Over these last few days we have pursued a passion of mine – Stave Churches. These churches are between 800 and a 1000 years old. Thousands were build but only a few remain. Being wooden, from the floor to the roof tiles, they required a lot of attention. Those that remain, still do. The photo of the Borgund church, shows one of the most original churches, and it is preserved in a tar like substance.
With dragons on the roof and high soaring towers, they picture a period when people were moving from pagan gods to Christianity.
It is very easy to be critical of this syncretism but how many of our 21st century values do we incorporate “seamlessly” into our faith – uncritically. Even though these churches are now tourist attractions, it is encouraging to see, in many places, a living and active contemporary church building near by.
1. The Kaupanger Stave Church
2. The Borgund Stave Church
3. The Roldal Stave Church
4. The Heddal Stave Church
Tuesday 24 April Market Harborough to Seer Green
Another homemade breakfast greeted us downstairs as Lin had made porridge for us. It was a relaxing way to start the day, especially with Handel’s Largo playing in the background. Afterwards we bade John and Lin farewell and headed for Milton Keynes Centre to find a car charger for the IPad. It just happened that the Lego shop was across the way from the Apple shop. Imagine that! We filled up a tub with bricks. Then we went in search of a suitcase on wheels which could use as carry-on. It was good to wander through the Centre and surprising how familiar it all was.
Pieter was overjoyed we got back to the car and discovered that the new charger did its job. He programmed the gps on the dashboard for Rochester and soon we were traveling south to the orders of Miss GPS, “in 300 yards veer right, take the second exit, continue on the M1 for 9 miles” . I relaxed. Some other woman was telling Pieter where to go.
A few hours and half the London ring road later, we got to Rochester. We did a walking tour to see the buildings and sites that inspired Charles Dickens. Just as we started the rain stopped, at last. When we got to the tourist office a group of loud schoolgirls were testing the patience of the staff. The lady behind the counter told us about another Dickens exhibition at the Guildhall. We hurried off and discovered not only an excellent video of how Dickens saw Rochester in the 1850-80s. There were also exhibits of the hulk ships, maritime items and town history. They used mirrors creatively to make spaces appear larger. Altogether it was well presented and supplemented what we saw yesterday at the Museum of London. When we get back home I will have to read Edwin Drood, Dickens last unfinished book, set in Rochester.
We wound up Miss GPS and she got us to our campsite in Seer Green, via the other half of the ring road (yes we’re almost back to where we started).
We have had a lovely meal in the local pub- The Jolly Cricketers. Pieter’s thumb looks dreadful and makes cutting his food nearly impossible. “Bryce Courtney” is sitting at the next table behaving lecherously towards a blond half his age. Disgusting!
Tomorrow we will catch our flight to Goteborg, Sweden, after bringing the car and Miss GPS back to Hertz.
PS. I listened to The Archers tonight before going to the pub and meeting people who must have been the inspiration for some of the characters.
This weekend we have had a quiet, by our standards, few days. We visited the Cowper Newton Museum in Olney on Saturday. This is a brilliant little museum celebrating the lives of two Christian men – a poet and a reformed sea captain turned Anglican minister. This museum pictures their lives and the era in which they lived.
That evening we dropped in unannounced at our friends Heather and Keith and their two daughters. The following morning, after walking through Bletchley, we attended Spurgeon’s Baptist church and renewed old relationships. In the afternoon, after a detour to the Eleanor Cross in Geddington (which included an unexpected guide by the local historian) we stayed with our friends John and Lin. They made us feel at home so we stayed an extra night. We also attended their delightful church in the evening – Baptist again. The music was warm and celebratory; the message to the point.
On Monday we did the tourist thing in London: the Eye, the Tower, a trip down the stone steps which badly bruised my thumb, the British Library with its amazing manuscripts, and the Museum of London – chasing Charles Dickens. We continued our Dickens research on Tuesday in Rochester.
Insights? Not too many. I was too relaxed. However, French and German student groups are ruder than any I have ever come across! The Tower of London with screaming German students may be a just cause for a … I think I am going to far.
A few days ago we went to Chartres Cathedral. One writer described it as one of the most perfect pictures of the medieval mind.
What does this massive and beautiful building tell us? Here are a few ideas for the moment.
1. God was at the heart of their thinking. God dominated their lives and they wanted to honour Him.
2. There was a fear of God – fear in a wrong sense. Confessional boxes, a maze that had to be travelled on the knees was at the heart of the Cathedral. People needed to do things to earn God’s pleasure.
3. It was an illiterate society, so the Bible story was told in great detail in the beautifully rich stained glass windows. Sadly, non Biblical Stories about Mary were added. But the detail and accuracy of the Bible stories was impressive.
4. The size of the building made God remote. Even Jesus was not a personal savior.
5. My last point, for the moment, is that this image of God does not communicate to the 21st century mind. Chartres reminds us that we need to reapply the gospel message anew for every age.
Finally, whatever our feelings, the medieval devotion makes pale in comparison.
After the heights of Calvinism in Geneva, we went to the Abbey of Cluny today. It is a magnificent complex of buildings whose influence ranged over the pre reformational world. This abbey was the mother from which many others were set up, in England and France. It was an amazing picture of medieval devotion. Today its zeal was muted by tourists and bored French school groups. From there we went to the magnificent Cathedral at Orleans whose patron saint is Joan of Arc – a martyr of the French nation. Like many Cathedrals there are beggars at the door. The question as to what to what to do bothers me.
Yesterday we passed an accident on a country road. There were police cars and emergency vehicles. Cars were being redirected around the accident. On the side of the road was a body bag with a body in it. For me this was a stark reminder of the calling we have to represent Christ. Death may come at any moment (especially on French and Spanish roads) but we need to have a relationship with Christ – nothing is more important than that!
Tomorrow we plan to go to Chartres Cathedral and from their to Belgium to see family.
Today was a fabulous day for a Calvinist lad. Hetty (not hefty – certainly not after walking 125 kms) and I went to Geneva. We visited the old city where there is a museum dedicated to the Reformation. It was informative, well laid out and we could have spent the whole day there. It narrated the story of the Reformation, its issues and its key people. There was material for all ages, including audio and visual presentations. I found the last room, which presented Protestant worship around the world, very moving. But we didn’t stay all day!
Next to the museum is St Peter’s Cathedral under which, is the most incredible area of archeology I have ever seen. The detailed information, the extent of the work, the overview from the 1st century to more recent years and the presentation, was an unexpected delight. Any person who loves archeology and visits Geneva must go. The whole set up is Swiss efficiency at its best. The same can’t be said of the Post Office which was a rigmarole at its best, or is it worst? The museum and archeology visit also allowed us up the towers of St Peter’s. This must be one of the best views of Geneva!
Finally we went to the Reformation monument – a giant facade representing the key players in the Reformation. A very powerful message, which sadly, doesn’t get heard in modern Europe.
I’m currently sitting outside the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. This morning we have been at Gaudi’s Guell Park a place of weird and wonderful shapes and architecture. The place was jam packed. I was thrilled that at the gate a couple of men were handing out tracts declaring that Jesus is risen. When I encouraged them they told me in halting English that they were evangelicals. Praise God!
Spain appears to be a deeply religious country. The cynic would say that if you drove like that you need faith; in yourself, the other driver and luck! The churches we have been in have been full. However we have sighted very few teenagers, children and younger families in church. That is not a good sign. My overall impression is that Spain is going the secular way of northern Europe.
The overt signs of faith, such as churches and crosses in each village, is not matched with a vibrant reality. My visit is fleeting, but there is much to pay for in this country.
Categories: Faith, Travel
Here are some of the photos that encapsulate the last two weeks. For some reason, WordPress on iPad has jumbled them up. But I hope you get the drift.
I’m sitting in a restaurant in Cuenca, Spain writing this blog. We have had a most amazing four days. After traveling through Portugal we visited Sevilla, Granada, Cadiz and Cordoba. We travelled though Moor -Catholic history. The Real in Seville revealed a Moorish palace taken back by the Spanish. The Alhambra was rife with Moorish influence. However, the place that showed that intersection the most was the Mesquita in Cordoba. Here a Cathedral sits in the the heart of a Mosque. The beautiful cool Islamic mosque courtyard has been filled with a Cathedral. Very incongruous. It does reveal he relationship between Muslim and Christian over the centuries.
The Islamic influence is still clear to see in southern Spain.
A side point. If the Spanish government wants to reduce its debt, it should set up speed cameras. For most Spanish drivers, speed signs are suggestions. I am the slowest person on the roads.
Hetty’s thoughts about Easter Sunday
We had an appointment to meet Kiki at the cathedral at 11am, so we found a car park and walked into the city centre. It wasn’t difficult to find each other. As we approached the cathedral the Risen Jesus was being wheeled in. We followed Jesus.
Just inside the doors he did a tricky 25point reverse and back outside.
Crowds of tourists/spectators were shooed out of his way. Meanwhile people in costumes arrived from all directions: little angels, Biblical characters, and traditional Spanish women in high veils. And lots of green-caped churchmen and women. Then we realized another float was coming into the square.
To drums and trumpets and a Spanish version of the bagpipes , Mary was being borne aloft by two dozen men. No wheels under this lady! Her carriers had her rocking from side to side as she and Jesus inched towards each other. We then got an Easter Pageant and a kind of sermon. It was good that we knew the story and that the word Halleluyah is universal. The two Marys went to meet Jesus, ran back to tell John and Peter who in turn ran towards Jesus. Then some angel children released some doves. After that the procession went through the town to more music.
We turned back to the cathedral for the 12 o’clock Pilgrims Service. there was a lot of pomp, ceremony, smells and bells, but we understood little of it. the priest did welcome us in English but I didn’t realize it immediately and didn’t precisely notice when he went back to Spanish.
At the commencement of the Communion we left, found our way back to the car, and started on our journey south.