This week’s pictures hint at two or more stories: at that of the life of Jesus, from whose life and teaching spring one of the world’s great religions. And at the building of La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí’s cathedral celebrating Jesus’ family, created by thousands of craftspeople with special stories to tell, gathered over the last 136 years …. maybe only another eight or so to go.
‘Story’ is this week’s WordPress photo challenge. Click on any image to view full size.
It was cold the other night. Very cold. And for three hours, I stood outside in the dark. I was happy.
I was volunteering at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal as part of an event that spanned two continents: in Poland; in Denmark; in Germany; in Russia; in France and in China. Do follow the links: you’ll immediately have a clutch of places to add to your ‘must visit’ list.
In all these places, for one dark chilly night in February, there was a Garden of Light. Normally, we can only enjoy the Water Gardens of Studley Royal by daylight. But thanks to this international festival, there was a new opportunity.
As night fell, lighting designed to spotlight the special features of the gardens pierced the darkness, revealing a garden in harmony with the philosophy of the time in which it was conceived: where Nature and Art work hand in hand. 18th century music played in the background.
Visitors were able to stroll round, lanterns or torches in hand, focusing on the Temple of Piety and the classical statuary of the Moon Ponds; or glancing upwards at the Octagon Tower and Temple of Fame, all bathed in golden light. The Moon Ponds themselves were lit by glowing orbs – sometimes silver white, sometimes red or blue, fading in intensity as the evening wore on.
The Abbey too was lit up, though I barely saw this as it wasn’t my role to be available there.
The moon was perfect – exactly half way between waxing and waning, it lit the visitors’ paths and illuminated the night sky. Whenever I looked up there was Orion’s Belt – and so many other stars usually invisible to town-dwellers.
Those of us there relished the chance to enjoy this peaceful yet joyous occasion. And as the event drew to a close, owls reclaimed the night, and their plaintive hooting accompanied us as we walked away, chilly but content.
Well, dear reader, I wrote it. And no, I’m not going to share it, because what I found out was that I have no talent for, nor interest in writing fiction. What I produced was workmanlike and …. dull. Which is a shame, as I enjoy reading fiction, every day of my life.
But you did ask, so I’ll share a synopsis with you.
Grizelda and Gertrude lived with their mother in straitened circumstances since their father, a knight, had been killed in the Holy Land during the Crusades. From necessity, and from a belief, uncommon at the time that all are created equal, these God-fearing girls and their mother worked alongside the only remaining servant in running the household. Nevertheless, their mother eventually remarried. Her new husband was a widowed nobleman with an amiable if empty-headed 14-year-old daughter, Cinderella, over-indulged by a friend of the girl’s dead mother and whom she called her ‘Fairy Godmother’.
The two older girls tried to include Cinderella in their simple hard-working way of life, but she resented their efforts, regarding them as dull and boring.
One day, an invitation came from the King to all noble families. He was holding a summer ball to celebrate his son Prince Charming’s 21st birthday, in his summer palace outside the nearby town of Fantasienstadt. Grizelda and Gertrude didn’t want to go at all. Cinderella did, but as she had only just turned 15, her father stood firm and forbade it however much she and her godmother pleaded, raged and stormed.
At the ball, the two sisters, big-boned and gauche, found few dance partners. They looked on as a bewitchingly beautiful young woman arrived and straightaway attracted the eye of Prince Charming. She looked not unlike Cinderella. All evening she and the prince danced, until suddenly, just before midnight, she ran away, screaming in panic. She didn’t even stop to pick up the delicate sparkly shoe she lost in her hurry to escape.
The next day, a royal footman came to the door, bearing this same shoe. He needed to find its owner. Cinderella astonished everyone by claiming it was hers, and proved it by running to fetch its partner. She was swept off to the palace by the footman, and the rest is history.
Later, Cinderella explained that her godmother had borrowed all the finery, together with a splendid carriage, so that she could get to the ball. But she had to be home for midnight, when it was to be returned.
And Grizelda and Gertrude? Just one ball had been enough to convince them that the trappings of a noble life were not for them. They both entered a convent, where they lived in devotion and service for the rest of their lives.
Another bright sunny day, so the seashore beckoned again – in Barcelona this time.
First though, we visited the MuseuMarítim, located in the impressive DrassanesReials, the mediaeval shipyard dating originally from the 13th century. It was remodelled time and again till the 18th century, when it fell out of use.
Our main memory of this engaging and beautifully curated museum is of the impressively reconstructed galley ship the GaleraReyal of 1568, and all the instruments, arms, ordnance and documents associated with such a warship.
What about this? Thirty oars each side, each manned by four slaves. These men toiled for hours and hours each day, shackled to the same spot for the entire voyage. They worked, ate and slept here, puddled in their own excrement. A ship such as theirs could never surprise the enemy. The smell preceded it by several knots. The exquisite ornamentation of this vessel, rich in symbolism, loses some of its allure against this background.
The whole of the dockyard area is rich in history. Here are just a few pictures, and from the more recently developed Port Vell.
The last time we went to la Sagrada Familia was maybe twenty years ago. My abiding memory is of seeing a monstrous fork lift truck parked in one of the aisles, totally dwarfed by the Cathedral in which it incongruously found itself.
Today was different. The Cathedral which Gaudí began in March 1882 is due to be completed exactly 100 years after his death, in June 2026: so the fork lift trucks are long gone.
What is there new to say about this inspiring, spiritually uplifting and imaginative building? Even the selfie stick dependent visitors thronging through can’t destroy its power.
Imagine, as Gaudī wanted you to do, walking through an ancient forest, the sunlight filtering through the topmost branches, dappling the trunks and forest floor with dancing daylight. Imagine the changing colours of that forest as the chilly morning sun rises in the east, then finally sets, warm and vibrant, in the west. La Sagrada Familia captures all that. It celebrates nature in stone, glass, ironwork and mosaic tile. Here are just a few shots to try to capture that mood.
Yesterday, I took a trip away from the Big City. I went on a train through the flatlands near Valencia, getting off where the hills started, in Segunt.
Here is a city that’s been important and fought over for millennia, precisely because of those hills. Early peoples settled there, overlooking the sea, trading with Phonoecia, which came to control it. Hannibal’s army besieged the city, and the Romans took over: that’s why the city has a Roman circus and theatre. Much restored, the theatre is used to this day.
Then along came the Barbarians, the Visigoths, and Sagunt became part of the Byzantine empire. By the 8th century the Moors had conquered the town, and transformed agriculture and commerce, building mosques and public baths.
By the 13th century, Sagunt was Christian again, and over the next six centuries, fought over by various Spanish kingdoms. The Jews came too, but they were pitched out in the 15th century. The quarter where they lived is still identifiable.
Even the twentieth century saw no end to conflict here. Both sides in the Civil War made use of the defensive possibilities of the castle.
Ah, the castle. I never mentioned that. It dominates the town. It’s a hotch-potch. Nobody who conquered here left it alone. It’s over a kilometre long from end to end. I know. I stumbled over rocks and through cactus trying to circumnavigate it. Unsuccessfully.
And horror of horrors. I deleted the photos from my phone without checking whether they’d uploaded to Google photos. They hadn’t. And I can’t retrieve the pictures from my camera here. I’ll have to upload them later and let you know when I’ve done it. Grrrr.
The WordPress weekly photo challenge this week is about experiments. Here’s one that’s some five hundred years old.
At that time, Valencia was one of Europe’s Top Cities. It had made its money from silk, and was an established part of the Silk Route from China and the east. Only a leading architect would do when it came to building La Llotja de la Sete: the Silk Exchange.
Pere Compte from Girona was the man chosen. And here’s his take on the main hall, begun in 1482. He created a space some 12 to 17 metres high, with no buttresses, placing massive stone on massive stone by using cranes, which were virtually unheard of at the time.
A forest of palm tree shaped columns spiral from the floor, fanning out as they reach the spherical vaulted ceilings. The windows are unusually large. The polished marble floors reflect the light. This is a delicious space, quite unlike any other Gothic building I have visited.