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?

Treasures of the Victoria and Albert Museum

Other members of the course may soon be posting about their experiences this morning at the Victoria and Albert Museum -- each student was asked to find an artifact from the middle ages that reflected (or even endorsed, contradicted, or nuanced) what we've been reading about "traditional religion" in Eamon Duffy's now classic book The Stripping of the Altars.

For my part, the chance to return to the V&A was an opportunity to rediscover some of its treasures -- like a wonderful collection of medieval reliquaries, liturgical objects, illuminated manuscripts, and tapestries -- as well as to chance upon pieces I hadn't seen before. The photo below is of one of the latter, one of Leonardo da Vinci's famous notebooks. The V&A has five, all in Leonardo's classic mirrored handwriting.

Tomorrow we're off on our class excursion (pilgrimage?) to Canterbury, where we'll be visiting the head of St. Thomas More, the ruins of St. Augustine's Abbey, and Canterbury Cathedral. Onward!

Patrick Hornbeck


A family enjoys the festivities near the London Eye.
The Diamond Jubilee signified the Queen's sixty year reign over the Monarchy, but with it came a joyful commemoration that surpassed merely honoring the lifetime achievement of one woman. The Jubilee was a microcosm of events, as the celebration of the Queen's reign evoked an ethos of national pride and unity, that above all saw a people unite in celebration not just for the Queen, but for country.

As a student of history, I first and foremost saw the Jubilee as one of tremendous historical significance. Sixty years of rule is quite a long time, and with it transpired an event suitable for a Queen, especially for, at the very least, a monarchy reaching the end of an era. The streets were flooded with red, white, and blue, that from a distance resembled an enormous Fourth of July celebration, but were not the colors of an American flag, but of the British Union Jack. The atmosphere of the British people, their love for the Queen, and their national pride made even myself, a natural born American, share in the same love for my mother country--for a few days, I felt like one of them.

For the duration of the Jubilee, people put aside their differences, and for myself and others, our national identity, and showed reverence for a woman, and for a country in complete solidarity. To me, it seemed very much like an exercise in community building and strengthening, that for a few days, or maybe even just a few hours, people were able to unite and celebrate for a common cause indifferent to political bias and of territorial borders. It was truly an amazing spectacle. All of these events led me to think of how important a strong community is for a nation, especially one with a rich history like Britain. The only time I had ever been to a comparable rally was during the Occupy Wall Street protests last fall, but never before had I seen such a large group all uniting for a single cause.

I reflected on the class lecture from Tuesday, which involved a discussion on why people write history. The events of the Jubilee are a great example to exemplify the importance of historical writing--to permanently record and textualize them, so that years down the road, people can look back and remember the Jubilee through the lenses of the countless sources that covered the historic event. 

Rainbow over the Mall leading to Buckingham Palace.
Fireworks! -- the best way to end any event

God save the Queen!

Until next time,
John D'Olimpio

Monday, June 4, 2012


Welcome to the course blog for "Heretics, Mystics, and Historians: The Church in Late Medieval England," an interdisciplinary Medieval Studies course being taught in June 2012 at Fordham University's London Centre.

Members of the class, along with the instructor, Dr Patrick Hornbeck, will be posting their reflections on our travels and work together on these pages. Check back for regular updates!