Jul 152018
 

Today is the birthday (1573) of Inigo Jones, an English architect who left his mark on London by his design of single buildings, such as the Queen’s House which is the first building in England designed in a pure classical style, and the Banqueting House, Whitehall, as well as the layout for Covent Garden square which became a model for future developments in the West End. He also made major contributions to stage design by his work as theatrical designer for several dozen masques, most by royal command and many in collaboration with Ben Jonson.

Beyond the fact that he was born in Smithfield, London, the son of Inigo Jones, a Welsh cloth worker, and baptized at the church of St Bartholomew-the-Less, little is known about Jones’s early years. He did not approach the architectural profession in the traditional way, namely either by rising up from a craft or through early exposure to the Office of Works, although there is evidence that Christopher Wren obtained information that recorded Jones as an apprentice joiner in St Paul’s Churchyard. At some point before 1603 a rich patron (possibly the earl of Pembroke or the earl of Rutland) sent him to Italy to study drawing after being impressed by the quality of his sketches. From Italy he traveled to Denmark where he worked for king Christian on the design of the palaces of Rosenborg and Frederiksborg.

 

Jones first became famous as a designer of costumes and stage settings, especially after he brought masques to the stage. Under Queen Anne’s patronage he is credited with introducing movable scenery and the proscenium arch to English theatre. Between 1605 and 1640, he was responsible for staging over 500 performances, collaborating with Ben Jonson for many years, despite a relationship fraught with competition and jealousy: the two had arguments about whether stage design or literature was more important in theatre. (Jonson ridiculed Jones in a series of his works, written over a span of two decades.) Over 450 drawings for the scenery and costumes survive, demonstrating Jones’s virtuosity as a draughtsman and his development between 1605 and 1609 from initially showing no knowledge of Renaissance draughtsmanship to exhibiting an “accomplished Italianate manner” and understanding of Italian set design, particularly that of Alfonso and Giulio Parigi. This development suggests a second visit to Italy, circa 1606, influenced by the ambassador Henry Wotton. Jones learned to speak Italian fluently and there is evidence that he owned an Italian copy of Andrea Palladio’s I quattro libri dell’architettura with marginalia that refer to Wotton. His architectural work was particularly influenced by Palladio. To a lesser extent, he also held to the architectural principles of the ancient Roman writer Vitruvius.

Jones’s first recorded architectural design is for a monument to Lady Cotton, circa 1608, showing early signs of his classical intentions. Around this time, Jones also produced drawings for the New Exchange in the Strand and the central tower of St. Paul’s Cathedral, displaying a similar practical architectural inexperience and uncertain handling of themes from sources including Palladio, Serlio and Sangallo. In 1609, having perhaps accompanied Lord Salisbury’s son and heir, Viscount Cranborne, around France, he appears as an architectural consultant at Hatfield House, making small modifications to the design as the project progressed, and in 1610, Jones was appointed surveyor to Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales. He devised a masque for the Prince and was possibly involved in some alterations to St James’s Palace.

On 27th April 1613, Jones was appointed the position of Surveyor of the King’s Works and shortly after, embarked on a tour of Italy with the earl of Arundel, destined to become one of the most important patrons in the history of English art. On this trip, Jones was exposed to the architecture of Rome, Padua, Florence, Vicenza, Genoa and Venice among others. His surviving sketchbook shows his preoccupation with such artists as Parmigianino and Schiavone. He is also known to have met Vincenzo Scamozzi at this time. His annotated copy of Palladio’s Quattro libri dell’architettura also demonstrates his close interest in classical architecture: Jones gave priority to Roman antiquity rather than observing the contemporary fashion in Italy. He was probably the first Englishman to study these Roman remains first hand and this was key to the new architecture Jones introduced in England.

In September 1615, Jones was appointed Surveyor-General of the King’s Works, marking the beginning of Jones’s career in earnest. Fortunately, both James I and Charles I spent lavishly on their buildings, contrasting with the economical court of Elizabeth I. As the King’s Surveyor, Jones built some of his key buildings in London. In 1616, work began on the Queen’s House, Greenwich, for James I’s wife, Anne. With the foundations laid and the first storey built, work stopped suddenly when Anne died in 1619. Work resumed in 1629, but this time for Charles I’s Queen, Henrietta Maria. It was finished in 1635 as the first strictly classical building in England, employing ideas found in the architecture of Palladio and ancient Rome. This is Jones’s earliest surviving work.

Between 1619 and 1622, the Banqueting House in the Palace of Whitehall was built, a design derived from buildings by Scamozzi and Palladio, to which a ceiling painted by Peter Paul Rubens was added several years later. The Banqueting House was one of several projects where Jones worked with his personal assistant and nephew by marriage John Webb. Unfortunately, as the last great strongholds to the Cavaliers, the great mansion inside of Basing House was destroyed by Cromwell’s army and even the walls were broken into many pieces on 8th October 1645.

The Queen’s Chapel, St. James’s Palace, was built between 1623 and 1627, for Charles I’s Roman Catholic wife, Henrietta Maria. Parts of the design originate in the Pantheon of ancient Rome and Jones evidently intended the church to evoke the Roman temple. These buildings show the designs of an architect with a confident grasp of classical principles and an intellectual understanding of how to implement them.

The other project in which Jones was involved is the design of Covent Garden square. He was commissioned by the earl of Bedford to build a residential square, which he did along the lines of the Italian piazza of Livorno. It is the first regularly planned square in London. The earl felt obliged to provide a church and he warned Jones that he wanted to economize. He told him to simply erect a “barn” and Jones’s often-quoted response was that “his lordship would have the finest barn in Europe”. In the design of St Paul’s, Jones faithfully adhered to Vitruvius’ design for a Tuscan temple and it was the first wholly and authentically classical church built in England. The inside of St Paul’s, Covent Garden was gutted by fire in 1795, but externally it remains much as Jones designed it and dominates the west side of the square.

Jones also designed the square of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and a house in the square, the Lindsey House built in 1640, is often attributed to Jones. Its design of a rusticated ground floor with giant pilasters above supporting the entablature and balustrade served as a model for other town houses in London such as John Nash’s Regent’s Park terraces, as well as in other English towns such as Bath’s Royal Crescent.

Another large project Jones undertook was the repair and remodeling of St Paul’s Cathedral. Between the years of 1634 and 1642, Jones wrestled with the dilapidated Gothicism of Old St Paul’s, casing it in classical masonry and totally redesigning the west front. Jones incorporated the giant scrolls from Vignola and della Porta’s Church of the Gesù with a giant Corinthian portico, the largest of its type north of the Alps, but was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Also around this time, circa 1638, Jones devised drawings completely redesigning the Palace of Whitehall, but the execution of these designs was frustrated by Charles I’s financial and political difficulties. More than 1000 buildings have been attributed to Jones but only a very small number of those are certain to be his work. According to architecture historian John Summerson, the modern concept of an architect’s artistic responsibility for a building did not exist at that time, and Jones’s role in many instances may be that of a civil servant in getting things done rather than as an architect. Jones’s contribution to a building may also simply be verbal instructions to a mason or bricklayer and providing an Italian engraving or two as a guide, or the correction of drafts. In the 1630s, Jones was in high demand and, as Surveyor to the King, his services were only available to a very limited circle of people, so often projects were commissioned to other members of the Works. Stoke Bruerne Park in Northamptonshire was built by Sir Francis Crane, “receiving the assistance of Inigo Jones”, between 1629 and 1635. Jones is also thought to have been involved in another country house, this time in Wiltshire. Wilton House was renovated from about 1630 onwards, at times worked on by Jones, then passed on to Isaac de Caus when Jones was too busy with royal clients. He then returned in 1646 with his student, John Webb, to try and complete the project. Contemporary equivalent architects included Sir Balthazar Gerbier and Nicholas Stone.

One of Jones’s design work was “double cube” room, and it was also the foundation stone of his status as the father of British architecture. Jones, as the pioneer in his era, had strong influence during their time. His revolutionary ideas even effect beyond the Court circle, and today, many scholars believe that he also started the golden age of British architecture. Jones’s full-time career effectively ended with the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642 and the seizure of the King’s houses in 1643. His property was later returned to him (c. 1646) but Jones ended his days, unmarried, living in Somerset House. He was, however, closely involved in the design of Coleshill House, in Berkshire, for the Pratt family, which he visited with the young apprentice architect Roger Pratt, to fix a new site for the proposed mansion. He died on 21st June 1652 and was subsequently buried beside his parents at St Benet Paul’s Wharf, the Welsh church of the City of London. John Denham and then Christopher Wren followed him as King’s Surveyor of Works. A monument dedicated to him was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666.

You could go with a period recipe to celebrate Jones if you want. Here is a delightful idea from Robert May’s Accomplisht Cook. I chose it for today because it emphasizes design. The instructions are not really fully clear. What I think May is getting at is that you must make three separate elements: a green one with creamed spinach, a white one with cream alone, and a yellow one with egg yolks and cream. How the seasonings should be distributed is completely unclear. You should, however, place the three colors in a tart in a design of your choosing that keeps the green, yellow, and white elements distinct. I’ll leave you to figure it out.

To make a Spinage Tart of three colours, green, yellow, and white.

Take two handfuls of young tender spinage, wash it and put it into a skillet of boiling liquor; being tender boil’d have a quart of cream boil’d with some whole cinamon, quarterd nutmeg, and a grain of musk; then strain the cream, twelve yolks of eggs, and the boil’d spinage into a dish, with some rose-water, a little sack, and some fine sugar, boil it over a chaffing dish of coals, and stir it that it curd not, keep it till the tart be dried in the oven, and dish it in the form of three colours, green, white, and yellow.

To truly honor Jones I would go for a dish that is architectural in scope. You can save your gingerbread palaces for Christmas, and, instead, get some ideas from this gallery:

Oct 242016
 

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The cathedral in Chartres was consecrated on this date in 1262. I could ramble on about its architecture, stained glass etc. but I am not going to (well — maybe a little). You can look that up for yourself, or, better yet, visit the cathedral. Instead I want to do two things. First, talk about the personal view of the cathedral by my friend and colleague Eric Carlson who taught with me at Purchase college for many years, and who wrote and lectured on the cathedral. Second, talk about the current restoration efforts which have seriously polarized opinion into haters and lovers.

When I taught Freshman Studies at Purchase college in the 1980s  we had weekly plenary lectures for the entire freshman class (around 150 students) on a variety of subjects from ancient Greece to Einstein. Eric gave a slide lecture for many years on Chartres cathedral as part of our segment on Medieval Europe. He began by talking about the cathedral from the perspective of the pilgrim journeying on foot or horseback to Chartres. For miles and miles pilgrims could navigate towards Chartres because the cathedral is visible across the plains from a great distance.

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As you get into the outskirts of the town it gets bigger and more magnificent.

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But when you get quite close, the buildings obscure it from view.

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Then suddenly you are upon it in all of its majesty.

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The pride of the cathedral is the stained glass (although, of course, there’s plenty of other features to admire, including the incredibly ornate exterior). The point about the glass is that to fit such large and complex windows, the whole architecture had to be designed to allow for such large piercings in the walls. The use of a three-part elevation with external flying buttresses allowed for far larger windows than earlier designs, particularly at the clerestory level.

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Most cathedrals of the period had a mixture of windows containing plain or grisaille glass on the one hand and windows containing dense stained glass panels on the other, with the result that the brightness of the former tended to diminish the impact of the latter. At Chartres, nearly all of the 176 windows were filled with equally dense stained glass, creating a relatively dark but richly colored interior in which the light filtering through the myriad narrative and symbolic windows was the main source of illumination, made possible because they were so large.

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The majority of the windows now visible at Chartres were made and installed between 1205 and 1240, but four lancets preserve panels of Romanesque glass from the 12th century which survived a fire in 1195. Three of these are located beneath the rose in the west façade: the Passion window to the south, the Infancy of Christ in the center and a Tree of Jesse to the north. All three of these windows were originally made around 1145 but were restored in the early 13th century and again in the 19th.

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The other 12th-century window, perhaps the most famous at Chartres, is the so-called « Notre-Dame de la Belle-Verrière », found in the first bay of the choir after the south transept. This window is actually a composite; the upper part, showing the Virgin and child surrounded by adoring angels, dates from around 1180 and was probably positioned at the centre of the apse in the earlier building. The Virgin is depicted wearing a blue robe and sitting in a frontal pose on a throne, with the Christ Child seated on her lap raising his hand in blessing. This composition, known as the Sedes sapientia (‘Throne of Wisdom’), which also appears on the Portail royal, is based on the famous cult figure kept in the crypt. The lower part of the window, showing scenes from the Infancy of Christ, dates from the main glazing campaign around 1225.

Each bay of the aisles and the choir ambulatory contains one large lancet window, most of them roughly 8.1m high by 2.2m wide. The subjects depicted in these windows, made between 1205 and 1235, include stories from the Old and New Testament and the Lives of the Saints as well as typological cycles and symbolic images such as the signs of the zodiac and labors of the months, or the Good Samaritan parable. Most windows are made up of around 25–30 individual panels showing distinct episodes within the narrative; only « Notre-Dame de la Belle-Verrière » includes a larger image made up of multiple panels.

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Several of the windows at Chartres include images of local tradesmen or laborers in the lowest two or three panels, often with details of their equipment and working methods. Traditionally it was claimed that these images represented the guilds of the donors who paid for the windows. In recent years however this view has largely been discounted, not least because each window would have cost around as much as a large mansion house to make – while most of the laborers depicted would have been subsistence workers with little or no disposable income. Furthermore, although they became powerful and wealthy organizations in the later medieval period, none of these trade guilds had actually been founded when the glass was being made in the early 13th century. A more likely explanation is that the Cathedral clergy wanted to emphasize the universal reach of the Church, particularly at a time when their relationship with the local community was often a troubled one.

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Because of their greater distance from the viewer, the windows in the clerestory generally adopt simpler, bolder designs. Most feature the standing figure of a saint or Apostle in the upper two-thirds, often with one or two simplified narrative scenes in the lower part, either to help identify the figure or else to remind the viewer of some key event in their life. Whereas the lower windows in the nave arcades and the ambulatory consist of one simple lancet per bay, the clerestory windows are each made up of a pair of lancets with a plate-traceried rose window above. The nave and transept clerestory windows mainly depict saints and Old Testament prophets. Those in the choir depict the kings of France and Castille and members of the local nobility in the straight bays, while the windows in the apse hemicycle show those Old Testament prophets who foresaw the virgin birth, flanking scenes of the Annunciation, Visitation and Nativity in the axial window.

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The cathedral has three large rose windows. The western rose, made c.1215 and 12 m in diameter shows the Last Judgement – a traditional theme for west façades. A central oculus showing Christ as the Judge is surrounded by an inner ring of 12 paired roundels containing angels and the Elders of the Apocalypse and an outer ring of 12 roundels showing the dead emerging from their tombs and the angels blowing trumpets to summon them to judgment.

Enough about windows. Eric went on about them for a long time. They are magnificent but slides do not do them justice. Before electric lighting, the windows and candles were the sole source of illumination. Now there is electric lighting everywhere. Despite the stained glass, the interior can seem gloomy to the modern eye.  The question arose several years ago whether this gloominess was appropriate both architecturally and spiritually. Surely in the 13th century when it was built Chartres was a testament to light?

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In 2009 the Monuments Historiques division of the French Ministry of Culture began a 18.5 million dollar program of works at the cathedral, described as a “restoration project.” Part of the project involved painting the interior masonry creamy-white, with trompe l’oeil marbling and gilded detailing. The restoration architect in charge of this painting is Frédéric Didier. The goal of the project, which is due for completion in 2017, is to make the cathedral look as it would have done when finished in the 13th century.

The goal of the project and its results has been widely condemned. Architectural critic Alexander Gorlin described the goal as a “great lie,” writing that the “idea that the 13th century interior of Chartres can be recreated is so totally absurd as to be laughable” and that it is “against every single cultural trend today that values the patina of age and the mark of time rather than the shiny bling of cheap jewelry and faux finishes.” Alasdair Palmer called the project an “ill-conceived makeover.” Architectural historian Martin Filler described the work as a “scandalous desecration of a cultural holy place”, an “unfolding cultural disaster,” and stated that it violates international conservation protocols, in particular the 1964 Charter of Venice of which France is a signatory.

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The restoration has however received almost universal backing from French experts and from the general public. Malcolm Miller, author of a number of books on the cathedral and widely considered one of its greatest expert, dismissed the objections: “They talk about the patina of the centuries. Nonsense. Rubbish. This is not the patina of the centuries. It is the rotting remains of a whitewash from the 18th century. The people who built this cathedral intended that its interior should be light. There was nothing natural about its darkness. It was nothing to do with ageing of the stone. It was caused, first of all, by centuries of candle smoke and then by a stupid decision to install oil-fired central heating in the 1950s. More recently, there was smoke damage from a couple of fires.”

So . . . which side are you on? Do you like art and architecture as it is now after centuries of change, or do you like it restored to its original state? Obviously with Chartres there are some practical considerations. We don’t know exactly what the interior looked like. There are only the most vagrant historical clues as to the original surfacing of the walls to go on. There is no question that in one sense the modern restoration is a “lie.” But is it a “great” lie, or just a little white lie?

In the art world in general, restoration of paintings and frescoes has been both reviled and praised. When the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was brightened up some people were exalted, others alarmed. There is always going to be a group of people who likes the “patina of age.” I wonder whether Michelangelo would have liked the patina. It is not his doing. It is the doing of centuries of candle soot. When I was a student at Oxford in the 1960s and ‘70s the buildings were all scarred with a century of black soot from industry and cars. Then the colleges set to work cleaning the exteriors. Reclamation or ruination? When Rembrandt’s paintings were cleaned up they were completely changed. Obscured features emerged and the whole sensibility changed. His “Night Watch” was so called because it seemed to depict a night scene. But this was due to varnish that had darkened over time making it look like night. When it was removed in the 1940s a completely different – brighter – scene emerged, much closer to Rembrandt’s vision. How about you? Are you a “patina of the ages” type or not. I’m not. I’ll ask Eric what he thinks after I have posted this.

Here’s a recipe for souris d’agneau that is popular in the region of Chartres. “Souris” is the French for “mouse” but there are no mice involved. Souris d’agneau means lamb shank in English, one of my favorite cuts of meat (if cooked right). To do this properly you need lots of rock salt and duck fat (when you roast duck or goose ALWAYS save the fat). Traditionally cooks use a cocotte, a style of covered Dutch oven.

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Souris d’agneau

Ingredients

4 lamb shanks
8 tbsp duck fat (or olive oil)
6 tbsp honey
4 tbsp fresh herbs, chopped (thyme, rosemary, parsley)
1 head garlic

Instructions

Cover the shanks completely with rock salt (I mean bury them) and refrigerate overnight if you are squeamish.

Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F.

Pour the oil and honey in your cocotte or Dutch oven. Heat on the stove over low heat, and stir to  combine. Add the herbs. It doesn’t hurt to bruise them a little in a mortar and pestle first. If you have to use dried herbs, halve the quantity.  Add the shanks and roll them around in the oil/honey mix to coat. Break apart the head of garlic and toss in the cloves skin and all.

Cover the pot and put in the center of your oven. Check after about an hour and a half. That’s usually enough for me. The shanks should be browned and nicely falling apart. Longer usually causes the pot to dry out. Serve on a heated serving dish with the sauce poured over the shanks. Rice or potatoes and a green salad make a good accompaniment.

 

Apr 032016
 

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Today is the birthday (1783) of Washington Irving, U.S. author, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century. He is best known for his short stories “Rip Van Winkle” (1819) and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820), both of which appear in his book The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. His historical works include biographies of George Washington, Oliver Goldsmith and Muhammad, and several histories of 15th-century Spain dealing with subjects including Christopher Columbus, the Moors and Alhambra

Irving made his literary debut in 1802 with a series of observational letters to the Morning Chronicle, written under the pseudonym Jonathan Oldstyle. After moving to England for the family business in 1815, he achieved international fame with the publication of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. in 1819–20. He continued to publish regularly — and almost always successfully — throughout his life, and just eight months before his death (at age 76, in Tarrytown, New York), completed a five-volume biography of George Washington.

Irving, along with James Fenimore Cooper, was among the first American writers to earn acclaim in Europe, and he encouraged U.S. authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edgar Allan Poe. Irving was also admired by European writers, including Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Thomas Campbell, Francis Jeffrey, and Charles Dickens. At a time when authors were either independently wealthy or had other professions, Irving advocated for writing as a legitimate profession in its own right, and argued for stronger laws to protect U.S. writers from copyright infringement in Europe.

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“Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” are well known, so I would like to focus on Tales of the Alhambra which put the palace on the map in the 19th century. Shortly after completing a biography of Christopher Columbus in 1828, Irving traveled from Madrid, where he had been staying, to Granada. At first sight, he described it as “a most picturesque and beautiful city, situated in one of the loveliest landscapes that I have ever seen.” Irving was preparing a book called A Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada, a history of the years 1478–1492, and was continuing his research on the topic. He immediately asked the then-governor of the historic Alhambra Palace as well as the archbishop of Granada for access to the palace, which was granted because of Irving’s celebrity status. Aided by a 35-year-old guide, Mateo Ximenes, Irving was inspired by his experience to write Tales of the Alhambra. The book combines description, legend, and narrations of historical events, up through the destruction of some of the palace’s towers by the French under Count Sebastiani in 1812, and the further damage caused by an earthquake in 1821. Throughout his trip, Irving filled his notebooks and journals with descriptions and observations though he did not believe his writing would ever do it justice. He wrote, “How unworthy is my scribbling of the place.”

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Let’s begin with the name. Irving (and others) call the palace “THE Alhambra,” which is jarring to my ears because of the inherent redundancy. “Al” in Arabic means “the” – “Alhambra” means “the red (feminine).” So calling it “the Alhambra” translates as “the the red.” Ugh. I’ll use “Alhambra” without the direct article.

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Alhambra was completed towards the end of Muslim rule of Spain by Yusuf I (1333–1353) and Muhammed V, Sultan of Granada (1353–1391). The complex is a reflection of the culture of the last centuries of the Moorish rule of Al Andalus, reduced to the Nasrid Emirate of Granada. It is a place where artists and intellectuals had taken refuge as the Reconquista by Spanish Christians won victories over Al Andalus. Alhambra integrates natural site qualities with constructed structures and gardens, and is a testament to Moorish culture in Spain and the skills of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian artisans, craftsmen, and builders of their era. The literal translation of Alhambra, “the red (female),” probably reflects the color of the red clay of the surroundings of which the fort is made. The buildings of Alhambra were originally whitewashed; however, the buildings as seen today are reddish.

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The first reference to the Qal‘at al-Ḥamra was during the battles between the Arabs and the Muladies (people of mixed Arab and European descent) during the rule of ‘Abdullah ibn Muhammad (r. 888–912). In one particularly fierce and bloody skirmish, the Muladies soundly defeated the Arabs, who were then forced to take shelter in a primitive red castle located in the province of Elvira, presently located in Granada. According to surviving documents from the era, the red castle was quite small, and its walls were not capable of deterring an army intent on conquering. The castle was then largely ignored until the 11th century, when its ruins were renovated and rebuilt by Samuel ibn Naghrela, vizier to the emir Badis ben Habus of the Zirid Dynasty of Al Andalus, in an attempt to preserve the small Jewish settlement also located on the natural plateau, Sabikah Hill.

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Ibn Nasr, the founder of the Nasrid Dynasty, was forced to flee to Jaén to avoid persecution by King Ferdinand III of Castile and the Reconquista supporters working to end Spain’s Moorish rule. After retreating to Granada, Ibn-Nasr took up residence at the Palace of Badis ben Habus in  Alhambra. A few months later, he embarked on the construction of a new Alhambra fit for the residence of a sultan. According to an Arab manuscript since published as the Anónimo de Granada y Copenhague:

This year, 1238 Abdallah ibn al-Ahmar climbed to the place called “Alhambra” inspected it, laid out the foundations of a castle and left someone in charge of its construction…

The design included plans for six palaces, five of which were grouped in the northeast quadrant forming a royal quarter, two circuit towers, and numerous bathhouses. During the reign of the Nasrid Dynasty, Alhambra was transformed into a palatine city, complete with an irrigation system composed of acequias for the gardens of the Generalife located outside the fortress. Previously, the old Alhambra structure had been dependent upon rainwater collected from a cistern and from what could be brought up from the Albaicín. The creation of the Sultan’s Canal solidified the identity of the Alhambra as a palace-city rather than a defensive and ascetic structure.

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The Muslim ruler Muhammad XII of Granada surrendered the Emirate of Granada in 1492 without Alhambra itself being attacked when the forces of the Reyes Católicos, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, took the surrounding territory with a force of overwhelming numbers.

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The architecture of Alhambra is inspiring, but it is the tile work that draws me. The Alhambra tiles are remarkable in that they contain nearly all, if not all, of the seventeen mathematically possible wallpaper groups (a special kind of tessellation). This is a unique accomplishment in world architecture. M. C. Escher’s visit in 1922 and study of the Moorish use of symmetries in Alhambra tiles inspired his subsequent  artistic work on tessellation. http://www.bookofdaystales.com/m-c-escher/  They have also inspired mathematicians specializing in the geometry of tilings, such as Roger Penrose, http://www.bookofdaystales.com/roger-penrose/ .

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Here’s a very simple dish for stuffed eggs from an anonymous Medieval Arabic MS from al-Andalus http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/articles/veggie.html . The main problem is replicating murri which was a very common fermented condiment used in the Byzantine and Arab world. I use Thai fish sauce as a substitute.

Take as many eggs as thou wilt, and boil them whole in hot water; put them in cold water and divide them in half with a thread. Take the yolks quickly and crush cilantro, put in onion juice, pepper and coriander and beat all this together with murri, oil and salt and mash the yolks with this until it forms a paste. Then stuff the whites with this, insert a small stick into each egg, and sprinkle them with pepper, God willing.

Without precise measures you’ll have to experiment. I used about equal portions (1tsp per egg) of cilantro, chopped onion, black pepper, powdered coriander, oil, and fish sauce. Hard boil eggs, peel them, cut them in half lengthways, and remove the yolks.

Use a blender or food processor to blend together the yolks and condiments. Then refill the yolk section of the boiled whites and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.

Feb 132016
 

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Today is a significant day for the city of Ely in the fens in Cambridgeshire for two reasons. First it is the feast day of St Ermenilda of Ely, and, second, because on this date in 1322 the main tower of Ely cathedral collapsed leading to the building of one of the most spectacular cathedral towers in Europe. I thought I would take the opportunity to give an account of the history of Ely cathedral (with a nod to Ermenilda) to demonstrate how, like many of the great cathedrals of Europe, it took shape over centuries and, in a way, is still a work in progress. Ely cathedral is not a finished “thing” to just go and stare at. It is a living, evolving form with a long history that is entangled with major events in the history of England. Ely Cathedral is the physical result and manifestation of the complex interaction over time of human foible, ingenuity, and ambition, warfare, politics, geology, and artistry. An anthropologist’s dream and joy. Pardon my excesses here. If it all wearies you, skip to my little discourse on cooking elvers – taking in the images on the way.

Ely Abbey was founded in 672, by Æthelthryth (St Etheldreda), daughter of the East Anglian King Anna http://www.bookofdaystales.com/aethelthryth/ It was a mixed community of men and women. Later accounts suggest her three successor abbesses were also members of the East Anglian Royal family (including Ermenilda). In later centuries the depredations of Viking raids may have resulted in its destruction, or at least the loss of all records. It is possible that some monks provided a continuity through to its refoundation in 970, under a Benedictine rule. The precise site of Æthelthryth’s original monastery is not known. The presence of her relics, bolstered by the growing body of literature on her life and miracles, was a major driving force in the success of the refounded abbey. The church building of 970 was within or near the nave of the present building, and was progressively demolished from 1102 alongside the construction of the Norman church. Ermenilda of Ely was abbess here after her husband, Wulfhere of Mercia, died in 675.

St Ermenilda

St Ermenilda

The cathedral is built from stone quarried from Barnack in Northamptonshire (bought from Peterborough Abbey, whose lands included the quarries, for 8000 eels a year), with decorative elements carved from Purbeck Marble and local clunch. The plan of the building is cruciform (cross-shaped), with an additional transept at the western end. The total length is 537 feet (163.7 m), and the nave at over 75 m long (250 ft) remains one of the longest in Britain. The west tower is 66m high (215 ft). The unique Octagon ‘Lantern Tower’ is 23 m (74 ft) wide and is 52 m (170 ft) high. Internally, from the floor to the central roof boss the lantern is 43 m (142 ft) high.

Having a pre-Norman history spanning 400 years and a re-foundation in 970, Ely over the course of the next hundred years had become one of England’s most successful Benedictine abbeys, with lands exceeded only by Glastonbury, a famous saint, treasures, library and book production of the highest order. However the imposition of Norman rule was particularly problematic at Ely. Newly arrived Normans such as Picot of Cambridge took possession of abbey lands, there was appropriation of daughter monasteries such as Eynesbury by French monks, and interference by the Bishop of Lincoln was undermining its status. All this was exacerbated when, in 1071, Ely became a focus of English resistance to the Norman Conquest, through such people as Hereward the Wake, culminating in the Siege of Ely, for which the abbey suffered substantial fines.

Under the Normans almost every English cathedral and major abbey was rebuilt from the 1070s onwards. If Ely was to maintain its status then it had to initiate its own building work, and the task fell to Abbot Simeon. He was the brother of Walkelin, the Bishop of Winchester, who had been prior at Winchester Cathedral when the rebuilding began there in 1079. In 1083, a year after Simeon’s appointment as abbot of Ely, and when he was 90 years old, building work began. The years since the conquest had been turbulent for the Abbey, but the unlikely person of an aged Norman outsider effectively took the parts of the Ely monks, reversed the decline in the abbey’s fortunes, and found the resources, administrative capacity, identity and purpose to begin a grand new building.

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The design had many similarities to Winchester, a cruciform plan with central crossing tower, aisled transepts, a three storey elevation and a semi-circular apse at the east end. It was one of the largest buildings under construction north of the Alps at the time. The first phase of construction took in the eastern arm of the church, and the north and south transepts. However a significant break in the way the masonry is laid indicates that, with the transepts still unfinished, there was an unplanned halt to construction that lasted several years. It would appear that when Abbott Simeon died in 1093, an extended interregnum caused all work to cease. The administration of Ranulf Flambard may have been to blame. He illegally kept various posts unfilled, including that of Abbot of Ely, so he could appropriate the income. In 1099 he got himself appointed Bishop of Durham, in 1100 Abbot Richard was appointed to Ely and building work resumed. It is Abbot Richard who asserted Ely’s independence from the Diocese of Lincoln, and pressed for it to be made a diocese in its own right, with the Abbey Church as its Cathedral. Although Abbot Richard died in 1107, his successor Hervey le Breton was able to achieve this and become the first Bishop of Ely in 1109. This period at the start of the 12th century was when Ely re-affirmed its link with its Anglo-Saxon past. The struggle for independence coincided with the period when resumption of building work required the removal of the shrines from the old building and the translation of the relics into the new church. This appears to have allowed, in the midst of a Norman-French hierarchy, an unexpectedly enthusiastic development of the cult of these Anglo-Saxon saints and benefactors.

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The Norman east end and the whole of the central area of the crossing are now entirely gone, but the architecture of the transepts survives in a virtually complete state, to give a good impression of how it would have looked. Massive walls pierced by Romanesque arches would have formed aisles running around all sides of the choir and transepts. Three tiers of archways rise from the arcaded aisles. Galleries with walkways could be used for liturgical processions, and above that is the Clerestory with a passage within the width of the wall.

Construction of the nave was underway from around 1115, and roof timbers dating to 1120 suggest that at least the eastern portion of the nave roof was in place by then. The great length of the nave required that it was tackled in phases and after completing four bays, sufficient to securely buttress the crossing tower and transepts, there was a planned pause in construction. By 1140 the nave had been completed together with the western transepts and west tower up to triforium level, in the fairly plain early Romanesque style of the earlier work. Another pause now occurred, for over 30 years, and when it resumed, the new mason found ways to integrate the earlier architectural elements with the new ideas and richer decorations of early Gothic.

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The half-built west tower and upper parts of the two western transepts were completed under Bishop Geoffrey Ridel (1174–89), to create an elaborate west front, richly decorated with intersecting arches and complex mouldings. The new architectural details were used systematically in the higher storeys of the tower and transepts. Rows of trefoil heads and use of pointed instead of semicircular arches, results in a west front with a high level of uniformity. Originally the west front had transepts running symmetrically either side of the west tower. Stonework details on the tower show that an octagonal tower was part of the original design, although the current western octagonal tower was not installed until 1400. Numerous attempts were made, during all phases of its construction to correct problems from subsidence in areas of soft ground at the western end of the cathedral. In 1405-7, to cope with the extra weight from the octagonal tower, four new arches were added at the west crossing to strengthen the tower. The extra weight of these works may have added to the problem, as at the end of the fifteenth century the north-west transept collapsed. A great sloping mass of masonry was built to buttress the remaining walls, which remain in their broken-off state on the north side of the tower.

The Galilee porch is now the principal entrance into the Cathedral for visitors. Its original liturgical functions are unclear, but its location at the west end meant it may have been used as a chapel for penitents, a place where liturgical processions could gather, or somewhere the monks could hold business meetings with women, who were not permitted into the abbey. It also has a structural role in buttressing the west tower. The walls stretch over two storeys, but the upper storey now has no roof, it having been removed early in the nineteenth century. Its construction dating is also uncertain. Records suggest it was initiated by Bishop Eustace (1197–1215), and it is a notable example of Early English Gothic style. But there are doubts about just how early, especially as Eustace had taken refuge in France in 1208, and had no access to his funds for the next 3 years. George Gilbert Scott argued that details of its decoration, particularly the ‘syncopated arches’ and the use of Purbeck marble shafts, bear comparison with St Hugh’s Choir, Lincoln Cathedral, and the west porch at St Albans, which both predate Eustace, whereas the foliage carvings and other details offer a date after 1220, suggesting it could be a project taken up, or re-worked by Bishop Northwold.

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The first major reworking of an element of the Norman building was undertaken by Bishop Northwold (bishop 1229–54). The eastern arm had been only four bays, running from the choir (then located at the crossing itself) to the high altar and the shrine to Etheldreda. In 1234 Bishop Northwold began an eastward addition of six further bays, which were built over 17 years, in a richly ornamented style with extensive use of Purbeck marble pillars and foliage carvings. It was built using the same bay dimensions, wall thicknesses and elevations as the Norman parts of the nave, but with an Early English Gothic style that makes it ‘the most refined and richly decorated English building of its period’. St Etheldreda’s remains were translated to a new shrine immediately east of the high altar within the new structure, and on completion of these works in 1252 the cathedral was reconsecrated in the presence of King Henry III and Prince Edward. As well as a greatly expanded presbytery, the new east end had the effect of inflating still further the significance of St Etheldreda’s shrine. Surviving fragments of the shrine pedestal suggest its decoration was similar to the interior walls of the Galilee porch. The relics of the saints Wihtburh, Seaxburh (sisters of St Etheldreda) and Eormenhild (daughter of Seaxburh) would also have been accommodated, and the new building provided much more space for pilgrims to visit the shrines, via a door in the North Transept. The presbytery has subsequently been used for the burials and memorials of over 100 individuals connected with the abbey and cathedral.

In 1321, under the sacrist Alan of Walsingham work began on a large free-standing Lady Chapel, linked to the north aisle of the chancel by a covered walkway. The Chapel is 100 feet (30 m) long and 46 feet (14 m) wide, and was built in an elaborate Decorated Gothic style over the course of the next 30 years. Masons and finances were unexpectedly required for the main church from 1322, which must have slowed the progress of the Chapel. The north and south wall each have five bays, comprising large tracery windows separated by pillars each of which has eight substantial niches and canopies which once held statues. Below the window line, and running round three sides of the Chapel is an arcade of richly decorated ‘nodding ogees’, with Purbeck marble pillars, creating scooped out seating booths. There are three arches per bay plus a grander one for each main pillar, each with a projecting pointed arch covering a subdividing column topped by a statue of a bishop or king. Above each arch is a pair of spandrels containing carved scenes which create a cycle of 93 carved relief sculptures of the life and miracles of the Virgin Mary. The carvings and sculptures would all have been painted. The window glass would all have been brightly colored with major schemes perhaps of biblical narratives, of which a few small sections have survived. At the Reformation, the edict to remove images from the cathedral was carried out very thoroughly by Bishop Goodrich. The larger statues have gone. The relief scenes were built into the wall, so each face or statue was individually hacked off, but leaving many finely carved details, and numerous puzzles as to what the original scenes showed. After the Reformation it was redeployed as the Parish Church for the town, a situation which continued up to 1938.

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The central octagonal tower, with its vast internal open space and its pinnacles and lantern above, forms the most distinctive and celebrated feature of the cathedral. However, what has been described as Ely’s ‘greatest individual achievement of architectural genius’ came about through a disaster at the center of the Cathedral. On the night of 12–13 February 1322, possibly as a result of digging foundations for the Lady Chapel, the Norman central crossing tower collapsed. Work on the Lady Chapel was suspended as attention transferred to dealing with this disaster. Instead of being replaced by a new tower on the same ground plan, the crossing was enlarged to an octagon, removing all four of the original tower piers and absorbing the adjoining bays of the nave, chancel and transepts to define an open area far larger than the square base of the original tower. The construction of this unique and distinctive feature was overseen by Alan of Walsingham. The extent of his influence on the design continues to be a matter of debate, as are the reasons such a radical step was taken. Mistrust of the soft ground under the failed tower piers may have been a major factor in moving all the weight of the new tower further out. The large stone octagonal tower, with its eight internal archways, leads up to spectacular timber fan-vaulting that appears to allow the large glazed timber lantern to balance on their slender struts. The roof and lantern are actually held up by a complex timber structure above the vaulting which could not be built in this way today because there are no trees big enough any more. The central lantern, also octagonal in form, but with angles offset from the great Octagon, has panels showing pictures of musical angels, which can be opened, with access from the Octagon roof-space, so that real choristers can sing from on high. More wooden vaulting forms the lantern roof. At the centre is a wooden boss carved from a single piece of oak, showing Christ in Majesty. The elaborate joinery and timberwork was done by William Hurley, master carpenter in the royal service.

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It is unclear what damage was caused to the Norman chancel by the fall of the tower, but the three remaining bays were reconstructed under Bishop John Hotham (1316-1337) in an ornate Decorated style with flowing tracery. Structural evidence shows that this work was a remodeling rather than a total rebuilding. New choir stalls with carved misericords and canopy work were installed beneath the octagon, in a similar position to their predecessors. Work was resumed on the Lady Chapel, and the two westernmost bays of Northwold’s presbytery were adapted by unroofing the triforia so as to enhance the lighting of Etheldreda’s shrine. Starting at about the same time the remaining lancet windows of the aisles and triforia of the presbytery were gradually replaced by broad windows with flowing tracery. At the same period extensive work took place on the monastic buildings, including the construction of the elegant chapel of Prior Crauden.

In the late 15th and early 16th centuries elaborate chantry chapels were inserted in the easternmost bays of the presbytery aisles, on the north for Bishop John Alcock (1486-1500) and on the south for Bishop Nicholas West (1515–33). Alcock was appointed Bishop of Ely in 1486. The resources Ely put at his disposal allowed him found Jesus College, Cambridge and build his own fabulous chantry chapel in an ornate style. The statue niches with their architectural canopies are crammed so chaotically together that some of the statues never got finished as they were so far out of sight. Others, although completed, were overlooked by the destructions of the reformation, and survived when all the others were destroyed. The extent that the chapel is squashed in, despite cutting back parts of the Norman walls, raises the possibility that the design, and perhaps even some of the stonework, was done with a more spacious bay at Worcester in mind. On his death in 1500 he was buried within his chapel.

Nicholas West had studied at Cambridge, Oxford, and Bologna, had been a diplomat in the service of Henry VII and Henry VIII, and became Bishop of Ely in 1515 where he lived in opulence with over 100 servants. He was able to build the magnificent Chantry chapel at the south-east corner of the presbytery, paneled with niches for statues (which were destroyed or disfigured just a few years later during the Reformation), and with fan tracery forming the ceiling, and West’s tomb on the south side.

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In 1771 the chapel was also used to house the bones of seven Saxon ‘benefactors of the church’. These had been translated from the old Saxon Abbey into the Norman building, and had been placed in a wall of the choir when it stood in the Octagon. When the choir stalls were moved, their enclosing wall was demolished, and the bones of Wulfstan (died 1023), Osmund of Sweden, Athelstan of Elmham, Ælfwine of Elmham, Ælfgar of Elmham, Eadnoth of Dorchester and Byrhtnoth, eorldorman of Essex, were found, and relocated into Bishop West’s chapel.

On 18 November 1539 the royal commissioners took possession of the monastery and all its possessions, and for nearly two years its future hung in the balance as Henry VIII and his advisors considered what role, if any, cathedrals might play in the emerging Protestant church. On 10 September 1541 a new charter was granted to Ely, at which point Robert Steward, the last Prior, was re-appointed as the first Dean, who, with eight prebenderies formed the Dean and Chapter, the new governing body of the cathedral. Under Bishop Goodrich’s orders, first the shrines to the Anglo-Saxon saints were destroyed, and as iconoclasm increased, nearly all the stained glass and much of the sculpture in the Cathedral was destroyed or defaced during the 1540s. In the Lady Chapel the free-standing statues were destroyed and all 147 carved figures in the frieze of St Mary were decapitated, as were the numerous sculptures on Bishop West’s chapel. The cathedrals themselves were spared on the basis of three useful functions: propagation of “true worship” of God, educational activity, and care of the poor.

Difficult as the 16th century had been for the cathedral, it was the period of the Commonwealth that came nearest to destroying both the institution and the buildings. Throughout the 1640s, with Oliver Cromwell’s army occupying the Isle of Ely, a puritanical regime of worship was imposed. Bishop Wren was arrested in 1642 and spent the next 18 years in the Tower of London. That no significant destruction of images occurred during the Civil War and the Commonwealth would appear to be because it had been done so thoroughly 100 years before. In 1648 parliament encouraged the demolition of the buildings, so that the materials could be sold to pay for ‘relief of sick and maimed soldiers, widows and children’. That this didn’t happen, and that the building suffered nothing worse than neglect, may have been due to protection by Oliver Cromwell, although the uncertainty of the times, and apathy rather than hostility to the building may have been as big a factor.

When Charles II was invited to return to Britain, alongside the political restoration there began a process of re-establishing the Church of England. Bishop Wren, whose high church views had kept him in prison throughout the period of the Commonwealth, was able to appoint a new Cathedral Chapter. The Dean, by contrast was appointed by the crown. The three big challenges for the new hierarchy were to begin repairs on the neglected buildings, to re-establish Cathedral services, and to recover its lands, rights and incomes. The search for lost deeds and records to establish their rights took over 20 years but most of the rights to the dispersed assets appear to have been regained.

In the 1690s a number of very fine baroque furnishings were introduced, notably a marble font (now in Prickwillow church,) and an organ case mounted on the Romanesque pulpitum (the stone screen dividing the nave from the liturgical choir) with trumpeting angels and other embellishments. In 1699 the north-west corner of the north transept collapsed and had to be rebuilt. The works included the insertion of a fine classical doorway in the north face. Christopher Wren has sometimes been associated with this feature, and he may have been consulted by Robert Grumbold, the mason in charge of the project. Grumbold had worked with Wren on Trinity College Library in Cambridge a few years earlier, and Wren would have been familiar with the Cathedral through his uncle Matthew Wren, bishop from 1638 to 1667. He was certainly among the people with whom the Dean (John Lambe 1693-1708) discussed the proposed works during a visit to London. The damaged transept took from 1699 to 1702 to rebuild, and with the exception of the new doorway, the works faithfully re-instated the Romanesque walls, windows, and detailing. This was a landmark approach in the history of restoration.

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In the 18th century James Bentham and James Essex made a number of significant changes to the cathedral. James Bentham (1709 – 1794), building on the work of his father Rev. Samuel Bentham, studied the history of both the institution and architecture of the cathedral, culminating in 1771 with his publication of The History and Antiquities of the Conventual and Cathedral Church of Ely. He sought out original documents to provide definitive biographical lists of abbots, priors, deans and bishops, alongside a history of the abbey and cathedral, and was able to set out the architectural development of the building with detailed engravings and plans. These plans, elevations and sections had been surveyed by the architect James Essex (1722–1784), who by this means was able to both highlight the poor state of parts of the building, and understand its complex interdependencies. The level of expertise that Bentham and Essex brought to the situation enabled a series of repairs and sensitive improvements to be proposed that occupied much of the later 18th century. Essex identified the decay of the octagon lantern as the starting point of a major series of repairs, and was appointed in 1757 to oversee the work. 400 years of weathering and decay may have removed many of the gothic features, and shortage of funds allied to a Georgian suspicion of ornament resulted in plain and pared down timber and leadwork on the lantern. He was then able to move on to re-roof the entire eastern arm and restore the eastern gable which had been pushed outwards some 2 feet (61 cm). Bentham and Essex were both enthusiastic proponents of a longstanding plan to relocate the 14th century choir stalls from under the octagon. With the octagon and east roof dealt with, the scheme was embarked on in 1769, with Bentham, still only a minor canon, appointed as clerk of works. By moving the choir stalls to the far east end of the cathedral, the octagon became a spacious and dramatic public area for the first time, with grand vistas to east and west and spectacular views of the octagon vaulting. They also removed the Romanesque pulpitum and put in a new choir screen two bays east of the octagon, surmounted by the 1690s organ case. Despite their antiquarian interests, Bentham and Essex appear to have dismantled the choir stalls with alarming lack of care, and saw no problem in clearing away features at the east end, and removing the pulpitum and medieval walls surrounding the choir stalls. The north wall turned out to incorporate the bones of seven ‘Saxon worthies’ which would have featured on the pilgrim route into the pre-Reformation cathedral. The bones were rehoused in Bishop West’s Chapel. The choir stalls, with their misericords were however retained, and the restoration as a whole was relatively sympathetic by the standards of the period.

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The next major period of restoration began in the 1840s and much of the oversight was the responsibility of Dean George Peacock (1839–58). In conjunction with the Cambridge Professor Robert Willis, he undertook thorough investigations into the structure, archaeology and artistic elements of the building, and made a start on what became an extensive series of refurbishments by restoring the south-west transept. This had been used as a workshop, and by stripping out more recent material and restoring the Norman windows and arcading, they set a pattern that would be adopted in much of the Victorian period works. In 1845, by which time the cathedral had works underway in many areas, a visiting architect, George Basevi, who was inspecting the west tower, tripped, and fell 36 feet to his death. He was given a burial in the north choir aisle. Works at this time included cleaning back thick layers of limewash, polishing pillars of Purbeck marble, painting and gilding roof bosses and corbels in the choir, and a major opening up of the West tower. A plaster vault was removed that had been put in only 40 years before, and the clock and bells were moved higher. The addition of iron ties and supports allowed removal of vast amounts of infill that was supposed to strengthen the tower, but had simply added more weight and compounded the problems.

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George Gilbert Scott was, by 1847, emerging as a successful architect and keen exponent of the Gothic Revival. He was brought in, as a professional architect to bolster the enthusiastic amateur partnership of Peacock and Willis, initially in the re-working of the fourteenth-century choir stalls. Having been at the East end for 80 years, Scott oversaw their move back towards the Octagon, but this time remaining within the eastern arm, keeping the open space of the Octagon clear. This was Scott’s first cathedral commission. He went on to work on a new carved wooden screen and brass gates, moved the high altar two bays westwards, and installed a lavishly carved and ornamented alabaster reredos, a new font for the south-west transept, a new Organ case and later a new pulpit, replacing the neo-Norman pulpit designed by John Groves in 1803. In 1876 Scott’s designs for the octagon lantern parapet and pinnacles were implemented, returning it to a form which, to judge from pre-Essex depictions, seems to be genuinely close to the original. Various new furnishings replaced the baroque items installed in the 1690s.

In 1845 Edward Sparke, son of the former Bishop Sparke, and himself a canon, spearheaded a major campaign to re-glaze the Cathedral with colored glass. At that time there was hardly any medieval glass (mostly a few survivals in the Lady Chapel) and not much of post-Reformation date. An eighteenth century attempt to get James Pearson to produce a scheme of painted glass had produced only one window and some smaller fragments. With the rediscovery of staining techniques, and the renewed enthusiasm for stained glass that swept the country as the nineteenth century progressed, almost all areas of the cathedral received new glazing. Under Sparke’s oversight, money was found from donors, groups, bequests, even gifts by the artists themselves, and by Edward Sparke himself. A wide variety of designers and manufacturers were deliberately used, to help find the right firm to fill the great lancets at the east end. In the event, it was William Wailes who undertook this in 1857, having already begun the four windows of the octagon, as well as contributions to the south west transept, south aisle and north transept. Other windows were by the Gérente brothers, William Warrington, Alexander Gibbs, Clayton and Bell, Ward and Nixon, Hardman & Co., and numerous other individuals and firms from England and France.

A timber boarded ceiling was installed in the nave and painted with scenes from the Old and New Testaments, first by Henry Le Strange and then, after Le Strange’s death in 1862, completed by Thomas Gambier Parry, who also repainted the interior of the octagon.

A further major program of structural restoration took place between 1986 and 2000 under Deans William Patterson (1984–90) and Michael Higgins (1991-2003), directed by successive Surveyors to the Fabric, initially Peter Miller and from 1994 Jane Kennedy. In 2000 a Processional Way was built, restoring the direct link between the north choir aisle and the Lady Chapel.

So, yes, I’ve gone a bit overboard in this, admittedly derivative, epitome of the history of the cathedral. Much the same could be done for just about every cathedral in Europe. It amuses be to do so. As an end note I’ll point out that Ely was an island in the Fens until they were drained in the 17th century, and now – an island of sorts – still rises above vast expanses of flat land. Hence the cathedral is sometimes called the “Ship of the Fens.”

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The economy of the region is mainly agricultural. Before the fens were drained, the harvesting of osier (willow) and sedge (rush) and the extraction of peat were important activities, as were eel fishing and wild fowling. Go to the link on Æthelthryth at the beginning for my long-ish discourse on Ely and eels. Here I’ll simply give you a recipe for elvers. Eels begin life as flat and transparent larvae, or leptocephali. Eel larvae drift in the surface waters of the sea, feeding on “marine snow,” small particles that float in the water. Eel larvae then metamorphose into glass eels and then become elvers before finally seeking out their juvenile and adult habitats. They are caught in traps as they migrate upstream or sometimes fished from rivers with large nets. At one time they were cheap food, but now they are an expensive delicacy – fetching £ 3,500 per pound recently in England.

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In Spain, where I have had them, they are called angulas and are available in restaurants in Madrid. True angulas are very expensive, so portions are small. Mock angulas, commonly called gulas may be substituted. Gulas are made from cheap white fish extruded into long thin shapes like pasta. They are available in jars or cans, are a much more affordable option and have a similar flavor profile to elvers.

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You can treat elvers much like pasta, by poaching them and making a simple dressing of, say, olive oil and garlic (my favorite), or something more elaborate if you wish, such as a tomato sauce. They are delicate but can handle a rich sauce.

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The classic English way to cook elvers is to fry them in bacon fat and serve them with scrambled eggs or in an omelet. Be warned, though. You cook elvers live, so if you have trouble with boiling lobsters you may not like the process. When you buy real elvers they are silvery transparent, but turn white when they are done.  Do not overcook them.

Feb 042014
 

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Today is Independence Day in Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, an island country in the northern Indian Ocean off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent in South Asia; known until 1972 as Ceylon. Sri Lanka has maritime borders with India to the northwest and the Maldives to the southwest.

Sri Lanka has a long documented history that spans over 3000 years, and a much longer one in the archeological record. Its geographic location and deep harbors made it of great strategic importance from the time of the ancient Silk Road through to World War II. Sri Lanka is a diverse country, home to many religions, ethnicities, and languages. It is the land of the Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, Moors, Indian Tamils, Burghers, Malays, Kaffirs, and the aboriginal Vedda. Sri Lanka has a rich Buddhist heritage, and the first known Buddhist writings were composed on the island. The country’s recent history has been marred by a thirty-year civil war which decisively, but controversially, ended in a military victory in 2009.

Sri Lanka is a republic and a unitary state governed by a presidential system. The capital, Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte, is a suburb of the largest city, Colombo. Sri Lanka is a major world producer of tea, coffee, gemstones, coconuts, rubber, and native cinnamon. Sri Lanka is sometimes known as “the Pearl of the Indian Ocean” because of its natural beauty. Sri Lanka has also been called the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” because of its shape and location. The island contains tropical forests and diverse landscapes with high biodiversity.

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In antiquity, Sri Lanka was known to travelers by a variety of names. Known in India as Lanka or Sinhala, ancient Greek geographers called it Taprobane, and Arabs referred to it as Serendib (the origin of the word “serendipity”). Ceilão, the name given to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese when they arrived in 1505, was transliterated into English as Ceylon. As a British crown colony, the island was known as Ceylon; it achieved independence as the Dominion of Ceylon in 1948.

In Sinhala the country is known as  ?r? la?k?, and the island itself as la?k?va. In Tamil they are both ila?kai. In 1972 the name was changed to Free, Sovereign and Independent Republic of Sri Lanka. In 1978 it was changed to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. While the name Ceylon still appears in the names of a number of organizations, in 2011 the Sri Lankan government announced a plan to rename all those over which it has authority.

The pre-history of Sri Lanka goes back 125,000 years and possibly even as far back as 500,000 years.The era spans the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and early Iron Ages. Among the Paleolithic human settlements discovered in Sri Lanka, Pahiyangala (named after the Chinese traveler ­monk Faxian), which dates back to 37,000 BP, Batadombalena (28,500 BP) and Belilena (12,000 BP) are the most important. In these caves, paleontologists have found the remains of anatomically modern humans which they have named Balangoda Man, and other evidence suggesting that they may have engaged in agriculture and kept domestic dogs for driving game.

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One of the first written references to the island is found in the Indian epic Ramayana, which mentions a kingdom named Lanka that was created by the divine sculptor Vishwakarma for Kubera, the Lord of Wealth. Kubera was overthrown by his demon stepbrother Ravana, the powerful emperor who built a mythical flying machine named Dandu Monara. The modern city of Wariyapola is described as Ravana’s airport.

Early inhabitants of Sri Lanka were probably the ancestors of the Vedda people, an indigenous people numbering approximately 2,500 living in modern-day Sri Lanka. Irish historian James Emerson Tennent theorized that Galle, a southern city in Sri Lanka, was the ancient seaport of Tarshish from which King Solomon is said to have drawn ivory, peacocks, and other valuables.

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According to the Mah?vamsa, a chronicle written in the P?li language, the ancient period of Sri Lanka begins in 543 BCE with the landing of Vijaya, a semi-legendary prince who sailed with 700 followers on eight ships 860 nautical miles to Sri Lanka from the southwest coast of what is now the Rarh region of West Bengal. He established the Kingdom of Tambapanni, near modern day Mannar. Vijaya is the first of the approximately 189 native monarchs of Sri Lanka described in chronicles such as the Dipavamsa, Mah?vamsa, Chulavamsa, and R?j?valiya. Sri Lankan dynastic history spanned a period of 2,359 years from 543 BCE to 1815, when the land became part of the British Empire.

The seat of the kingdom of Sri Lanka moved to Anuradhapura in 380 BCE, during the reign of Pandukabhaya. Thereafter, Anuradhapura served as the capital of the country for nearly 1,400 years. Ancient Sri Lankans excelled at building certain types of structures such as tanks, dagobas (burial mounds), and palaces. The society underwent a major transformation during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa, with the arrival of Buddhism from India. In 250 BC, Bhikkhu Mahinda, the son of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka arrived in Mihintale, carrying the message of Buddhism. His mission won over the monarch, who embraced the faith and spread it throughout the Sinhalese population. Succeeding kingdoms of Sri Lanka maintained a large number of Buddhist schools and monasteries and supported the spread of Buddhism into other countries in Southeast Asia. Sri Lankan bhikkhus (ordained monks) studied in India’s famous ancient Buddhist University of Nalanda which was destroyed by Mohammed Kilji. It is probable that many of the scriptures from Nalanda are preserved in Sri Lanka’s many monasteries. In 245 BCE, bhikkhuni Sangamitta arrived with the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree, which is considered to be a sapling from the historical Bodhi tree under which Gautama Buddha became enlightened. It is reckoned to be the oldest human-planted tree (with a continuous historical record) in the world.

Sri Lanka first experienced a foreign invasion during the reign of Suratissa, who was defeated by two horse traders named Sena and Guttika from South India. The next invasion came immediately in 205 BCE by a Chola king named Elara, who overthrew Asela and ruled the country for 44 years. Dutugemunu, the eldest son of the southern regional sub-king, Kavan Tissa, defeated Elara in the Battle of Vijithapura. He built Ruwanwelisaya, the second dogaba in ancient Sri Lanka, and the Lovamahapaya. During its two and a half millennia of existence, the Kingdom of Sri Lanka was invaded at least eight times by neighboring South Asian dynasties such as the Chola, Pandya, Chera, and Pallava. These invaders were all subsequently driven back. There also were incursions by the kingdoms of Kalinga (modern Odisha) and from the Malay Peninsula. Kala Wewa and the Avukana Buddha statue were built during the reign of Dhatusena.

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Sri Lanka was the first Asian country to have a female ruler, Queen Anula, who reigned during 47–42 BCE. Sri Lankan monarchs completed some remarkable constructions like Sigiriya, the so-called “Fortress in the Sky,” built during the reign of Kashyapa I. Sigiriya is a rock fortress surrounded by an extensive network of ramparts, moats, gardens, reservoirs, and other structures. It is one of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning in the world. The fifth-century palace is also renowned for its frescoes on rock surfaces. It has been declared by UNESCO as one of the seven World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka.

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Among other structures, large reservoirs, important for conserving water in a climate with rainy and dry seasons, and elaborate aqueducts, some with a slope as finely calibrated as one inch to the mile, are most notable. Biso Kotuwa, a peculiar construction inside a dam, is a technological marvel based on precise mathematics that allows water to flow outside the dam, keeping pressure on the dam to a minimum.

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Ancient Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to establish a dedicated hospital, in Mihintale in the 4th century. It was also the leading exporter of cinnamon in the ancient world. It maintained close ties with European civilizations including the Roman Empire. For example, King Bhatikabhaya (22 BC—AD 7) sent an envoy to Rome who brought back red coral which was used to make an elaborate netlike adornment for the Ruwanwelisaya. In addition, Sri Lankan male dancers witnessed the assassination of Caligula. When Queen Cleopatra sent her son Caesarion into hiding, he was headed to Sri Lanka. Bhikkhuni Devas?ra and ten other fully ordained bhikkhunis from Sri Lanka went to China and established the bhikkhuni s?sana there in AD 429.

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The early modern period of Sri Lanka begins with the arrival of Portuguese soldier and explorer Lourenço de Almeida, the son of Francisco de Almeida, in 1505. In 1517, the Portuguese built a fort at the port city of Colombo and gradually extended their control over the coastal areas. In 1592, after decades of intermittent warfare with the Portuguese, Vimaladharmasuriya I moved his kingdom to the inland city of Kandy, a location he thought more secure from attack. In 1619, succumbing to attacks by the Portuguese, the independent existence of Jaffna kingdom came to an end.

During the reign of the Rajasinghe II, Dutch explorers arrived on the island. In 1638, the king signed a treaty with the Dutch East India Company to get rid of the Portuguese who ruled most of the coastal areas. The following Dutch–Portuguese War resulted in a Dutch victory, with Colombo falling into Dutch hands by 1656. The Dutch remained in the areas they had captured, thereby violating the treaty they had signed in 1638. An ethnic group named Burgher people emerged in Sri Lankan society as a result of Dutch rule.

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The Kingdom of Kandy was the last independent monarchy of Sri Lanka. In 1595, Vimaladharmasurya brought the sacred Tooth Relic – the traditional symbol of royal and religious authority amongst the Sinhalese – to Kandy, and built the Temple of the Tooth. In spite of on-going intermittent warfare with Europeans, the kingdom survived. Later, a crisis of succession emerged in Kandy upon king Vira Narendrasinha’s death in 1739. He was married to a Telugu-speaking Nayakkar princess from South India and was childless by her. Eventually, with the support of bhikku Weliwita Sarankara, the crown passed to the brother of one of Narendrasinha’s princesses, overlooking the right of “Unambuwe Bandara”, Narendrasinha’s own son by a Sinhalese concubine. The new king was crowned Sri Vijaya Rajasinha later that year. Kings of the Nayakkar dynasty launched several attacks on Dutch controlled areas, which proved to be unsuccessful.

During the Napoleonic Wars, fearing that French control of the Netherlands might deliver Sri Lanka to the French, Great Britain occupied the coastal areas of the island (which they called Ceylon) with little difficulty in 1796. Two years later, in 1798, Rajadhi Rajasinha, third of the four Nayakkar kings of Sri Lanka, died of a fever. Following his death, a nephew of Rajadhi Rajasinha, eighteen-year-old Kannasamy, was crowned.The young king, now named Sri Vikrama Rajasinha, faced a British invasion in 1803 but successfully retaliated. By then, the entire coastal area was under the British East India Company as a result of the Treaty of Amiens. But on 14 February 1815, Kandy was occupied by the British in the second Kandyan War, finally ending Sri Lanka’s independence. Sri Vikrama Rajasinha, the last native monarch of Sri Lanka, was exiled to India. The Kandyan Convention formally ceded the entire country to the British Empire. Attempts by Sri Lankan noblemen to undermine British power in 1818 during the Uva Rebellion were thwarted by Governor Robert Brownrigg.

The beginning of the modern period of Sri Lanka is marked by the Colebrooke-Cameron reforms of 1833. They introduced a utilitarian and liberal political culture to the country based on the rule of law and amalgamated the Kandyan and maritime provinces as a single unit of government. An Executive Council and a Legislative Council were established, later becoming the foundation of a representative legislature. By this time, experiments with coffee plantation were largely successful. Soon coffee became the primary commodity export of the country. Falling coffee prices as a result of the depression of 1847 stalled economic development and prompted the governor to introduce a series of taxes on firearms, dogs, shops, boats, etc., and to reintroduce a form of rajakariya, requiring six days free labor on roads or payment of a cash equivalent. These harsh measures antagonized the locals, and another rebellion broke out in 1848. A devastating leaf disease, Hemileia vastatrix, struck the coffee plantations in 1869, destroying the entire industry within fifteen years. The British quickly found a replacement: abandoning coffee, they began cultivating tea instead. Tea production in Sri Lanka thrived in the following decades. Large-scale rubber plantations began in the early 20th century.

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By the end of the 19th century, a new educated social class transcending race and caste arose through British attempts to staff the Ceylon Civil Service and the legal, educational, and medical professions. New leaders represented the various ethnic groups of the population in the Ceylon Legislative Council on a communal basis. Buddhist and Hindu revivalism reacted against Christian missionary activities. The first two decades of the 20th century are noted by the unique harmony among Sinhalese and Tamil political leadership, which has since been lost. In 1919, major Sinhalese and Tamil political organizations united to form the Ceylon National Congress, under the leadership of Ponnambalam Arunachalam, pressing colonial masters for more constitutional reforms. But without massive popular support, and with the governor’s encouragement for “communal representation” by creating a “Colombo seat” that dangled between Sinhalese and Tamils, the Congress lost momentum towards the mid-1920s. The Donoughmore reforms of 1931 repudiated the communal representation and introduced universal adult franchise (the franchise stood at 4% before the reforms). This step was strongly criticized by the Tamil political leadership, who realized that they would be reduced to a minority in the newly created State Council of Ceylon, which succeeded the legislative council. In 1937, Tamil leader G. G. Ponnambalam demanded a 50–50 representation (50% for the Sinhalese and 50% for other ethnic groups) in the State Council. However, this demand was not met by the Soulbury reforms of 1944-45. The Soulbury constitution ushered in Dominion status, with independence proclaimed on 4 February 1948.

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Sri Lanka has long been renowned for its spices. Since ancient times, traders from all over the world who came to Sri Lanka brought their native cuisines to the island, resulting in a rich diversity of cooking styles and techniques. The island nation’s cuisine mainly consists of boiled or steamed rice served with curry. This usually consists of a “main curry” of fish, chicken, pork, mutton or goat, as well as several other dishes made with vegetables, lentils and even fruit. Side-dishes include pickles, chutneys and “sambols”. The most famous of these is the coconut sambol, made of ground coconut mixed with chile peppers, dried Maldive, fish and lime juice. This is ground to a paste and eaten with rice.

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Coconut milk is used in most Sri Lankan dishes to give the cuisine its unique flavor. Sri Lankans use spices liberally in their dishes and typically do not follow an exact recipe: thus, every cook’s curry will taste slightly different. Furthermore, people from different regions of the island (for instance, hill-country dwellers versus coastal dwellers) traditionally cook in different ways while people of different ethnic and religious groups tend to prepare dishes according to their customs. Although Sri Lankan food appears similar to South Indian cuisine in its use of chile, cardamom, cumin, coriander and other spices, it has a distinctive taste, and uses ingredients like dried Maldive fish which are local to the area.

Sri Lankan food is generally equivalent in terms of spiciness to South Indian cuisine, yet many spicy Sri Lankan preparations are believed to be among the world’s hottest in terms of chile content. There is a liberal use of different varieties of scorching hot chiles such as amu miris, kochchi miris, and maalu miris.

There are mountains of Sri Lankan recipes that are wonderful.  I’ve picked a version of the side dish, dahl, lentils with spices to give you. A meal without dahl is unthinkable. In south Asian restaurants in the West the dahls tend to be rather dull – watery concoctions of bland, cooked lentils. Throughout south Asia they are rich and complex.  They are almost always cooked in two parts – the lentils themselves and then an added component, called “temper” in Sri Lanka, which is cooked separately and added to the lentils towards the end.  Red lentils are much easier to cook than brown ones and are very commonly used.  They reduce to a light brown mush in 25 minutes or less. Maldive dried fish may be hard to come by, but you can substitute most Asian dried fish. Use Sri Lankan cinnamon if you can find it.  It is more aromatic then the cinnamon you find in supermarkets.  It’s easy to find online.

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Sri Lankan Dahl

250 g (1¼ cups) red lentils, rinsed, drained
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp Maldive fish pieces
1 tsp Sri Lankan curry powder
6 fresh curry leaves
1 long green chile, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
500 ml (2 cups) coconut milk
60 ml (¼ cup) coconut cream

Temper

80 ml olive oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, sliced
5 fresh curry leaves
1 tsp dried chile flakes

Instructions

Place all the main ingredients except the coconut cream in a saucepan with 250 ml water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, for 25 minutes or until lentils are tender and broken down; add more water if necessary. Season with salt.

Meanwhile, to cook the temper for the dhal, heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat, then add the temper ingredients and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes or until onions are soft and browned. Remove from the heat and set aside until the lentils are ready.

Stir the temper into the lentils, then add the coconut cream, stirring to combine. Serve with rice,  sambols, and curry.  Sri Lankans typically mix the rice, dahl, and curry all together.