Friday, June 29, 2012

Reformation and Goodbyes

Today was a bittersweet day for many of us, as it was the last day of class and everybody flies home on Saturday. Upon waking up, we all realized that we had two days left to check off things from our London Bucket Lists. So, we went to our last class, and enjoyed a good lecture and discussion on the English Reformation, and then proceeded to hunt down extra luggage, grab Iranian food, spend time with friends, and go to Camden Market (and not spend all the money we had left).

As far as class goes, we were each assigned a different sermon organized and preached by Thomas Cranmer -- the Archbishop of Canterbury under the reign of Henry VIII. These homilies described and outlined the various beliefs that the new Protestant, English parishioners (as well as the priests) needed to know. Some of the doctrines included how people are “saved” by God, an explanation of “true faith”, the importance of obedience to the King as Head of the Church, and the reading and knowledge of Holy Scripture.

These texts are important because they provide insight into the changes of the Reformation. Until revisionist history became a popular trend in interpreting the past, many historians considered the medieval church to be corrupt, and the Reformation occurred with the purpose of breaking away from this supposed corruption of the medieval Catholic Church. However, if anything, this class has demonstrated that these are simply interpretations, and evidence that the medieval church in England was actually a thriving, communal and non-corrupt institution. For example, lay people would donate candles or money to the church, and in doing so, they were practicing the giving of alms. People would pay the church money upon their deathbeds in order to ensure that priests would say prayers for them after they died, in hopes of shortening their time spent in purgatory. Many critics see this as having the wrong intention and buying your way into heaven.

The existence of mystics such as Margery and Julian, as well as the heretical trials that occurred throughout the country, also pointed toward a church that was potentially heretical in the beliefs of its mystics, and was politically power hungry. However, we were constantly asked to challenge this cynical outlook throughout the course. Perhaps Margery and Julian were so overwhelmed by their true faith that they did in fact have visions, or felt the need to have a closer relationship with God. This desire led to their theological concepts and ideologies. It is completely possible that clergymen did not hold the heretical trials because of blood-thirsty men, but instead, for a genuine fear of a corruption of the church, its beliefs and its community.

In any case, the history of anything always has multiple interpretations. Our course examined a period of time in which church history has always been seen in a slightly more negative light, and a time in which great change was about to occur. We read valuable, numerous texts (and original manuscripts!) which enabled us to challenge the previous interpretations, and potentially come up with our own.

Finally, I think it is important to mention all of the FUN we had while we lived in this beautiful city. There were good times, namely: the Jubilee, the nights of clotted cream ice cream (yes, that happened. And it is simultaneously as fantastic, and terrible for you, as it sounds), the early morning tube rides (which make you want to shower immediately after stepping onto the platform but funny in any case), the pubs and pasties, and the many wonderful excursions outside of London. And, of course, there were some bad times, too…like Stonehenge, which luckily did not result in sickness and thus can become a positive experience to remember for a lifetime. Overall, the trip was quite wonderful, and everyone will miss the beautiful city, the experiences and each other.  

(Special thanks to Professor Hornbeck for all the work, guidance, and everything else he has done for the class!)


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Heresy Trials and Royal Palaces

We began our final week with one last class excursion to Hampton Court Palace.  This complex outside of London was built by Cardinal Wolsey in 1514, but became King Henry VIII’s palace in 1529.  The buildings are filled with Tudor and Stuart history for which an abundance of signs, costumed actors, props, and a dramatic audio tour are kindly provided to assist the imagination.  Henry VIII divorced Anne of Cleves and married 2 of his other wives there, Catherine Howard and Kateryn Parr.  His son, Edward, was baptized in the Chapel Royal at the palace.  This gorgeous chapel still holds regular daily services and enforces a strict code of silence.  Interestingly, the Chapel Royal retained many Catholic features and was relatively unaffected by the newly launched Reformation underway just outside.  

Our class today looked at a few of the heresy trial records from Norwich (1428-1431) and Winchester (1511-1513).  The Winchester trials were almost contemporaneous with the building of the palace.  While there is no direct link between the palace and the heresy trials per se, imagination involuntarily kicks in and starts forming a big picture of a world-in-which.  One of the more interesting architectural features of both the palace and the extensive gardens is the enormous number of nooks and hiding places scattered everywhere.  These were certainly designed to facilitate the private and politically sensitive conversations going on endlessly behind the scenes at court.   In secretive meetings like these, heresy was also believed to spread, and simply hosting a known heretic in one’s house could put that person on trial.

After discussing some of the theological contentions and the extent to which a trial record represents real historical circumstances, we began a prosopographical analysis of the text by mapping all the names indicted and linking them according to how they knew each other.  At first, tracing who had the heretical book when someone came to dinner felt a bit like a game of Clue.  Once a root system of heretics began to emerge, however, the method felt more like hunting cells of terrorists.  It was a strange feeling in a history and theology class, but essential work for close reading of these sources.

Why heresy and heretics were so feared is a difficult and troubling question for postmoderns.  Understanding this fear is further complicated by the tarnished image we have of the object of that fear, which survives almost entirely behind the polemics and judicial proceedings against them.  While many people now are receptive to explanations from social control, Eamon Duffy has argued for more pastoral motivations that were deeply concerned with the seriousness of right belief and eternal salvation.  Neither one of these seems entirely adequate, however.  The reduction of history to a string of power struggles is unnecessarily cynical and two-dimensional.  On the other hand, the excessive use of violence by both Church and State in some of these trials is hard to attribute charitable intent.  Maybe tomorrow’s class will bring the answer.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Trewe Cristen Men and Lollards

In my first extensively historiographical course in college, every time someone made a point about "scientists" or "feminists" or "social radicals," the professor would stop the conversation and ask, "but is that what they would have called themselves? How would they have defined their activities?" I was struck again by the importance of this question of self definition while reading Conner's blog post, in which he discusses experimenting with a pagan identity, and how attending the solstice helped to shape this identity through an experience of community.

In class, we encountered this issue repeatedly over the past week, while struggling with questions like "what is a heretic?" and "what is a Lollard?" "Lollard" itself is a term loaded with problematic associations: outside of its particular historical context, it means very little, but in the middle ages it was often an indistinct pejorative, as we saw in The Book of Margery Kempe. In the primary source documents we've read, none of the "Lollard" writers identify themselves as such; rather, they put the title in the mouths of ecclesiastical authorities: "... men which [bischoppis] clepen Lollardis (Bishop, 19)." Nor, as these documents further reveal, were their belief systems always identical.

Rather than opting to call themselves Lollards or heretics or even Wycliffites, the authors we've been reading self-identify as "pore men" and "trewe cristen men." Their identity is loosely grounded in a conviction in the importance of strict adherence to scripture and the commandments. They order their business, govern their household, and select their associates accordingly.

Unfortunately, the surviving records-- mainly either polemics or heresy trials-- make it easy to misread the movement as entirely grounded in opposition to the church, rather than a belief system with positivist claims. This has furthered a teleological view of these texts and their authors as a movement leading towards inevitable Protestant reformation-- indeed, as a premature reformation. Certainly the "trewe cristen men" were interested in personal reform-- in the care of their souls and the careful ordering of their households and social networks-- but we have yet to encounter, in the texts we've read, any investment in over-arching church overhaul. The "trewe men" place themselves outside of the church, but they don't take a hammer to its statuary or throw rocks through its windows.

In order to work with these texts as they are, and not through the lens of later agendas, we must begin by interrogating the claims that the authors make about themselves in their own historical moment. Now, as then, "Lollard" is a term that must be handled with care.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Stonehenge Adventure

Few words could describe the events of the Summer (really?) Solstice at Stonehenge. Since Conner blogged about it, I will post a few supplementary pictures which will hopefully tell the tale of last night/morning.

the last time we smiled that night

they looked quite nice until the torrential downpours hit

words cannot describe how we were actually feeling. soaking wet, wearing garbage bags

And.....the following day. Needless to say, we were still recovering. 

It was just what we needed

The highlight of the night
an ode to our friend, Margery

Thursday, June 21, 2012

To Stonehenge for the Solstice

Traveling to Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice was one of my main goals while here in London.  Partly because I thought it’d be a rare opportunity and a good story to have, but I also had a religious interest in the event.  For the past three years I’ve been experimenting with other religions out of both curiosity and desire to join a new religion.  So, attending the Stonehenge Solstice Ceremony was also a way for me to observe the Pagan religion.  I mention this mostly to offer a semi-rational reason for why I would be willing to wait for the sunrise in a field for several hours, during heavy rainfall with only a hoodie, a thin leather jacket and a garbage bag to keep me warm.

When we got to Stonehenge, it was only about 11:30 P.M., so we had a substantial wait until the ceremony would begin.  Throughout the entire night, even during the rain, there was a large party inside the actual stone circle with multiple drummers, dancers and singers.  There were a good amount of people there for “less religious reasons”, but actual practitioners of Paganism were easy to identify.  Amongst all the people bundled up in North Face jackets and waterproofed tarps were others dressed in robes and cloaks while carrying staves.  The color and style of their clothing indicated what branch of Paganism they practiced as well as their status within their faith.  When the rain started about two hours later, a large amount of non-Pagans headed back to the buses to get back home, but the people celebrating inside the circle continued the entire night until the sunrise.  To be fair, I expect that a good amount of those people stayed because they treated the entire event as a party as opposed to a religious event.

The rain cleared up a bit before the ceremony began at 4 A.M.  The sky was still very cloudy, but this did not prevent people from gathering around one of the outer stones.  The ceremony was led by the Head Priest of the Druids, Arthur Uther Pendragon.  In the Druid tradition, he is meant to be the reincarnation of King Arthur leads all major Pagan ceremonies in England.  The ceremony itself was only about an hour long and did not have a concrete schedule or format.  There were specific prayers and chants that Arthur performed, but the more significant part of the ceremony was the performance of music and poetry.  Anyone there who had something they wished to perform in celebration of the solstice was welcome to step forward, whether it was Arthur himself reciting a poem about Druid beliefs, a scraggly man named Hock playing the banjo and singing or a young girl who had typed out a poem on her iPhone.  All of this was very entertaining, but more importantly it was about community.  After each performance, Arthur would thank the person and say a few words about their piece.  Usually, it was about how the performance related to the Pagan tradition, but Arthur really did stress how important being a community was.

Arthur Uther Pendragon - Raised Druid King of Britain
In a Catholic mass, community is mostly fostered through silence and solemn, communal prayer.  It’s very tame and structured, and it’d be a rare sight for someone to come up to the altar and recite their own poetry.  Pagans, on the other hand, foster community through music, dance and even shouting.  It’s very loud and energetic, but the participants have fun, which is not something I used to seeing Catholicism or many other religions for that matter.  They have their moments of reverence and quiet, but largely the ceremony was a celebration of life.  Several times Arthur congratulated and praised the people for showing up and braving the weather and seemed to be just as amazed by Stonehenge as we were. 

What was even more interesting to see was that during the mass, there were two weddings and two knightings.  About halfway through, Arthur asked if there were any couples who were there to be joined.  What was interesting to see was one couple was dressed in regular clothing while the other was in full medieval garb.  Both marriages were very short and consisted of a prayer, wrapping their hands with cords and jumping over Arthur’s staff.  What I was surprised to find out is that these marriages are legally recognized by the British government.  Paganism is considered a “legitimate” religion in England and is entitled to the same rights and respects as any other major faith.  So, while it’s fun to see a man claiming to be King Arthur marry a couple in medieval garb, this was also a legitimate wedding.  The communal aspect of the ceremony showed during this as well.  The second couple had forgotten to bring a rope to be tied around their hands.  When they realized this, most of the people in the crowd quickly began to remove a cord or rope from their clothing to give to the couple so that they could proceed.  This was not a provoked response either, but their way of showing strong support for a member of their community.

As for the knighting, Arthur has the power to induct people as members of his own court in the Pagan religion.  While I was not able to find out exactly how someone gains candidacy for this, the procedure was just as quick as the weddings.  Two times, a man was presented as a candidate for Arthur’s court.  After being introduced, they would kneel in front of Arthur and repeat a pledge as Arthur places his sword over their shoulders.    And then they are treated to a cheering from the crowd and welcomed by Arthur into his court.  The interesting thing to note about this was that, unlike the weddings, you could not simply step forward, nor did Arthur ask if there were any candidates.  Both men had to be presented by other high-ranking priests or priestesses present at the ceremony.  Essentially, the men needed a sponsor of some kind to vouch for them.  But, even with that difference, Arthur was just as happy to oblige the candidates as he did the couples.

The last thing I was to point out about the ceremony is that it really was a very informal event.  Arthur and the Head Priestess had control over the ceremony, but it was an open participation event.  Arthur actually made a specific point to welcome not just Pagans, but people of other religious backgrounds and asked them to contribute a song or prayer at the start of the ceremony.  The only person to do so was a woman who sang a couple Native American songs, but the lack of participation did not stop Arthur from repeatedly encouraging people of other faiths to step forward.  I’d never seen something like this happen at any kind of religious event, but I think that just shows evidence of how both informal and communal Paganism is.  Its practitioners do not seek to make the religion powerful and institutionalized, but are perfectly happy to just be able to practice their faith.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Norwich excursion


With many of my classmates choosing to blog insightful, scholarly entries regarding Julian and Margery,  I decided to focus on the events of our excursion to Norwich on Monday. It was a wonderful journey to the far east coast of England, into the quaint, yet historic town of Norwich. 

more after the jump

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Julian and Margery: Unlikely Bedfellows

Over the course of the last several class meetings and during our visit to Norwich yesterday, our class has been analyzing the texts of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, both of whom produced "mystical" autobiographies of their experiences with faith during their lifetimes. I studied mysticism a lot as an undergraduate as well as witchcraft/heresy, and I have found that one distinct link between these two seemingly anterior fields is the suspension of disbelief that the modern student must employ to work with the related texts objectively. Just as medieval society believed that "witches" were actually committing acts of diabolical sorcery, they also had a fair amount of faith in the visions that mystics claimed to be having as divinely inspired manifestations of God's grace. So regardless of how irrational or crazy we think Margery or Julian were, we must constantly keep in mind the medieval context of their chronicles.

That being said, I'd like to try to compare Julian and Margery as so-called mystical women. I tend to come down on the very cynical side of modern scholarship on mysticism, so I'll attempt to keep this tame. However, I will be explicit in saying that I am of the opinion that if true mystics existed, Julian was a prime example, but I think Margery was a wannabe saint who had a lot of guilt about her failure to live a cloistered life from the outset and tried to overcompensate.

Julian of Norwich was brilliant. I think it fair to say that her life as an enclosed anchoress obviously gave her plenty of time to contemplate on theology and inwardly exaggerate whatever intimate experiences she had with God prior to her enclosure, but one can not argue that the woman was not incredibly intelligent and well-spoken. She wrote about the "revelations" she had during a period of illness about 16 years thereafter, which I think is a little suspect. Sixteen years of isolation certainly gave her enough time to craft a fantastic narrative about an event that may or may not have been as intensely spiritual as she claims, although I do not think she malevolently sought fame through falsehood. Regardless of the accuracy of her tale, Julian managed to deeply analyze the teachings of Christian patriarchs and reinvent contemporary theology despite her gender and isolation. Her writing is fluent and nuanced with tokens of brilliance and just enough apostasy from contemporary church institutions to show that she knew the Catholic doctrine but had her own ideas about how it should best be used to honor God. I think it telling that she did not seek out publication of her work, but rather that it was reproduced after her death, because she clearly was not overly extroverted about her mystical tendencies. For me, that makes her a little more credible.

I do not think Margery could have survived one day in Julian's shoes, but I think she really really wanted to try them on. Julian managed to have a complete mystical career in a tiny stone cell, whereas Margery literally roams across the European continent in search of the kind of spiritual experiences that Julian had over a three-day period while lying in her bed. Margery certainly seems to be of the mindset that her life would be better spent living alone with God in chastity and poverty, but she also seems to have had the means to do whatever she wanted and couldn't get enough of wandering around and talking to people, so I tend to think the life of an anchoress would not have suited her. I think Margery probably spent several months of her life crying about the deep religious emotions that her various exploits fomented, but I also think it telling that she couldn't seem to crank out some decent descriptions of what exactly was going on her head. In my opinion, Margery wanted to experience the same kind of revelations that Julian claims to have had, but they never really came, so she tried to overcompensate by manifesting her piety in physical manifestations of religiosity. She wore white clothes, cried all the time, made several pilgrimages, all to, I think, force the mystical experiences that she couldn't manage to pull out. Don't get me wrong, I think it's awesome the kind of social agency she wrought by virtue of her own obnoxiousness, but I wouldn't necessarily call it mysticism.

All shall be well.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Glastonbury: Home of Pagans and Pilgrims

This Saturday, I traveled to Glastonbury with my friend Sarah to replicate a Pagan pilgrimage.  On the way, she filled me in on a massive amount of historical information about the area as well as it's significance to modern day Pagans, in addition to it being the rumored site of Avalon and Camelot.  After four hours of travel, we reached the small town which was filled to the brim with stores for old books, apothecaries, wands, robes and anything else a modern day Pagan Druid would need.  The majority of the population practice a range of lesser known faiths, with several of them marking themselves via either tattoos, jewelry or specific manner of dress.  None of this was unfamiliar to me as far as fiction goes (and by fiction I mean Harry Potter), but these were actual people that practice and pass on ancient belief systems that are almost unheard of back in the US.

Our first stop on our pilgrimage was to visit the Chalice Well, a site of both Christian and Pagan significance as it holds King Arthur's healing fountains, the Lion's Head spring and the Chalice Well itself.  The Well is known in legend as being the place where Joseph of Arimathea placed the cup that caught Christ's blood, leading to the Holy Grail legend.  This caused the belief that the water's that run from the well (that were colored red due to Iron deposits in the ground) was Christ's blood flowing throughout the Earth.  The greatest part of all this is that the site allows you to drink from the spring, fountain and well are all still functioning just like the day they were created.  They also allow you to buy bottles to fill with the water or bathe any jewelry or sigils of religious significance that you may have.

Below is the Lion's Head spring/fountain and the Well.

Next up was our trip to the Glastonbury Tor.  At the foot of the Tor, a group of Pagans asked if we were "Ready to fly".  Assuming that they may have been 'well into their cups', we laughed them off and said yes and proceeded up the public footpath.  Sadly, we were not able to walk the actual Druid's path (still used today by High Priest Arthur Pendragon of the Pagan Druid Order) as it was a four hour hike, but we trekked up the stairs placed up the side of the hill.  As we climbed higher, we learned what the group had meant and regretted laughing them off.  The wind got stronger, actually preventing some visitors from completing the hike up to the Tor itself and knocking Sarah down at one point.  The fact that Glastonbury was due for a storm also discouraged some visitors from braving the entire hike.  But, we pressed on and upon reaching the top were treated to a beautiful view of the entire surrounding area of Glastonbury and any nearby towns.  At the top sits St. Michael's Tower where some Pagan pilgrims had left offerings of flowers and apples a compass that directs you to other famous sites in the area.  The harder part was actually getting back down, as all the winds started to blow up the hill, making the Tower a massive wind tunnel that pushes you back.

 Below are several landscape shots as we ascended the Tor, St. Michael's Tower and compass.

 Once we had made our way back to the town, we went to the Glastonbury Abbey Ruins where a Christian pilgrimage was going on.  A large outdoor mass in front of one of the Abbey's still intact walls was ending as we got there, giving us a chance to walk the grounds and visit the site of King Arthur's tomb.  The tomb was a major cultural mixing point as both Christian and Pagan pilgrims come to offer their respects, either giving a prayer or kneeling in front of the site.

Below is King Arthur's tomb site, ruins of the Abbey including the main area and the Lady Chapel/crypt.  As well as a far away shot of the Pilgrim's Mass.

As we finished our pilgrimage, we went into town to join the rest of the Christian pilgrims as they filed into the shops.  We stopped in a book store where I bought a intro dictionary to religious symbols and a book on the Enneagram from a woman in full medieval garb.  Most of the stores were very similar, covered wall to wall with items whose significance I didn't understand, employers in either religious jewelry and some hand-made outfits and a couple of extra tourist specific items like T-shirts and cups.  While going through the shopping block, we met a local wizard attending to about 30 pilgrims, instructing them in basic apothecary and spell ingredients.  When we told him we had hiked up to the Tor, he remarked, "You two are absolutely nuts.  I admire your American pioneer spirit and I'm very glad it's still alive.  But, you are still completely nuts."

Pilgrimage to Winchester

This Saturday a group of students decided to forgo a trip to Paris, but instead went to the City to Winchester, home to the Winchester Cathedral, the Wolvesey Castle ruin, and the house where Jane Austen spent her last days. We also travelled paths to the Hospital of St. Cross, reenacting a pilgrimage of sorts, to this Medieval church to receive the Wayfarer’s Dole of bread and beer.
                  First the group visited the Great Hall, the only surviving building of Winchester Castle. Inside hangs a large round table, reportedly associated with the legendary King Arthur. After walking through a ruin of the Castle cellar/dungeon we visited the monument to King Alfred the Great. Alfred the man, created his capital at Winchester, and was the Saxon light during the Danish invasions and eventual settlement during England’s creation after the Roman legions are withdrawn.
                  Afterwards we carried on to the ruins of Wolvesey Castle, along the way we passed by the house that Jane Austen died in, sadly the house is a residence, and so we could not enter. Following that we encountered the ruins of the Castle, and spent our time examining and exploring the ruins of the site and going through all the rooms and trying to imagine what the site would have looked like if the castle were still standing in all of its grandeur.
                  Eventually we then took a nearby path to the water meadows that led to the Hospital of St. Cross. A place that Medieval travelers could go and receive the Wayfarer’s Dole (a meal of bread and beer, courtesy of the brothers at the church), the only downside to the visit was that the church was being used for a wedding, which gave us more time to look at the beautiful garden on the grounds. The whole experience sort of had the feel of going back in time and reliving the events of a medieval pilgrimage. And to finish the excursion we visited the Cathedral at Winchester and got a great taste of history, and gothic art. The excursion could be called a quick step back into the past and a fast glance into the mind of a pilgrim, and a little bit like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, since we were quite a nice sized group, but all in all it was a good day and interesting as well. 
Evan Heib

Friday, June 15, 2012

Church visits and daily reminders

Our class has had quite the busy and exciting week. As my classmates have said, we visited Westminster Abbey and Oxford on Monday and Tuesday. Over the course of the past few days, we scattered ourselves across London to visit various churches with longstanding histories.

All of the eight churches were located in the area of London slightly further east of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. The area was the old city of London; the original city of London. Today, it is home to the financial district, although there are monuments attesting to London’s spectacularly long and old history throughout this area.

Overall, the entire city is full of monuments that attest to its incredibly long existence; London has lasted through every century since its creation despite fire or high water (or plague). These monuments are everywhere, and it’s amazing to walk down the street and be constantly reminded of its past.

Each student in class was assigned a particular church within the area and then we were to report on it. The students visited St. Giles’ Cripplegate, Saint Sepulchre-without-Newgate, St. Helen’s and St. Ethelburga the Virgin Church; St. Michael Pasternoster Royal, St. Olave’s and St. Bride’s, as well as St. Katherine Creechurch.  

So, you may ask what common theme among all of these churches is. The answer: their foundations lie in the Middle Ages. Their histories reach back as far as the ninth century, and they began to flourish thereafter. For example, St. Giles’ was a Saxon church just outside of the Roman city in about 1000 AD. Saint Sepulchre-without-Newgate was a church from around the mid-ninth century. Each one dates back hundreds of years, and the value of visiting them is to gather a better understanding of medieval religion in London.

The majority of these churches are not actually medieval anymore. London underwent a series of disastrous events, from the plague, to the Great Fire, to bombings from war and internal conflict. However, a few still maintain quite a lot of their medieval past, such as St. Olave’s. Many do not. St. Helen’s was completely damaged from two bombs and the fire, and has been rebuilt numerous times. St. Katherine Creechurch, which I visited, is similar in that it has undergone total reconstruction. Today, the only thing that remains is a small pillar, no taller than my waist, now painted blue and almost unnoticeable next to a desk and a lamp.

Although the visits did not yield copious amounts of medieval artifacts, they did demonstrate something else. Every single part of London is reminiscent of its past. It can be a small pillar, or in the case of St. Olave’s, it can be the medieval walls or the outside courtyard, which was actually a huge gravesite for victims of the plague. Today, stairs lead from the yard into the church because the amount of bodies was so high that the level of ground eventually became elevated. Such examples show a building, a piece of stone, or a small trinket carries a huge amount of history. These medieval churches were eventually affected by outside factors, often not relating to religion or theology, and although today they are religious artifacts, they represent the entirety of London’s past simply because they have survived through so many years, and consequently, so many events. Each small surviving piece has its own story that we can learn from.

The churches that we visited are examples of this idea: that London is living its history even today. In order to even attempt to experience the middle ages in the United States, we physically have to go to the recreated Medieval Times, or (although it’s not the medieval era) the Renaissance Faire. In England, all you have to do is walk from your flat to the tube or from the tube to a restaurant. The men and women working in the financial district walk along roads and pass bricks that have existed since the Middle Ages, and some since the Roman city.

Sometimes it can be easy to forget how old and precious a city actually is. Luckily, in London, you are reminded of it everywhere. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mysticism or Psychosis?

When reading Julian of Norwich's "Showings" I couldn't help but wonder if the mysticism of old is homogeneous to a modern day definition of psychosis. In her accounts of various visions, which are often vivid and extremely detailed, Julian could easily be misconstrued as psychotic. Is this rightly so? It is incredibly easy to interpret her incredible visions of Jesus, which are very much direct experiences outside the influence of an intermediary, as nothing more than religious hallucinations of someone with a mental illness.
I decided to do some research into this subject. Dr. Tomas Agosin, a former psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, tackled the very question that crossed my mind while reading Julian of Norwich. In his words, would the "great mystics of the past have been considered the psychotic patients of the present," or subsequently, would his patients, many who experienced similar religious visions, have been considered the great saints in the past?
" Is the mystic psychotic?  Is the psychotic patient a misunderstood mystic?" Dr. Tomas Agosin

It is surely an interesting question, and one Dr. Agosin is far more qualified to answer than myself. Here is his explanation, mixed with my own analysis of Julian after the jump.

A More Loving God

When we were discussing the first half of Julian of Norwich's Showings in class today, one very simple point stuck in my head.  The God Julian spoke of was, according to her, very loving and compassionate.  We discussed a couple of interesting implications this had, but I couldn't quite place my finger on why this stood out to me more than anything else in fifty vividly descriptive chapters of bizarre visions.  Something that was pointed out was that Julian's writing was not as 'scholastic' as the writing of other well-known clergy who have had visions, with the distinguishing factor being that Julian was a woman while most other clergy who have claimed to have visions were men.  However, in thinking back to men like Augustine I remember that their depiction of God is much more focused in power and judgment.  God is there to remind you that if you wish to enter Heaven, you must live a good life and suffer for your sins.  And while Julian does mention fearing God, she does not mean it in the way of being scared of God.  'Fear of God' in her sense is closer to 'respect of God', because for all of man's sins aside, God is a loving being.

We tossed around some ideas of Julian's statements concerning God could be radical or forward-thinking for her time, but I started to think about what effects this simple change could have on a person's idea of God.  So, I started with the basic idea of God I was given through elementary and part of high school.  An omniscient, omnipotent being that created humans in his image.  God gave humans strict rules and standards that we are expected to follow, and if we stray too far we will be punished in the afterlife.  Something I want to note is that I am purposely referring to God as a male being.  And that is because most people, whether they realize it or not, refer to God as a man.  Which is consistent with the image of the all-powerful, ever watching and (depending on who you ask), judgmental God.  These traits resonate with a stereotypical image of an imposing father figure, someone to be feared, not questioned.

Thinking about this is when I realized why the idea of a primarily loving God stood out to me.  We are told that God loves us, but it usually somehow circles back to the idea that we should fear and serve him.  Reading a text where someone essentially says, "God loves regardless of sin" as opposed to "God loves in spite of your sins" was something very new to me.  So, I applied this new feature to the 'standard God' image I had in my head.  The first thing is that the idea of God being a strict rule-maker faded a bit.  As if the rules were still significant, but had room to make mistakes and learn.  Next, I started wondering about how judgmental God would really be, if God's ability to love could overpower the ability to judge someone for their sins.  This was actually a question raised in my religion class in Senior year of high school by Father William O'Malley.  As close as I remember, his quote was, "If God is a loving father of all humans, I can't imagine him being able to see his children suffer for a mistake."  His point was that while there are supposed to be punishments for sins, there are also supposed to be ways to repent that do not involved being damned to Hell.  This idea is present in Medieval Christianity, but it is shadowed by the idea that we will be punished greatly for our sins with repentance coming at a heavy price.

For any other trait of God I could think of, applying the idea of God being loving cause a consistent effect of making God less intense.  By this I mean that the God I envisioned became more nurturing.  For example, God's omniscience being a way of watching over mankind to help as opposed to watching for mankind to pass judgment.  The most significant distinction that I made in my mind without realizing though, is that I had categorized the 'original' traits of God as being masculine and the 'loving' traits of God as being feminine.  This is why I pointed out my use of the pronoun 'he', because Julian's God seemed much more female to me.  This had less to do with sex and more to do with gender attributes usually associated with femininity.  Even in stereotypical parental imagery, the father is seen as being the more imposing figure while the mother is seen as more nurturing.  While I do not think Julian was by any means trying to spread the idea of a female God, that was the effect her writing had on me.  The gender of God has always been curious to me as God is supposed to be a being beyond our human concepts of gender, sex or even physical form.  But, because of the way most societies categorize masculine and feminine traits, it is very easy to slip into the habit of viewing God as a man.  Very few texts have ever caused me to subconsciously think of God as a woman, but Julian's loving God created the image of a feminine, and therefore, female being.

For whatever reason, a female God seems not only more loving, but less imposing and judgmental than a male one.  Being male does not inherently make God incapable of love, but I don't think 'loving' is a very strongly represented characteristic in comparison to more stereotypically masculine characteristics.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Oxford University

Our class and those in Prof. Meera Nair’s “Writing London: Outsiders in the City” donned our best and headed to Oxford for a tour of Prof. Hornbeck’s alma mater. We dressed for dinner, but did not feel overdressed during the day. Our trip coincided with final examinations for Oxford students. During these exams, students are expected to appear in academic dress known as subfusc that includes a gown and white bow tie for men and thin black tie for women . Variations indicate academic status, and the colors of the carnation corsages reflect what stage of examinations the student is in that day. Oxford takes tradition very seriously, and students who do not show up properly dressed are not permitted to take their exams.

After some discussion about the medieval foundations of the university system, which went partially toward explaining the often quirky way Oxford still structures its education, we took a tour of the world-class Bodleian library. Access to the collections is highly restricted, but we were able to go into rooms most students do not visit including the Convocation House and the Chancellor’s Court. The 17th century Convocation House is a somewhat hidden and guarded space which King Charles I used to hold Parliament during the English Civil War and is still used to grant high level honorary degrees requiring tight security. The Chancellor’s Court next door, where misbehaved former students like Oscar Wilde were tried, is even more remote and leads to the Oxford prison below, now used to store computer equipment and wine for receptions.

The afternoon was spent at Christ Church, the largest of the colleges. Christ Church was founded by Cardinal Wolsey in 1524 on the site of the dissolved Augustinian monastery of St. Frideswide with funds taken from several other dissolved religious houses. He originally named the school Cardinal College in honor of himself. Not to be outdone in modesty, King Henry VIII suppressed and refounded the college a few years later as King Henry VIII’s College. The present name, Christ Church, was settled upon in 1546. The monastic cloister of St. Fridewide’s has been well maintained and counts as the fourth medieval monastery our class has visited in our last three meetings! Most of us opted to attend the beautifully done liturgy of Evensong at 6:00pm sung by the cathedral boy’s choir.

Much of the conversation during the day that was not about places filmed in Harry Potter had to do with the place Oxford has occupied in Britain’s social and cultural imagination. Oxford has long been perceived as a gate to the aristocracy, and Oxford’s symbols, traditions, and even architecture are associated with prestige, authority, and success and mimicked in institutions of higher education throughout the world. Not to be outclassed by Oxford, however, our Fordham students concluded the day with a fantastic dinner served in a private dining room next to the main dining hall, now better known as Hogwarts in Harry Potter. We will spend the next two days outside of class visiting various medieval churches in London and preparing presentations on them.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Westminster Abbey

Yesterday the class met for a tour of Westminster Abbey. I'd visited the Abbey once before, years ago, and I remember that it seemed much smaller, dimmer, and more crowded than I'd expected. It hasn't changed since then, and our recent visit to Canterbury made the impression all the more stark. As Kiley noted in her blog post, Canterbury feels open, celestial, and its identity as a parochial church and pilgrimage site is still an integral part of the space. The halls seem almost endless, stretching both upwards and forwards, and even the crypt felt airy and bright, despite a steady stream of tourists and pilgrims.

Westminster, by contrast, feels cramped and crowded, overfull of both the living and the dead. Tombs and memorials are stacked one on top of the other in a hodgepodge of styles, all competing for prominence. Every aisle and chapel is stuffed to the brim with composers, scientists, privy councilors, and knights, from the front of the nave all the way to the walls of the cloisters. Even the royals can't find a free space: Elizabeth I and Mary I actually share a tomb (although it would be easy to overlook Mary's presence, given that she receives only passing mention on the side of Elizabeth's grand monument-- certainly by design). The whole building is a fascinating display of artistry, pageantry, and civic and religious devotion.

Rather than rehearsing all the notable monuments we saw today (you can find a list of most of them on the site's website), I thought I'd make a list of my top 3 of the Abbey's more easily overlooked attractions.
  • The main draw for pilgrims is the shrine of St. Edward the Confessor, which sits on a dais behind the high altar. The shrine is roped off now, due to its fragility and the tight confines of the raised platform, but visitors are invited to attend an intimate prayer service there twice daily. Several members of our class chose to participate, and I'm so glad that we did. It was an extraordinary experience, sitting at a remove from the crowds circling around the shrine that both lies at the heart of the Abbey and remains unseen by most visitors.
  • Most of the Abbey's monuments and decorative schemes post-date the medieval period, but we did see a few examples of the original wall paintings. In the Chapter House, some panels of a 14th century cycle depicting the apocalypse survived bombings during WWII, and a few monuments have been removed from the wall of the south transept, revealing vivid 13th century paintings of doubting Thomas and St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child. It makes you wonder what other treasures lie behind the enormous baroque monuments.
  • All throughout our tour of the main Church, we kept wondering, "Where are all the monks buried?" After all, the Abbey functioned as such from 960 until its dissolution in 1540. We finally found a handful of Abbots' monuments on our way out, tucked halfway beneath the stone benches in the cloister. Here's one example.

I hope to return to Westminster for Evensong later on in the month. I imagine the space will feel very different, once it has been cleared of tourists and filled with music. For now, onward to Oxford!

Monday, June 11, 2012

England in Photos

The Canterbury Cathedral
Just thought I'd share some of my photos I've taken thus far in England. They include some from the Jubilee, which many of us attended, as well as our excursion to Canterbury. Sadly, due to restrictions, I was unable to snap any photos at Westminster. I guess it's their attempt to reduce the already "touristy" feel that Westminster has--I likened it to that of Time Square packed inside a church!

Here is the first shot in Canterbury--more photos after the jump!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Canterbury and the Experience of God

Over the past couple of days I have tried to reflect on the cathedral at Canterbury and its place in the medieval realm. We had the outstanding opportunity to visit the church and take a guided tour of its interior on Friday, and experience none of us will soon forget. Naturally, we as 21st century Americans were awestruck to be standing in a church that had been a place of worship for over fourteen hundred years, with much of its architecture dating back to the medieval era. However, I am quite our experience there made less of an impression than it would to a medieval Christian.

During Canterbury's heyday in the 11th and 12th centuries, many if not most English Christians were living in small villages with rather unimpressive architectural landscapes. Wattle and daub was the building material of choice for the huts of the poor, and even the wealthy were resigned to one- or two-story houses made of wood that served as homes, offices, and workshops. The nobility at the time did live in larger quasi-castles, but only later in the era did they begin to be built for comfort instead of fortification. Thus, Christians were used to buildings that served pragmatic purposes and provided shelter, but that did not do much else.

That being said, I can not fully grasp how overwhelmingly impressed the pilgrims who traveled to Canterbury Cathedral would have been when they saw its ceiling that reaches for heaven and its intricately carved interior. I would not put it past any one of them to believe that God himself had a hand in building this church that seemingly defied the limits of human creation. They probably literally believed that they were standing in God's house, because a building like that cathedral is certainly too grand to house any earthly entity.

Thus, I think that the cathedral itself may have had more to do with the experience of God in the minds of medieval pilgrims than the relics therein. Christians purportedly traveled to Canterbury in order to see and revere the remains of Thomas Becket, and many reported having experienced healing and grace after visiting them. The remains of the saint have since been removed from the church, but I for one still left it feeling peaceful and imbued with a sense of divine omnipotence. Perhaps the sweeping architecture and ornate decor of the cathedral actually affected medieval pilgrims just as much as the relics of the saints that were kept there.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Excursion to Canterbury

After having an excursion to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the group followed up with an excursion out to Canterbury Cathedral and surrounding medieval points of interest, in the County of Kent in the South of England. Amazingly enough the areas of Canterbury we visited were full of people wishing to examine one of Britain’s premier Cathedrals, and the shrine to St. Thomas Becket.
The recreation of a pilgrimage started at St. Dunstan’s Church, the site where the head of Sir Thomas More is entombed in the crypt, and apparently it smells quite sweet, attesting to his saintliness. The church itself is a perfect example of a medieval parish church, and contains a very well made baptismal font and a chapel that takes up approximately a third of the church.  After visiting St. Dunstan’s the group visited the ruins of the Abbey of St. Augustine and its attached museum.
At the site of the Abbey we walked through the ruins of the crypt of the church, its chapel, and the burial sites of the early Archbishops of Canterbury and other saints. Interestingly enough in the Lady Chapel of the Abbey, there were faint traces of artwork on the walls. Coincidentally, at the Cathedral of Canterbury, in the Chapel of St. Gabriel there was art work decorating its altar wall which was saved, from the Puritan campaign to remove all idols or human figures from church decoration.
                  The Canterbury Cathedral is home to many more great historical artifacts and sites, one example being the stained glass of Adam in the middle of the bottom row stained glass windows at the end of the nave and narthex. The Cathedral is also a prime example of the shift of the Romanesque style of architecture to the Gothic, featuring flying buttresses, pointed arches, and pointed arches. Besides the amazing architecture like the amazing stone screen that separates the choir and the important crypts/sarcophagi, there is the fact that many of the great pieces of religious art were destroyed or painted over by the Puritans during their emergence under the rule of Oliver Cromwell, or was taken away when King Henry VIII converted the whole country to Anglicanism.
Evan Heib

Thursday, June 7, 2012

It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been out of the States for a week and a half.  I started my Study Abroad experience a little early, with some hiking and sightseeing in Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland.  Apparently, I chose one of the best times to visit, as it was both sunny and warm.  I started “class” a bit early by going to see Ross Castle in Killarney before heading to Dublin, where I visited Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Christchurch Cathedral.

The members of our class all arrived at London Heathrow this past Friday morning and proceeded to the Farringdon area of central London to get settled in our flats.  Moving in was a bit simpler than figuring out the London Underground.  The “Tube” system can be somewhat disorienting at first, but we have all managed to figure out how to get to class, the Jubilee events and many other cool places.  For me, the Tube is already an enjoyable experience, as it is cleaner and quicker than the subway system back home.

Today, we got to spend some time in the Victoria and Albert museum.  The museum has a phenomenal collection of medieval artifacts.  During the previous week’s classes, we’ve discussed the liturgical order and its objects in detail. Walking through the medieval exhibit, I was able to better visualize many of the objects and processes we’ve discussed. I thought that the piece in the picture below was particularly cool.  It is a lectern support, used for reading the Gospel during Mass.  There is a separate support for the reading of the Epistles.  An observer can identify this piece with the Gospels because it has a man (representing Matthew), an ox (representing Luke) and a lion (representing Mark) as indicators.  The lectern itself would have been in the form of an eagle, to represent the last Gospel of John. 

To wrap up the day’s tour, we met in the museum cafĂ© with Dr. Hornbeck to discuss our finds.  However, on the way there, we were slightly distracted by some more modern artifacts in the museum garden…..
See how much fun learning can be?