Tag: Churches

The Cathedral of Lima & Religious Art Museum

The Cathedral of Lima & Religious Art Museum

Cathedral of Lima

cathedral of lima from plaza de armas peru

The Cathedral of Lima’s proper name is the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. Located adjacent to the Plaza de Armas Lima. I’ve already written about the chapel that contained the remains of Francisco Pizarro, but that is just one small corner of a very large and beautiful church. Today I’ll share the rest of what we saw there.

But First, a Little History

In 1535, Francisco Pizarro laid the first stone for the church. He also carried the first log used in the construction of the Cathedral on his shoulders. Construction of the church was completed three years later, but it was mainly built of adobe, and was relatively primitive. Pizarro returned in 1540 to inaugurate the church.

Over the next eighty years, the church was rebuilt three times, and in 1622 the third cathedral celebrated its first mass. Then in 1687 an earthquake destroyed the vaults of the cathedral, and it took ten years to complete the reconstruction work. Another earthquake in 1746 destroyed many of the cathedral’s vaults and pillars. Twelve years of reconstruction work followed. In the late eighteenth century, the cathedral increased its height with the addition of two towers.

For the 100 years that followed, there were no earthquakes, no reconstruction projects. But in the beginning of 1893, the cathedral shut its doors to the public because so many repairs were needed. It took almost three full years before renovation work even began. The repairs took two years to complete.

Do Come In

The Cathedral of Lima’s main gateway is the Portada del Perdón or the “door of forgiveness.”

cathedral of lima gate of forgiveness peru

We entered via one of the smaller doors to the side, greeted by very friendly employees who sold us our tickets and made sure we knew where everything was. The church is quite large, with a lovely black and white floor and high vaulted ceilings.

cathedral of lima interior peru

We started off looking at the chapels that line the sides of the cathedral. These are small(er) rooms with elaborate displays and statues in which people pray and worship. Starting on the right and going around to the back of the cathedral, then proceeding to the front in an upside-down U shape, the chapels are:

  1. Tomb of Francisco Pizarro
  2. Saint John the Baptist
  3. Our Lady of the Candlemass
  4. Saint Toribio de Mogrovejo – more about him in my next post
  5. Saint Anne
  6. Chapel of the Visitation
  7. The Chapel of Souls
  8. Chapel of the Sacred Heart
  9. Saint Apolonia
  10. Our Lady of the Peace
  11. Our Lady of Evangelization
  12. Saint Rose of Lima
  13. Our Lady of La Antigua
  14. Saint Joseph

I found it especially interesting that the chapel of Saint Joseph, patron saint of carpenters, was the only chapel to have “naked” wood. Very little adornment, hardly any gold leaf – simply the wood in all its glory.

cathedral of lima patron saint of carpenters joseph peru

Saint Joseph’s Chapel served as an interesting contrast to that of Our Lady of Evangelization. I had to take some panorama shots to try and capture the size and scope.

cathedral of lima our lady of evangelization chapel peru

Or, if you would prefer to see it in a little more detail:

cathedral of lima our lady of evangelization chapel peru
This chapel was named Our Lady of the Conception until 1988.  When Pope John Paul II visited, he renamed it Our Lady of Evangelization.

I just couldn’t believe how much ornate decoration was in that space. As my daughter would say, “It’s so extra!”

We also got to see some of the catacombs beneath the church. One open grave demonstrated how multiple bodies shared the same space. In the one that was open, we could see the skeletal remains of at least three bodies:

cathedral of lima family grave peru

Museum of Religious Art

In addition to being an amazingly beautiful house of worship, the Cathedral also serves as a Museum of Religious Art. This 18th century chest nativity really impressed me. Closed, it looks like an ordinary wooden box, but when you open it, there is a world of wonderful detail, with a nativity scene as its centerpiece.

cathedral of lima nativity chest peru

The level of detail was just amazing!

My other favorite item in the museum was this 18th century statue of Joseph holding the baby Jesus. I thought the expressions on their faces were just so sweet.

cathedral of lima joseph and jesus peru

We also saw some historic church garments and items associated with the visit of Pope John Paul II, who went to Lima in 1985 and again in 1988. There were many paintings and also these pretty tiles:

cathedral of lima pretty tiles peru

And then as we were winding up our tour through the museum portion of the Cathedral of Lima, I saw a staircase and a sign with an arrow pointing up. The sign indicated that there were choir books upstairs.  Well, I’m a sucker for anything involving old books, so we went on up.

There, in a small room at the top of the stairs, was a collection of choir books that dated from several hundred years ago. Not only that, they were HUGE, measuring probably somewhere in the neighborhood of two feet high and 12-18 inches wide.

cathedral of lima choir books peru
She did NOT want to get her picture taken, but I needed her for scale to show just how big these books are.

Unfortunately, the books were all closed and kept behind glass. They did have a blown up photograph of some medieval music contained in one of the books and it was just beautiful.

The Cathedral of Lima is a great place to visit because it has something to appeal to everyone: classic architecture, beautiful art, historical significance, and creepy catacombs. It is definitely one of the must-see places in Lima, Peru.

The Cathedral of Lima is adjacent to the Plaza de Armas.  Admission is about $3 per person, and that covers your entrance to the Cathedral, the Musuem of Religious Art, and the Archbishop’s Palace next door.  Hours: Monday through Friday 9 AM to 5 PM, Saturdays 10 AM to 1 PM.

The Cathedral of Lima, Peru, dominates the city's Plaza Mayor and also serves as a museum of religious art.
Advertisements
Pizarro’s Tomb (and the treachery that put him there)

Pizarro’s Tomb (and the treachery that put him there)

The Heart of Lima

The Cathedral of Lima is a commanding presence in the capital city’s Plaza de Armas. It is grand and imposing, taking up most of a city block.

The Cathedral of Lima at the Plaza Mayor.
Photo via Flickr by James Preston

There are seven chapels on each side of the Cathedral. As you enter, the first chapel on the right draws your attention almost immediately. It contains the Francisco Pizarro’s Tomb.  Pizarro, as you may remember from school, was the Spanish conquistador who claimed Peru for the Spanish crown.

The first thing you notice, even before you enter the chapel, is the artwork. Stunning mosaics cover nearly every surface – the walls, the floor, even the arched entryway. For instance, take this heraldic display:

pizarro's tomb

Or this depiction of Pizarro’s arrival in Peru:

pizarro's tomb mosaics

Other than the gorgeous mosaics, I didn’t notice anything remarkable about the chapel. Until I saw an ugly metal box in a display case. Why on earth would they put something like that in a chapel, surrounded by beautiful works of art?

pizarro's tomb lead box

That moment of curiosity led to some interesting discoveries that made the life of Francisco Pizarro seem an awful lot like a Game of Thrones episode.

What They Didn’t Teach You in History Class

Pizarro was born out of wedlock in Trujillo, Spain in the 1470s. He grew up poor and illiterate. In 1513, he joined explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa on his voyage to Panama. In the years that followed, Pizarro nurtured his political and military career in Panama.  Then, in 1519, the governor instructed him to arrest Balboa and bring him to trial. Pizarro arrested him; Balboa was executed for treason. The governor rewarded Pizarro by giving him the position of mayor and magistrate of Panama City.  He served in that position until 1523.

Following that assignment, Pizarro led two expeditions into South America. Both were considered unsuccessful and, as such, unnecessary drains on Panama’s already limited resources. When he sent a request to Panama for more settlers to join the expedition, the governor of Panama refused.  Actually, he not only refused to send them, but also sent two ships to bring Pizarro and his men back.

When those two ships arrived at Pizarro’s location, Pizarro refused to leave. He drew a line in the sand, saying: “There lies Peru with its riches; Here, Panama and its poverty. Choose, each man, what best becomes a brave Castilian. For my part, I go to the south.” Only 13 men chose to stay with him. This chapel mosaic honored “The Famous Thirteen” and listed their names:

pizarro's tomb mosaics

When Pizarro and his 13 companions reached the Peruvian territory of Tumbes, he was the first European who had set foot in that area. The natives called Pizarro and his men “Children of the Sun” because of their fair skin and shiny armor. They told Pizarro of a great ruler and vast riches of gold and silver.  Pizarro, excited by the possibility of finding an abundance of riches in Peru, returned to Panama to get funding and resources for a third expedition.

The governor of Panama, however, refused to fund a third expedition. Pizarro decided to go over the governor’s head, returning to Spain to make his case to the king in person. It was a wise move on his part. He received not only a license for the proposed expedition, but also authority over any lands conquered during the venture. Family and friends joined him, and the expedition left Panama in late December 1530.

Third Time’s the Charm

Nearly two years later, Pizarro and his men came face to face with the Inca King Atahualpa. A Dominican friar attempted to convince Atahualpa of the true faith. He also spoke of the need to pay tribute to King Charles I. Atahualpa replied, “I will be no man’s tributary.”

Atahualpa’s refusal led Pizarro and his forces to attack the Inca army in what became the Battle of Cajamarca. Pizarro’s 168 men easily defeated the 5000 mostly unarmed Inca warriors. Pizarro captured Atahualpa and held him hostage, demanding as ransom a 22 x 17 foot room filled nine feet high with gold. The ransom – worth more than $436 million in today’s money – was provided to Pizarro, but he had Atahualpa executed anyway.

Following the conquest of the Incas, the newly arrived Spanish conquistadores split into two factions. Francisco Pizarro led the group in the north and Diego de Almagro led the group in the south. There was rivalry between the two groups over who should rule Cusco. It all came to a head in 1538 at the Battle of Las Salinas.  The Pizarros proved victorious, and the conquistador‘s brother, Hernando, captured and executed Diego de Almagro.

Live By the Sword, Die By the Sword

Three years later, Almagro’s son avenged his father’s death in Lima. He stormed into Pizarro’s palace at dinnertime with about 20 followers. Pizarro killed two of the men, then ran through a third. While trying to pull his sword out of the third victim’s body, the attackers stabbed him in the throat. Once he fell to the floor, they continued to stab him repeatedly. Pizarro collapsed on the floor, painted a cross in his own blood and cried out for Jesus as he died.

Pizarro’s body was buried behind the cathedral the very same night of the assassination. Over the centuries, as the Cathedral of Lima was built and reconstructed, it was reburied and relocated – multiple times.

Dem Bones

In 1891, Pizarro’s mummified body was disinterred. It was then placed in an elaborate glass-sided coffin to celebrate the 350th anniversary of his death. It stayed there until 1977, when workmen who were cleaning a crypt discovered two wooden boxes.  Both boxes contained bones, and one also held a lead box.  It was the same one that caught my attention in the chapel. The inscription on the lid of the box read:

“Here is the skull of the Marquis Don Francisco Pizarro who discovered and won Peru and placed it under the crown of Castile.”

Was the skull really Pizarro’s?  And what about the bones?  Were they his too? The Cathedral called in a team of researchers to examine the remains. They compared accounts of Pizarro’s assassination with the visible injuries to the skull. In doing so, the experts determined that the skull in the lead box was indeed Pizarro’s. A forensic pathologist came to the same conclusion in 1984. The skull in the lead box and some of the bones were that of Francisco Pizarro. The mummy, which had been on display for nearly a hundred years, was not Pizarro at all.

In 1985 Pizarro’s bones were placed in the chapel at the Cathedral of Lima:

lima cathedral pizarro's tomb
Here lies the Marquez Governor Sir Francisco Pizarro, conqueror of Peru and founder of Lima. Born in Trujillo, Spain in 1478 and died in Lima January 18, 1541. His remains were transferred here January 18, 1985, the 450th anniversary of the founding of the city. God rest his soul. Amen.

Learning about Pizarro’s exploits – especially after having come from Cusco and Machu Picchu – was sobering and sad. The descendants of the natives Pizarro conquered are very proud of their heritage. Everywhere we went, we heard about what their life was like before the Conquest. Seeing Pizarro glorified and celebrated in the chapel of the Cathedral somehow seemed inappropriate.  However, don’t let that stop you from visiting the Cathedral if you go to Lima. It’s beautiful! I’ll be covering the rest of the Cathedral in my next blog post. Stay tuned!

The story of the conquistador Francisco Pizarro, his death, and the mystery surrounding his bones.
How Cusco Cathedral Honors Both Quechua and Catholic Heritage

How Cusco Cathedral Honors Both Quechua and Catholic Heritage

Cusco Cathedral was our first stop for sightseeing on our first full day in Cusco. We walked down to the city’s Plaza de Armas and saw this big cathedral dominating the center of town. And as if it weren’t big enough, it incorporates two smaller churches on either side of it. To the left is the Templo de la Sagrada Familia (Temple of the Holy Family) and to the right is La Iglesia del Triunfo (Church of the Triumph).

Cusco Cathedral
Photo via Flickr by Speculum Mundi

Sitting in the Plaza and looking up at the churches, one of the statues on the Church of the Triumph really struck me.

cusco cathedral triunfo iglesia angel devil

I think all too often we see angels depicted as namby-pamby, floating around in the air and strumming harps. This angel, by contrast, is kicking the devil’s butt! I just love it!

We started our tour in the Templo de la Sagrada Familia, and hired a guide to tell us about it. The fee for a personal guide was about $10, and it was money well spent. Our guide was very familiar with the cathedral, the local history, and the religious symbolism.

There were plenty of Quechua symbols in the Catholic art that decorated the cathedral because in many cases, local people were the ones creating the works of art. Take, for instance, the painting of the Last Supper, Cusco native Marcos Zapata painted in the eighteenth century:

cusco cathedral last supper painting cuy guinea pig
The Last Supper Painting from Cusco Cathedral

This painting has a lot of interesting details to distinguish it from a European last supper. Probably the most notable difference is that the meal’s main dish is cuy – the Peruvian delicacy of guinea pig! Also, Jesus and his disciples are drinking chicha, which is a traditional Peruvian corn drink.

As for other interesting aspects of the painting, note that the only figure besides Jesus who is looking out at the viewer is Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. All of the men in the picture have their hands clasped in prayer or reaching toward Jesus. However, Judas’ hand is below the table, clutching a money pouch. What was really eerie, though, was that when we looked at Judas while walking past the painting, his eyes seemed to follow us.

Another notable piece of art in the cathedral was what our guide called Black Jesus:

cusco cathedral black jesus

It is a statue of Jesus made of mixed materials and covered in alpaca skin. Most scholars agree that native artists created the statue around 1570. In 1650, when there was an earthquake, the religious leaders grabbed the statue and carried it around the town square, praying for an end to the earthquake. When the earthquake tremors ceased, the statue became known as Señor de los Temblores, or Lord of the Earthquakes, and the patron of Cusco. Each year, the people of Cusco take it out of the cathedral on Holy Monday and carry it in a procession.

It is a tradition for the faithful to throw red flowers at it, symbolizing the blood of Christ. Sticky residue from the flowers, along with a buildup of soot from candles and oil lamps placed at the statue’s feet for prayers, are the reason why the statue is now black. They say, however, that the legs underneath the skirt are still very white!

Throughout the tour, our guide pointed out how the artworks done in a way that would appeal to the locals. For instance, Mary was often depicted with her arms obscured from view and wearing a mountain-shaped skirt with a river running around its hem. This depiction identified her with Pachamama, Mother Earth to the locals.

Another item of interest in Cusco Cathedral is the main altar. Covered in embossed silver, it is visually striking and quite unusual.

cusco cathedral silver main altar
Source: Wikimedia Commons

But that’s not the only place you will see an abundance of silver. There is also a silver room, which is one of the side chapels in the cathedral. It contains many gleaming silver items, including an embossed silver bier dating back to 1712. Parishioners carry Black Jesus on the bier in the Easter Monday procession. Another impressive item is a large trellis in the form of a small temple. Covered with more than 370 pounds of silver, the trellis features a pelican piercing his own heart with his beak, symbolizing supreme love and self-denial.

We really enjoyed our tour of Cusco Cathedral, and learned a lot about the local people from our guide. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re in Cusco and want to learn more about the area!

Cusco Cathedral is on the Plaza de Armas in Cusco. Open daily from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Admission for non-Peruvians is $9 for adults and $5 for children.   

 

Cusco Cathedral offers visitors a fascinating look at how Quechua culture and the Catholic faith were integrated in Colonial Peru.
Top Ten Things to See in the Rest of Peru

Top Ten Things to See in the Rest of Peru

Ten Fantastic Peru Destinations

The first time I planned to go to Peru, I noticed that most people asked the same question when they found out where I was heading: “You’re going to Machu Picchu?” Like that’s all there is of interest in Peru!  While Machu Picchu is magnificent – it is, after all, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World – there is so much more to see and do in Peru! Here are the top ten Peru destinations that aren’t Machu Picchu – but are just as amazing:

1.  The Nazca Lines

These are a series of large ancient (500 BC – 500 AD) geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert of southern Peru. The figures vary in complexity, from simple lines and geometric shapes to designs of animals, such as birds, fish, llamas, jaguars, and monkeys, or human figures.  The largest figures are up to 1,200 feet long!

hummingbird nazca lines Peru destinations
The Hummingbird, one of the animals depicted in the Nazca Lines of Peru.

A few caveats:  the Nazca lines are pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so there isn’t likely to be much else to do once you’ve seen them. Also, you can only see them from above, so you will need to book a short sightseeing flight for this Peru destination.

2. Lake Titicaca

The mountain lake with the funny name lies between Peru’s Puno Region and the country of Bolivia. At 12,000+ feet, it is the highest navigable lake in the world. The lake contains several “Floating Islands,” which are small man-made islands constructed by the Uru people from layers of a cut reed that grows in the lake. As of 2011, about 1,200 Uros lived on an archipelago of 60 artificial islands.

Arch at Taquile Lake Titicaca Peru destinations
View of Lake Titicaca from the island of Taquile.

Be sure to visit the island of Taquile, which features pre-Inca ruins and a tradition of beautiful hand-crafted items. It also makes an ideal location for stargazing as there is very little light pollution at night.

3. Trujillo & Chan Chan

Trujillo is located on the Pacific coast, in the northwestern part of the country. It is considered one of the primary cultural Peru destinations due to its association with prominent writers, dances, festivals, gastronomy, etc. Three miles to the west of Trujillo lies Chan Chan, the archaeological site and former capital of the Chimu civilization. It is the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas, and the largest adobe city in the world.

chan-chan adobe ruins Peru destinations
The ruins of the Chimu capital – Chan Chan

The Chimu inhabited the area from roughly 900 AD until they fell to the Incas around 1450 AD. Because Chan Chan is basically built from mud, the site has suffered some erosion, and there is a serious concern that climate change could destroy what is left.  Therefore, if you’re interested in visiting, you might want to do so sooner rather than later.

4. Huascarán National Park

Situated in the Cordillera Blanca, the world’s highest tropical mountain range, the center of this park is Mount Huascarán, which rises to over 22,000 feet above sea-level.

huascaran national park Peru destinations
The rugged beauty of Huascarán National Park

Hundreds of glaciers and lakes in the park include the shrinking Pastoruri Glacier and the brilliant blue Llanganuco lagoons. Trails lead to the high-altitude Laguna 69, known for its turquoise waters. The park is a haven for pumas, Andean condors and spectacled bears.  If nature is your thing, you should definitely put Huascarán National Park on the top of your list of Peru destinations!

5. Lima’s Historic Center

In the capital of Peru, you will find a beautiful historic center with many places of interest. The Church & Convent of San Francisco, for example, is a stunning example of colonial architecture that also boasts a 25,000 volume library and some spooky catacombs.

catacombs San Francisco lima peru destinations
An artful display of skulls and bones in the catacombs of San Francisco

There is also the Presidential Palace, which you can tour.  Alternatively, you can stay outside and witness the changing of the guard. In addition, you might want to see the tomb of conquistador Francisco Pizarro at the Cathedral of Lima, take in the beautiful courtyards at the convent of Santo Domingo, and/or look for ornate wooden balconies on the older buildings in the city. There are many fascinating sites in the capital for anyone who enjoys history, art, or architecture.  Since Lima is the port of entry to Peru for most travelers, it can easily be paired with your other Peru destinations.

6. Iquitos

Iquitos is a Peruvian port city and the country’s largest jungle town. Surrounded by water on one side and thick Amazon rainforest on the rest, the only way to reach Iquitos is to either fly there or travel by boat. While there, you can take a trip into the jungle and can view wildlife such as monkeys, alligators, giant lily-pads, baby caimans, anacondas, boas, tarantulas, and more.  (Just make sure you are using a reputable tour guide and not a scam artist!)

victoria lilies amazon rain forest peru destinations iquitos
The giant lily pads of the rain forest near Iquitos

Alternatively, you can partake in an Ayahuasca ceremony.  Ayahuasca is a powerful psychedelic brew made from local plants and used by shamans for thousands of years.  It seems like something that could be a little risky, though, so please be careful if you do!

7. Colca Canyon

This massive canyon located about 100 miles northwest of the city of Arequipa is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and has more diverse scenery. The Andean condor calls the canyon home; you are likely to get an up close view of them soaring past the canyon walls if you visit here.

colca canyon peru destinations
Colca Canyon, Peru

The town of Chivay, located in the canyon, is the site of hot springs. Elsewhere, visitors can see the Infiernillo Geyser.  There are numerous archaeological sites as well, including 6000-year-old rock art that depicts the domestication of alpacas

8. Paracas National Reserve

The reserve is located about 165 miles south of Lima on the Pacific Coast, and is home to an abundance of wildlife like sea lions, dolphins, and many birds, especially near the water’s edge.

paracas national reserve peru destinations pelicans
Pelicans at Paracas National Reserve

The Paracas Reserve contains the largest concentration of birds on earth. The terrain is diverse as well,  spanning desert, ocean and islands. In addition to the wildlife, visitors will enjoy red sand beaches, a museum of ancient artifacts from the Paracas culture, a necropolis, and a geoglyph called the Paracas Candelabro.

9. Chiclayo

Located in northern Peru, Chiclayo was once the home to the Moche civilization, who were prolific pre-Columbian artists.  The Lord of Sipán is the most famous archaeological discovery to come out of the area – he was the first of several mummies discovered in 1987. Amazingly, the tomb was completely intact and did not appear to have been disturbed at all.

lord of sipan peru destinations tomb archaeology
A replica of the Lord of Sipan’s tomb.

Much like ancient Egyptians, the mummy was buried with treasures, animals, and other people. As a result, the Lord of Sipán is known as “The King Tutankhamun of the Americas.”

10. Huacachina  

If you’ve ever wondered what a real-life oasis in the desert looks like, go to Huacachina and see for yourself. The city is built around a small natural lake in the desert.

huacachina oasis sand dunes peru destinations
Huacachina – an oasis in the Peruvian desert.

Called the “oasis of America,” it serves as a resort for local families and also as an attraction for tourists who want to try sandboarding on the massive dunes. Other popular activities include dune buggy rides, making this one of the favorite Peru destinations for people who don’t mind sand.

So as you can see, Peru has a lot more to offer tourists than just Machu Picchu. If you’re planning a trip there, why not take a side trip to visit some of the other destinations? There’s something for everyone in Peru!

 

Rievaulx Abbey & Rievaulx Terrace

Rievaulx Abbey & Rievaulx Terrace

In doing my research for our UK vacation, I ran across a lot of abbey ruins: Whitby, Fountains, Rievaulx, Guisborough, St. Mary’s, Bolton, and Tynemouth, just to name a few.

Why so many? I’m so glad that you asked!

Well, Henry VIII had been married to Queen Katherine of Aragon for over 20 years. However, for all that time, Katherine had been unable to provide him with a male heir. When the lovely Anne Boleyn caught his eye, he decided to divorce Katherine and marry Anne instead. The Catholic Church refused to allow a divorce. Henry’s spiritual advisers found a Biblical loophole for him in Leviticus 20:21 – “If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless.” Katherine had previously been wed to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, who passed away at a young age.  Henry sought an annulment by claiming that his marriage to Katherine had never been valid.

The Catholic Church still said no, they would not dissolve the king’s marriage. Henry decided that if the church wouldn’t give him what he wanted, he would take it himself. So in 1531, he declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church in England. Prior to that time, the church functioned independently from the throne. By declaring himself Head of the Church, Henry VIII had a monopoly on all of the power in the land.

Henry ordered his investigators to evaluate the monasteries for necessary reform. Following reports of idleness, greed, and immorality, Parliament passed an act in 1536 to permit closing all monasteries with an income less than £200 (376 monasteries in total). Then, in 1539, larger monasteries were ordered to be dissolved – 645 in all. The monastery buildings were stripped of their doors, lead, timber, glass, art and literature, gold plate, silver, gold and jewelry. Livestock was seized. Land was sold to the wealthy. If buildings were not sold, they were used as quarries where individual stones were sold off to local builders. Truly, it’s a wonder that anything remains, yet there are monastery ruins all over Britain.

While I personally wouldn’t have minded visiting all of the monastery ruins within a 30 mile radius, I faced the all-too-familiar restrictions of time, money, and family members. So I resolved to visit just one and admire all the others from afar. The question was, which would be the best one to visit?

From the moment I first saw this breathtaking picture on Pinterest, I wanted to visit Rievaulx Abbey:

rievaulx abbey as seen from rievaulx terrace

But Fountains Abbey in Ripon – with the Studeley Water Gardens – sounded equally lovely. Rievaulx or Fountains? I can be pretty indecisive at times, and I was really having a hard time choosing one over the other. So I turned to my favorite Settler of Disputes, Google.

Other people had asked the same question, as it turned out, and many people had chimed in with a strong preference. The winner, with very few exceptions, was Fountains Abbey. I plugged Fountains Abbey into my itinerary and moved on to the deciding the next stop on our tour of northern England.

Except.  

As time passed, I felt a little resentful about not being able to see Rievaulx. As the date of our trip approached, the feelings grew. Until finally, I came to my senses and remembered my own advice to travelers:  don’t let conventional wisdom dictate what you do and see on your vacation.

I crossed off Fountains Abbey and replaced it with Rievaulx, and that’s where we went. Happily, I can say that I don’t regret it for a moment.

When approaching the Abbey, you drive through a great little town called Helmsley (more on that later), and you reach a fork in the road. One side leads to Rievaulx Terrace, the other to Rievaulx Abbey. Rievaulx Terrace provides amazing views of the Abbey (I got the shot above at Rievaulx Terrace). National Trust manages Rievaulx Terrace. English Heritage, on the other hand, manages the Abbey. It’s a bit inconvenient, having to go to two locations and pay two separate admission fees, but one could argue that you can’t fully appreciate the Abbey unless you see it from a distance, and hands down, the Terrace is the best place to do that.

We went to the Terrace first. I was there mainly just to take photographs, but it has some other interesting features as well. First, it’s important to note that the Terrace was built in 1758 for the specific purpose of showcasing the Abbey (and impressing guests, of course).

Guests would alight from their carriages at one end of the Terrace near the Doric Temple.  This structure resembles a scaled-down version of the mausoleum at Castle Howard, a few miles away. They would then walk about a half a mile across the lush green carpet of grass covering the promenade before reaching the Ionic Temple, inspired by the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome. That temple was actually a banqueting house, with facilities for food preparation in the basement.

We started at the banqueting house and the guide gave us a brief introduction to the property and its history. The interior consisted only of one large room, with the central table still set as if for a meal. It also featured elaborate ceiling paintings and ornate furniture.

rievaulx-terrace-banqueting-house abbey

From there, we strolled down the promenade. There were art installations along the way, which I thought were a bit out of place (very modern) and also completely unnecessary. When you have such a spectacular view, why bother with a statue of a horse made from wire?

wire-horse-sculpture at rievaulx terrace

I happily snapped pictures of the Abbey at each opening in the vegetation. The one at the top is by far my favorite as you can see most of the Abbey as well as the surrounding hillsides, sheep in a field, and the red roofs of some nearby houses. I just wish it had been a bit sunnier when we were there.

Finishing at the Terrace, we drove down to the Abbey. Oddly, you can’t see much of it from the car park and visitor center. But once you pay for your admission and go out onto the grounds, it dominates the scene.

Cistercian monks built Rievaulx Abbey in 1132.  The monks were ingenious in matters of farming and industry, and prospered there during the 12th and 13th centuries. In fact, Rievaulx Abbey became one of the greatest and wealthiest in England, with 140 monks and many more lay brothers.

However, they went through a rough spell in the late 13th to mid-14th century – sheep got mange, people got the Plague, and debts on their building projects began to build up. By 1381, there were only fourteen choir monks, three lay brothers and the abbot. By the 15th century, the monks were no longer the austere pious men from the early days of the Abbey. They had become privileged and self-indulgent.

Henry VIII order the destruction of Rievaulx Abbey in 1538. At that time the grounds held 72 buildings occupied by an abbot and 21 monks, attended by 102 servants, and an income of £351 a year. Henry ordered the buildings rendered uninhabitable and stripped of valuables such as lead. Today, all that remains are the stone walls.

rievaulx-abbey-2

rievaulx-abbey-6

rievaulx abbey 1.jpg

In addition to the massive ruins, you can tour a wonderful museum that contains some remnants of the Abbey. From gargoyles to stained glass fragments, they are on display in the museum, along with interesting information about the history of the Abbey.

rievaulx-abbey-stained glass fragments

rievaulx-abbey-gargoyle head museum

rievaulx-abbey-statues museum

There is so much history and beauty at this site – I highly recommend it for anyone with an appreciation of architecture or history. (Maybe I’ll visit Fountains Abbey the next time I’m in Yorkshire!)

Rievaulx Terrace is near the town of Helmsley, Yorkshire YO62 5LJ. It is open seasonally, so check to make sure it will be open when planning your visit. Rievaulx Abbey is also close to Helmsley, with a postcode of YO62 5LB. Telephone 01439 798228. Days & hours vary by season, so check the website or call when planning your visit.

Coventry Cathedral: A Monument to Reconciliation

Coventry Cathedral: A Monument to Reconciliation

I am a huge history geek.  (I’m sure you didn’t notice! hahaha)  Sometimes I will read about a place that has such a phenomenal history behind it, I want to go there.  Coventry Cathedral is one of those places.

Coventry Cathedral Then

On the night of November 14, 1940, a German Luftwaffe bombing devastated the city of Coventry in Warwickshire, England. In the aftermath of that attack, many of the city’s buildings burned, reduced to piles of smoldering rubble.  The 14th century cathedral in Coventry was one of the most badly damaged buildings.

coventry cathedral ruins after bombing

Shortly after the destruction, the cathedral stonemason, Jock Forbes, noticed that two of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. They were later placed on an altar of rubble with the moving words ‘Father Forgive’ inscribed on the Sanctuary wall.

Coventry_Cathedral_burnt_cross

A local priest fashioned another cross from three medieval nails. In the years that followed, Lutheran churches in Kiel, Dresden, Berlin and other cities destroyed by Allied bombings receieved a replica of the original Cross of Nails as a symbol of peace and forgiveness. It was through these churches that trust and partnerships between England and Germany grew and former enemies became friends. Thus, the Cross of Nails became a powerful, inspirational symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation throughout the world.

rsz_cross_of_nails

 

Coventry Cathedral Now

When it came time to rebuild, Basil Spence designed the new cathedral building. Spence insisted that the ruins of the old cathedral remain as a garden of remembrance with a new cathedral next to them.  His intention was for the two buildings – old and new, medieval ruins and modern architecture – to form one church. His work on the cathedral was so notable that he received a knighthood for it.

Coventry Cathedral

The new church building is very modern and as such, it’s quite a contrast to its medieval predecessor. The baptismal font is carved from a boulder that came to the church from Bethlehem.  The stained glass windows form a screen depicting saints and angels.

rsz_1rsz_coventry_cathedral_interior

Outside the new cathedral there is a striking statue of the archangel Michael fighting off the Devil. I love that the Devil is on his back, in chains, with Michael’s foot effectively on his head.  I also love that Michael is holding a spear.  Angels can be fierce.

Coventry Cathedral Angel

If you’ve seen the English Christmas movie “Nativity!,” you may recognize the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral as the site of the performance. (If you haven’t seen “Nativity!,” you should. It’s a great movie featuring Martin Freeman of Sherlock fame. If you haven’t seen Sherlock… well, I may just have to do a BBC intervention for you.)

Coventry Cathedral’s address is Priory St, Coventry CV1 5FB, United Kingdom.  Hours for the new building are Monday – Saturday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and noon to 4:00 pm on Sundays.  The ruins are open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily.  There is a small fee for admission for adults.  Minors and students from UK universities enter free. The free Coventry Cathedral app is recommended to enhance your visit.

Bucket List: Skellig Michael, Ireland

Bucket List: Skellig Michael, Ireland

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Every now and then, I will see a picture of a place and wonder how it’s possible that I haven’t seen it before.  I had one of those moments at the end of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, when Rey climbed up that mountain to give Luke his lightsaber.  It was such a cool looking place – why had I never seen it before?

rsz_skellig_michael_2.jpg

Thanks to the internet, it didn’t take long to discover that the location for that scene was Skellig Michael, an island off the coast of Ireland. A Christian monastery was founded there some time between the 6th and 8th century. People lived on the island until the late 12th/early 13th century. The remains of the monastery, and most of the island, are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A small, secluded community in the sea

The monastic site at Skellig Michael contains six beehive cells, two oratories and a number of stone crosses and slabs. It also contains a later medieval church and a hermitage. Historians have estimated that no more than twelve monks and an abbot lived there at any one time.  Those monks would have to descend nearly 700 steps to go fishing for their food each morning.  The remainder of their day would be spent in prayer, tending their gardens, and/or studying.

rsz_skellig_michael_3

The stone, beehive-shaped huts were constructed in such a way that rain would never enter them.  They are circular on the outside, but rectangular on the inside.

Finally, I will leave you with these words from author George Bernard Shaw, who visited Skellig Michael in 1910:

The most fantastic and impossible rock in the world: Skellig Michael…where in south west gales the spray knocks stones out of the lighthouse keeper’s house…the Skelligs are pinnacled, crocketed, spired, arched, caverned, minaretted; and these gothic extravagances are not curiosities of the islands: they are the islands: there is nothing else. The rest of the cathedral may be under the sea for all I know…An incredible, impossible, mad place…I tell you the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in: it is part of our dream world.

The site will no doubt be featured as a Star Wars: The Last Jedi filming location when the movie premieres in December 2017. I, for one, can’t wait to see more of it!

Before you go:

A limited number of tour operators run trips to Skellig Michael during the summer season (May to October, inclusive), weather permitting. For safety reasons, because the steps up to the monastery are rocky, steep, and old, climbs are not permitted during very wet or windy weather.  Reservations are recommended and should be made far in advance of any planned trip to the island.

 

Top Ten Places to See in Wales

Top Ten Places to See in Wales

Why Wales?

I have wanted to go to Wales ever since I saw Hugh Grant’s movie The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain. In fact, the trip that I’ll be taking next month originally started out as an England & Wales combined trip. Unfortunately, time constraints prevented us from doing both, and Hubs was pretty adamant that he wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall.  So Wales is pretty high on the list of future vacations.

I did a lot of research about Wales back when I thought we would be able to do both. Here are the top ten things I can’t wait to see when I go to Wales.

1. Hay-on-Wye.  This tiny village (population 1600) is known as a book town. In fact, it’s the world’s largest second hand & antiquarian book center. You’ll find book stores on every corner and you’ll even see unmanned shelves of books with an honor system for customers. The largest of the “honesty shops” is a row of shelves lining the castle wall.  Castle + books = I could spend days there!

wales top ten hay on why castle bookshop

2. The Straining Tower at Lake Vyrnwy.  It looks much more romantic than it actually is. Its purpose is to filter or strain out material in the water with a fine metal mesh, before the water flows along the aqueduct to Liverpool. The tower rises 104 feet above water, and is topped with a pointed copper-clad roof with a light green patina.

wales top ten straining tower lake vyrnwy

3.  Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch.  The town with the longest name in Britain – 58 letters! (Oddly enough, it is not the longest name in the world, though; that honor belongs to a place in New Zealand.) The name, translated from Welsh, means “Saint Mary’s Church in a hollow of white hazel near the swirling whirlpool of the church of Saint Tysilio with a red cave.” I just want to go get our picture taken under the name sign and buy a souvenir tee shirt.

wales top ten longest town name

4. Castell Coch.  This Gothic Revival Castle was built in the late 19th century as a country residence.  It is often referred to as a fairy tale castle because of its round towers.  And while the exterior of the castle appears medieval, the interior is high Victorian.

wales top ten castell coch

5. The Doctor Who Experience.  You get to see what it’s like to be inside the TARDIS, for goodness’ sake.  What else could you want?

UPDATE:  The Doctor Who Experience is no longer open. 🙁

wales top ten Doctor Who Experience

6. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  You can ride a boat or walk across the aqueduct, which is the highest and longest in Great Britain.  It is 126 feet high and 336 yards long.  From what I’ve read, the views from there are outstanding.

wales top ten Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

7.  Tintern Abbey.  Thanks to Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, Abbey ruins are all over the British Isles.  I’ve seen photos of many different abbey ruins, and I think Tintern has one of the loveliest sites.

wales top ten Tintern Abbey

8. Pembrokeshire.  This area of Wales reminds me so much of Cornwall (my happy place). There are many beautiful beaches and small harbor towns.

wales top ten Pembrokeshire

9. Skomer Island.  It is the world’s largest puffin colony.  And, as if that weren’t enough, there are also stone circles and the remains of prehistoric houses.

wales top ten skomer puffin

10. Gladstone’s Library.  It’s a residential library, possibly the only one in the world. Bibliophiles like me can look at books all day, go to sleep when we can’t hold our eyes open any longer, then wake up and look at books again.  Yay!  As an added plus, the room rates are some of the cheapest I’ve seen in the UK.

wales top ten Gladstone's Libary

So, there you have it: my next European adventure, already planned.  I can’t wait to see these Wales top ten places in person!

 

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC

We did not intend to do a cathedral tour of New York City, but it very nearly ended up that way when, after touring Riverside Church, we headed to our next destination and happened upon the Cathedral Church of St John the Divine.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t the Gothic Revival architecture that drew us in, it was the humorous signs warning dog walkers to be courteous:

cathedral church st john the divine new york city nyc

We wandered through the adjacent property and admired the statuary, then this caught our eye.  Certainly, it wasn’t done on purpose or by a human hand, but it gave us a chuckle.

cathedral church of st john the divine nyc new york

When we made it around to the front entrance of the church we realized just how big the church is.

catehdral church of st john the divine new york nyc

That’s only the center section of it!  Some say it is the largest Anglican cathedral in the world, with an interior area of 121,000 square feet.

Those 12 x 18 feet doors are made of bronze and were installed in 1936.  The artist only made three other sets in his lifetime – two in England and one in Boston.  The doors consist of 48 relief panels depicting scenes from the Bible.

At the west end of the nave, installed by stained glass artist Charles Connick and constructed out of 10,000 pieces of glass, is the largest rose window in the U.S.

cathedral church of st john the divine rose window stained glass

Construction on the cathedral began in 1892, the first services were held in 1899, and it was first opened end-to-end in 1941.  After a large fire on December 18, 2001, it closed for repairs and reopened in November 2008. It remains unfinished, with construction and restoration a continuing process. As a result, it is often nicknamed St. John the Unfinished.

The day we visited, there was a funeral taking place, so we were limited in what we could see and photograph. There were many statues and tapestries in small alcoves along the sides of the church, and a large piece of artwork hanging from the ceiling. It seemed equal parts museum and church, which seemed strange to me. However, it is impressive in its size and history, so I recommend a visit if you’re in the area.

The Cathedral Church of St John the Divine is located at 1047 Amsterdam Avenue
at 112th Street, New York, NY 10025.  Telephone 212-316-7540.  The Cathedral is open 7:30 am to 6:00 pm daily. The Visitor Center is open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily. There is no charge for a self-guided tour, but there are also themed, fee-charging tours available.

Along the Way: Riverside Church, New York City

Along the Way: Riverside Church, New York City

We had no intention of visiting Riverside Church in New York. We hadn’t even heard of it before. But when we left the General Grant Memorial, we were drawn by its impressive architecture. Finding the ornate doors open, we wandered inside.

rsz_riverside_church_4

The church was conceived by industrialist, financier, and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and minister Harry Emerson Fosdick as a large, interdenominational church, open to all who profess faith in Christ. Today, its congregation includes more than forty ethnic groups.

Over the years the church has hosted many notable speakers. Martin Luther King Jr. voiced his opposition to the Vietnam War at Riverside on April 4, 1967. That is also known as his Riverside Church speech. The Rev. Jesse Jackson gave the eulogy at Jackie Robinson’s funeral service in 1972. Former President Bill Clinton spoke at Riverside Church on August 29, 2004. Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan spoke there after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Cesar Chavez, Desmond Tutu, Fidel Castro, Arundhati Roy and Nelson Mandela have all spoken at Riverside Church.

It is stunning, inside and out. It is the tallest church in the United States. The bell tower alone is built on a frame that is 22 stories high.

As soon as you step foot inside the church you forget that you are in New York City because it feels so much more like a centuries-old European cathedral.

rsz_riverside_church_14

A feeling that is echoed again inside the sanctuary:

rsz_riverside_church_7

rsz_riverside_church_9

And the stained glass windows are beautiful as well.  Here is a close up that shows Eve, forbidden fruit still in her hand:

rsz_riverside_church_12

The gardens outside were quite beautiful too.

rsz_riverside_church_22

We took our time and were able to wander through the church at our leisure. It was a lovely diversion and I’m so glad we decided to stop there! That’s why it’s important to leave a little wiggle room in your sightseeing plans for things that you find along the way.

rsz_riverside_church_24

The Riverside Church is located at 490 Riverside Drive, New York, New York 10027, one block from the General Grant Memorial.  Telephone 212-870-6700.  Guided tours are available for a fee of $10 per adult (seniors and students, $5).  Call or visit website for more information.