayers were offered.  I was deeply touched by that – several times while we were there, ministers of the cathedral would pray for those who had come from all over the world to be touched by the glory and presence of God at Westminster.

Now one area where we were able to take photographs was in the Chapter House, which had recently undergone restoration.  Chapter Houses were gathering areas for monks, where they would hold meetings and receive instructions.

The entire circular space was filled with stain glass windows at the top, below the glass were medieval paintings depicting scenes from Revelations.  And the tiled mosaic work on the floor was exquisite.

After we toured the ground floor, we decided to go upstairs to the Triforium (a gallery area above the nave and choir of a church) to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries.  This space was renovated and a museum opened to the public in celebration of the Queen’s 60th Anniversary of her rule.  In addition to offering spectacular views of the ground floor of the cathedral, there was an interesting display of artifacts from the cathedral’s history, ranging from art, architecture, daily worship, and its relationship with the monarchy.  I did not realize this, but when a member of the monarchy or prominent citizen was buried at Westminster, a wax figure of the person was put on display, often wearing their own clothing and jewelry.  One of my favorite items on display was a large wooden model of the spire renovations that Christopher Wren was overseeing.  I also got goosebumps walking through the Triforium because we could touch the limber beams that Wren had installed to reinforce the area.

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As we climbed the tower to the Triforium, we were treated to “secret” views of Westminster, not seen from the outside of the building. One of the views was this roof-line that had been decorated with scores of stone-carved beasties – some realistic and some fanciful.  It was enchanting and a personal look at the stone carvers who decorated the cathedral and lavished attention on spaces that most people would never see.

Once it got dangerously near to closing time at Westminster, we decided to walk around London for a while since we still had several hours of daylight left to enjoy.

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The Houses of Parliment are very close and this is a view of those from Victoria Tower Gardens.  I loved walking in this area – the buildings were all magnificent and looked like gold with the afternoon sunlight drenching down.

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We walked to the Thames and over the pedestrian bridge to admire the views of the river.  From there we turned our sights to Buckingham Palace.  We walked the length of St. James Park to get there and it was a beautiful open space park with tall mature trees and sculptured monuments.

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We stopped to admire the palace, and the gates and light fixtures (I won’t tell you how many photos I took of those) and got our pictures out front.  Then my attention was distracted by another set of gates which we just had to explore:

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Aren’t they gorgeous?  I was easily enchanted by gates that day.  These beauties beckoned us to Green Park, and we happily obliged.  It’s one of the Royal Gardens that is open to the public and we enjoyed strolling through the beautiful green spaces in London.  We also walked the length of Buckingham Palace Garden.  (though we couldn’t see much of those gardens because they were hidden behind a tall brick wall.  But we did have fun finding the security cameras and waving at them).  The far end of these gardens terminates at Wellington Arch.

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Wellington’s home was right across the street – at Number 1 London.  And turns out that Hyde Park was just right down the street as well.  So we walked through some of those gardens as well – they were beautiful!

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It was a warm and sunny evening, so we took advantage of an obliging bench to do a bit of knitting in the rose garden and rest our feet.

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Once the sun started setting we turned our feet towards the nearest Underground Station and made our way to our bed and breakfast and a tasty dinner at the pub downstairs.  Although the walk after Westminster was completely unplanned, it turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the trip.  I loved walking through London – people watching, admiring the architecture and the green spaces, the monuments and the tall trees, the sun and shadow and how they played over the buildings.  And we managed to walk through five parks/gardens that afternoon.  A perfect day!

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1167: Foliage

There will be a brief interruption in the British Travelogue as we pause for a moment to admire the beauties of foliage, courtesy of the Art Elements Blog challenge theme for September.

fo·li·age:  the aggregate of leaves of one or more plants; cluster of leaves, flowers, and branches; a representation of leaves, flowers, and branches for architectural ornamentation

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Naturally, I had to participate in this month’s challenge as the subject matter is one of my favorites – leaves!  And on the cusp of autumn, most of my creations turn toward my favorite time of year when the leaves shed their greens for ochre, ruby, auburn, and burgundy.

“Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.”
-Emily Bronte

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This necklace was made with a carved stone leaf and strung with jasper rounds and tiny brass leaves.  I found the pendant at a lovely bead shop that used to be in Nashville, IN, which was one of my favorite places to visit in the fall.

 

This next set was inspired by the polymer clay toggle made by Humblebeads.  It’s of a birch forest in autumn – with ochre leaves and deep blue berries.  I transformed the toggle into a pendant and strung matching glass beads and tiny navy seed beads.  To break up the strung beads, I added a birch bead on one side and a tiny navy bird perched on a branch to the other.  The earrings are birch polymer clay bead and brass leaves.  All polyclay beads are by Humblebeads.

“The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
That dances as often as dance it can,
Hanging so light, and hanging so high,
On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky.”
-Samuel Taylor Coleridge

 

Red maple leaves take the spotlight in this next set.  The polyclay stick pendant is by Tesori Treasures and I have several of these with different leaves imprinted on them.  To give more weight to the pendant, I layered it with a large brass skeleton leaf.  The body of the necklace is strung with a variety of glass beads in shades of red, orange, brown, and light blue, with a scattering of red maple Czech beads.  For the earrings I layered Czech maple leaves with tiny skeleton leaves and added poly clay rounds by Humblebeads and Czech glass beads.

“How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.”
– John Burroughs

 

This is my favorite of the jewelry I’m sharing today.  To make the necklace and earrings, I painted brass leaves with a variety of yellow, brown, and green acrylics.  I wanted them to look like withered, aged autumnal leaves that were just about to fade into brown.  I paired the leaves with a variety of matching Czech glass beads.  I dangled a little squirrel from the leaves of the necklace because what fun is an autumn forest without frolicking squirrels?

These last two necklaces were last minute additions after a trip to Hobby Lobby.  The leaves are from the Vintaj “Artisan market” collection and I loved the style and how quickly they worked up into finished pieces.

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I also have some stamped cards and mixed media projects to share too.

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“I loved autumn, the one season of the year that God seemed to have put there just for the beauty of it.”
― Lee Maynard

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“Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.”
― Lauren DeStefano, Wither

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This set of cards was made with Basic Grey’s “Indian Summer” papers.  These are among my very favorite designer papers and I love working with the beautiful colors and organic leafy patterns.  The stamps are from Inkadinkado – this graphic leaf set lends itself well to whimsical designs and is perfect for celebrating autumn.

My last project is canvas art that I made this afternoon for a Fall/Halloween swap I’m participating in.  My recipient loves leaves and crows, so I assembled this piece using stamps, inks, and lots of die cuts!  I cut the leaves out of watercolor paper and then colored them with a variety of distress inks.  I hope she will enjoy receiving it as much as I enjoyed making it.

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”
-George Eliot

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Blessings to you,

Sarah

this is a blog hop, so if you’re interested in seeing more “foliage” art, please visit the other participants

AE Team
 
Lesley  
Marsha  
Claire  
Jenny  
Niky  
 
Guests
 
Dawn  
Hope  
Alison  
Laurie  
Kathy  
Sarajo  
Tammy  
Divya  
Karen  
Alysen  
Mary  
Cat  
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Gift #1166: Kew Gardens

At the top of my list of places I wanted to visit while in London was Kew Gardens.  This formidable bastion of botany has long enchanted visitors with its beautiful gardens and intoxicated scientists with its enviable collections.  I’ve been under its thrall since my college days when I fell in love with botany, and specifically botanical history.  Our first full day in London was dedicated to this pilgrimage and fortunately they have extended hours in the summer – and we used every single bit of it.

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It’s a bit hard to say when Kew Gardens first started as its early days as a royal garden blur its growth into a world renown collection.  However, it is generally accepted that King George III greatly propelled Kew into its birthright, aided greatly by the illustrious Joseph Banks (one of my heroes of botanic history).  Just being on ground he touched and seeing his handiwork made me tingle from head to toe.  Kew Gardens grew symbiotically along with the British Empire.  As Britain expanded its influence and exploration throughout the world, scientists and botanists (Banks among them) were there firsthand to record the natural history of these new worlds and collect plants to bring back to England for further study.  Because of this Kew boasts one of the largest botanical collections in the world, if not the largest.  In modern times, Kew is on the cutting edge of botanical research and conservation efforts.

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The glory of Kew Gardens is its greenhouses – the jewelry boxes that encase their botanical treasures.  It was a continuous battle with my camera about whether I was going to photograph the plants or the steel ribs of the greenhouses that are so incredible.  I took hundreds of photos and it was very hard to pare down just a handful to share with you.  In the depths of winter I’m sure I’ll revisit the resplendent greenhouses of Kew with you again.   So let’s go on tour… we can have tea and refreshments later.

We first went to the palm house (pictured in first photo) and then to the nearby waterlily house, which turned out to be one of my favorite greenhouses.  It was tiny but had a lovely display of many different waterlilies … and a magnificent Chihuly glass sculpture.

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Kew was hosting an exhibition of Chihuly’s work and had 14 different installations throughout the garden.  We were first introduced to his art at the Denver Botanic Gardens a few years ago, so this was a pleasant surprise for us.   This was my favorite piece on display – it was just perfect with the waterlilies.

We wandered through woodland gardens and the science gardens before exploring the alpine gardens.  This appears to be a newer area of the gardens but once it establishes further it will be lovely.  I was impressed with how well Kew manages the wide variety of plants that they have growing outdoors – all with different preferred environments, temperature, and moisture conditions – and keep them all so healthy

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The alpine house (in the dome building above) houses some of the more fragile and younger plants.  While most of my post will be about the plants in the greenhouses, I should point out that Kew has an impressive arboretum as well.  Trees from all over the world have found a home here, many as gifts to the government or gifts from the monarchy to the people.  One of my favorite trees was Turner’s Oak, planted in 1798.

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After some lunch, we headed to the tropical greenhouses.  Here was where I suffered my only disappointment.  I had read several books about the extensive orchid collection at Kew, but alas, there were not many on display in the greenhouses… leading me to wonder about the mysterious collection… another reconnaissance mission will be in my future.  However, there were other glorious plants to explore, including the famed Amazonian water lily (Victoria amazonica).

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The genus was first described in publication in 1837 and quickly became coveted among British gardeners.  Intense rivalry erupted as botanists vied to be the first to discover its growing conditions and coax the water lily to flower.  Joseph Paxon (head gardener for the Duke of Devonshire – you’ll be hearing a lot more about him) was the first to successfully achieve a flowering lily and the Duke presented it to Queen Victoria.  It was thrilling to see one in person – in their own special room of the greenhouse!

Another treasure of Kew that I was delirious with excitement to see was the Marianne North Gallery.  I’ve blogged about her before, as some of her botanical paintings were source material for my jewelry challenges.  She is another fascinating traveling botanist/explorer/artist of Britain.  She first visited Kew at age 13 and it fueled her passion for botany.  Decades later after she had gone on several world-wide journeys, she contacted then-director of Kew, Joseph Hooker, and offered to build a gallery to house over 800 of her paintings.  Hooker agreed and the beautiful gallery was open in 1882.  Photography was not allowed inside the gallery, but I did manage to take one outside the entrance way when the doors were open.

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I was vibrating with delight at seeing all of her magnificent paintings!  I thought it would look like a traditional gallery with lots of open space and some of the paintings on display: I was not prepared for the glorious way that all the paintings perfectly fit on the walls like puzzle pieces.  Marianne framed each of them herself and decided their placement.  Underneath the paintings are wood samples that she collected on her travels and fitted together.  Oh, for a ladder and to live in here for at least a month!

Our last great greenhouse to visit was the Temperate House.  Not only is it Kew’s largest Victorian greenhouse – it is the largest in the world too!  I could have spent so much more time in here!  This may have been the most beautiful greenhouse, and it was certainly the one with the most Chihuly glass in it!

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There were so many rooms to this greenhouse that I felt like I was wandering in a dream.  It was so incredibly beautiful, as this collage of photos attests.  Here’s another unique glass sculpture from Chihuly.

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It was delightful to just meander about the flowers and the ponds and waterfalls.  Everywhere you looked was a picture-worthy scene.

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The whole garden was a perfect amalgamation of the art of God and the art of men blended together seamlessly in a never-ending conversation.  Being at Kew was a dream come true.  I will hold all the treasures I saw and experienced there in my heart always and I’ll hope that it will be as beautiful in my dreams as it was on that sunny summer day.

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Blessings to you,

Sarah

 

 

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