Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Heading north

Gaye and I packed up our stuff Monday morning and loaded it all into her car and headed north on the wrong side of the road with her in the driver's seat on the wrong side of the car.  I am never quite comfortable being driven around this country because normally in the seat I'm sitting, I have control.  Also? The road signs may be in a language I recognize but they make no sense at all to me.  For instance, I am used to signs that say, Yield, whereas here they say, Let by.  Okay, makes sense when you think about it but still, what's wrong with yield?  Also? Stoplights go from red to yellow to green. I would not last five minutes behind the wheel over here.

On the way, we decided to stop in Winchester to visit the Winchester Cathedral. Through my mind rolled the Crosby, Stills and Nash song, Cathedral... I'm flying in Winchester cathedral, Sunlight pouring through the break of day.


It all began for the Cathedral in 635. I hate to sweep over so much history in so few words but a lot has happened since then. (Look at me with my broom!)



There are many, many people buried in the Cathedral. As you walk through the nave you are literally walking over the gravestones and graves of Bishops and Patron Saints and others connected to the church in ways I do not know. The stones are etched with brief obituaries. One that moved me to tears was inscriped with these words:  Here lies the perishable remains of Anne Poulter, who after five years of intense suffering, during which she retained undiminished the fortitude, benevolance, the ardent affections so pre-eminently remarkable in her character, died on the second day of December 1821 to the unbearable grief of the person who placed this stone.


The most recognizable name, or only recognizable name actually, was Jane Austen who was buried beneath the floor of the Cathedral in 1817. How humbling to stand before her stone. The inscription on her gravestone records her personal virtues and stoicism, but oddly no mention is made of her writing. In 1870, her nephew Edward wrote a memorial to his aunt, and used the proceeds to erect a brass plaque on the wall next to her grave. The inscription begins: Jane Austen, known to many by her writings…


Her grave is just before the plaque.


After we left the Cathedral we visited the Winchester Castle's Great Hall which is apparently the finest of the 13th century halls of medieval England. In that hall hangs the mysterious round table of the Once and Future King, Arthur.  If ever a story entered my heart and moved in to stay, it is that of Camelot.


The table top is enormous, 18 feet in diameter and weighing 2,600 pounds.  I learned that the first written accounts of the Arthurian story appeared in 1130 in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, which maintains that Merlin had the 15-year-old Arthur crowned at nearby Silchester.

The first mention of the Round Table is Robert Wace's Roman de Brut (1155), which says that Arthur seated his knights at a round table so that all should be equal. In Thomas Malory's Morte D'Arthur, the table is a wedding gift to Arthur from Guinevere's father, Leodegrance.

So much history, so much legend and myth.  I thought I could smell Jane Austen's perfume, hear King Arthur's voice, feel the steps of those walking before me.  It was a pretty awesome and worthwhile stop over.

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