Monday, September 18, 2006
A Slight Detour
My route to Sussex takes me down the M1 as far as Northampton then along the A43 towards Oxford and down the A34 towards Newbury and Winchester. Winchester is just about my favourite of all English cities and as I was down in that area by lunchtime I decided to spend the afternoon there instead of carrying on towards Petersfield. Everyone thinks of London as being the capital city of England but originally this honour lay with Winchester, it was the capital city of Wessex when Alfred the Great was king and was also the chief city of the kingdom from the time of the Norman conquest until the early 1300s. All that remains of the castle built by the Norman kings is the Great Hall which was part of the virtual rebuild done during the reign of Henry III during the early 13th century.
The Great Hall has three claims to fame - Sir Walter Raleigh stood trial there in 1603, it housed the first of Judge Jeffreys' Bloody Assizes after the Monmouth Rebellion and guess what hangs on the wall there? The first time I went to Winchester I went in the Great Hall simply because it was right across the road from where I parked, it's free and it has 'facilities' so I wandered in and picked up a leaflet and to my amazement I discovered that I was about to see King Arthur's Round Table!! I practically ran into the Great Hall and there it was
It has been dated by tree rings and carbon dating to the 13th or early 14th century and it has always been in the Great Hall, originally as a standing table but for the last 600 years it has hung on the wall. It was plain to begin with but Henry VIII had it painted with King Arthur and the names of 24 Knights of the Round Table. Oddly enough King Arthur looks remarkably like the young Henry VIII!
As a slight aside 1) I really need to learn to hold my camera level! and 2) you can get a larger version of each photo by clicking twice on the image. Hope I'm not teaching my grandmother to suck eggs here!
Another delightful surprise on my original visit to Winchester was that if you go out of one of the doors of the Great Hall you find this which is Queen Eleanor's Garden. It's a re-creation of a 13th century ornamental herber and is named after Eleanor of Provence wife of Henry III and her daughter-in-law Eleanor of Castile wife of Edward I. I knew it existed but didn't know exactly where it was so to find it so unexpectedly was a delightful surprise. It is quite small but full of lovely little corners and features such as a vine arbour, a lovely fountain topped by a bronze falcon and of course all the lovely old-fashioned plants which are all from the period. It was much earlier in the year on my first visit so there was much more colour but even so the garden was beautiful and tranquil - at least it was until a large tour group arrived at which point I left!
I walked down through the city to the cathedral which has some interesting things to see - one of the fascinating things to me with my particular spiritual beliefs is the fact that it is absolutely stuffed full of Green Man images, there must be hundreds of them carved into the woodwork and stonework! There are several other things that are worth seeing too - Jane Austen's grave is one of the first things you come across, she is buried actually inside the cathedral. The photograph at the top of this post is of the High Altar and Great Screen which I think is rather splendid. The screen was desecrated during the Reformation and what is there today is late 19th century but still very impressive.
There is a rather lovely 12th century marble font
and some 12th and 13th century wall paintings, quite a rare thing as they were all either painted over or destroyed during the Reformation when Henry VIII started the Church of England.
St Swithun was buried here and his shrine was visited by thousands of pilgrims until it was destroyed also during the Reformation. This modern memorial marks the place of the shrine.
The objects that really interest me are the six mortuary chests which contain the bones of a great many Anglo-Saxon kings including King Ecgbert. The place where I live has a strong connection with this king:
The written history of Dore can be traced back to the year 829 and an entry (wrongly recorded as 827) in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - “And Ecgbert led an army to Dore against the Northumbrians and they offered him obedience and concord and thereupon they separated” and thus King Ecgbert became “Our Lord of the whole English speaking race, from the Channel to the Firth of Forth”.
The importance of Dore was its position on the boundary of the Anglo Saxon kingdoms of Mercia, recently conquered by King Ecgbert of Wessex, and Northumbria, the second most powerful kingdom. At the time, Northumbria was under pressure from Viking raids and unable to fight on two fronts, leading to the acceptance of Ecgbert as overlord and effectively the first king of all England.
When I first visited Winchester Cathedral I had absolutely no idea that King Ecgbert was buried there or in fact that he had any connection with the city. I was really thrilled when I read his name on the list of kings whose bones are contained in the mortuary chests
At this point I am going to stop and get this posted while Blogger is in a good mood, I've been trying to finish it on and off for the last two days and either I couldn't upload photos or it wouldn't even let me edit. I'll carry on in another instalment.