What a life affirming visit to make before the dark days of isolation descended among us. For here at last was a church at the vibrant hub of a city on market day with bustle, street vendor’s cries and all the joy of being alive. In this day and age the nearest I have felt to a medieval past. For this was a church built for the masons and craftsmen working on the new Cathedral after it was moved from Old Sarum, a few miles away. Therefore it predates its more illustrious and glorious neighbour on the posh side of town.
If the surrounding town was bustling with activity this was as nothing compared to the activity inside the church where many were gathered for morning coffee and music. It was not long before we were chatting away to our neighbours at the table. It is sad to think that now with churches closed and close proximity frowned upon it may be sometime before that joy of good companionship is restored.
The initial impetus for this visit came from newspaper publicity that the largest “Doom ‘’ painting in the country had been painstakingly restored after three years of work but more of that later. BQ
Built in the 13th century with a freestanding tower which was later incorporated into the church when it was rebuilt in the 15th century. The size and clear glass in the perpendicular windows reflect the wonderful light in the building . A real tonic after the gloomiest winter I can recall , or is it just my age!
The Nave;- MW’s next three photographs clearly shows the extraordinary light and grace of the perpendicular style with exquisite thin piers rising to foliated capitals with the recently installed light oak benches adding to the airiness.
Yet again the amazing delicacy of the craftsmanship dominates, but just visible above is a magnificent roof with crested and painted beams and a profusion of carved angels including the recently discovered tricepholous which, on orders of the Pope Urban was covered up and banned. Thankfully now restored in all its strange symbolism. The new altar fits in well with the decor but MW disagreed.
Now for the star of the show the recently restored and complete ‘’Doom” painting which sits above the arch dividing the nave from the chancel. What a timely and witty reminder of our present situation. Despite the theme there are wonderfully amusing details which resonate with our present times. On the descent into the mouth of hell are a bishop, two crowned heads and a barmaid presumably for serving short measure (the most heinous sin of all). Painted at around 1470 then covered in 1593 and finally restored in 1881 I first saw it over forty years ago and the present restoration is a delight. I am entranced by the Prince of Darkness resting his foot casually on the chancel arch.
It seems pointless to go into a lengthy description of the action as these paintings were originally intended to guide those who could neither read or write and most of the action is fairly obvious. It is interesting that on the downward ramp there are no merchants presumably they were paying the artists for their work, there’s nothing new in society! In the north aisle is the coat of arms of Elizabeth I, which would have hung above the chancel arch when the painting was whitewashed over. The word had triumphed over the picture.
The Lady Chapel in the north aisle includes the most sensitive and earliest pictures of the Annunciation. If one looks high on the left side there is the last of a group of three wall paintings showing the adoration. The remaining two, shown below, are the Annunciation and then the visitation to Elizabeth mother of John the Baptist. The atmosphere of all the doom and hellfire within the church is suddenly quelled by this most intimate and humane image as they place their hands on each other’s bump.
The Chancel and high altar with the choir stalls in front
‘They shall have music wherever they go’ a delightful duo who serenaded us with Mozart and songs from the shows. It made a pleasant and cheerful change from the usual silence. The principal difference between this church and most of the others we have visited was the happy mixture of good fellowship with the divine. This was in part due to the cunning provision of a coffee bar behind the organ named the people’s vestry. On our visit this was as well populated as any of the commercial coffee shops in the surrounding town.
Alchemist’s Door; MW with a passion for irony decided to shoot me before this door through which an alchemist escaped from a demolished tower driven out by noxious fumes
It was fitting that our last visit for sometime should be to Salisbury almost two years to the day that it suffered partial lockdown for eight months following the poisoning by nerve gas of Russian defectors. The fine photograph of the river shows, in the distance, the gardens where they were discovered behaving oddly.
After such a history it was obvious that we would choose Zizzi restaurant, the site of the Skripal’ s meal that day, for our lunch. As the above pictures show the passage of time has led to a thorough clean and re-paint. My meal I am glad to report was magnificent really four star and whilst tucking in I was disconcerted to watch MW picking at his garlic kale and broccoli , obviously in remembrance of things past.
As a result of my preoccupation with dealing with the effects of the developing pandemic, I have to thank BQ for shouldering the lion’s share of the research and writing in what is likely to be our 43rd and final Dine and Divine submission, at least for the remainder of this year – and who knows what the future will bring. I shall certainly miss our regular excursions which we began in early 2017. It was an unlikely joint venture; BQ, a devout and active member of the Catholic Church and I, a lapsed member of the Anglican Church, although I did serve my apprenticeship during several years of my childhood by singing weekly at both Matins and Evensong. However, I have certainly not lost my great affection for the institution of the church and I am an ardent supporter of those organisations dedicated to the preservation and maintenance of the many wonderful historic churches now classed as redundant.
In retrospect it seems ironic that our visit to Salisbury was prompted by a newspaper article about a recently revealed 14th century ‘Doom Picture’ in St. Thomas’s Church that had been restored over many months and was now revealed in all its magnificent and colourful glory. Ironic, because there was a general sense of doom beginning to build in the country with the first predictions of the likely effects from the rapidly approaching pandemic. And now, less than four weeks later those predictions have come to pass with a vengeance together with restrictions on our personal freedoms that previously would have been considered unthinkable. Both BQ and I are of an age that puts us firmly into the highly vulnerable category so incarceration will have to be total and, if we are to believe the latest prognosis, it will last at least six months – about the same period of time that repeat offenders get as their first taste of prison.
This sudden lack of freedom and the associated general anxiety that now pervades all aspects of our lives comes as a great shock to the system, but in a strange way it is not dissimilar from my generations’ earliest memories. BQ has done such an excellent job with the above review that there is little I can add and so, with our readers’ indulgence, I can deviate from our normal format and reminisce about those distant times.
My earliest recollections are of running to our Morrison shelter at the sound of the air raid siren. This type of shelter was essentially a heavy duty steel cage which was in our dining room and was designed to protect a family even though the house had collapsed on top of it. This was life in ‘Bomb Alley’, so called because our home was in North Kent which was on the direct route for enemy bombers on their way to London. When a plane was damaged by anti-aircraft fire or if a novice pilot chickened out, the bombs were jettisoned and frequently they fell on our village. Eventually a ‘daisy cutter’ landed in our back garden. These were smaller bombs that exploded sideways just above ground level designed to target the emergency services who would be dealing with casualties from an earlier raid using high explosives. Our house remained upright although extensively damaged and so I was packed off with my mother to Gloucestershire to stay with relatives while Dad remained to battle with the War Damage Commission who eventually arranged for sufficient repairs to be carried so that we could return home. It couldn’t come soon enough for me as I hadn’t enjoyed the boredom of country living. By the time we got back the bombs had been replaced by doodle-bugs, the pilotless flying bombs that usually flew unhindered overhead on their way to London. Life was austere with few toys, but on the way home from school we would make a detour to one of the numerous bomb-sites in the village searching for shrapnel – steel bomb fragments which we collected and swapped. Most prized were the larger pieces and particularly those stamped with the German manufacturer’s code numbers.
By now Dad, who worked for the London County Council, was responsible for delivering the weekly pay packets to firemen in the east end of London. As a treat he would sometimes take me along, hanging on to him as he drove his pinky-pank (a small noisy motor bike) along streets bordered by mountains of rubble. Air raid warnings were becoming less frequent, but when they sounded we would race along looking for a communal street shelter. No matter how full, the cheery east-enders would invariably push together to welcome in the new arrivals. Now, it is all just a distant memory but there is one treasured item that reminds me of that period, my mother’s art nouveau bureau, still perfect except for a pair of identically shaped holes in the sides that trace the path of a daisy-cutter fragment.
And so, thinking back to those days, as I potter about the garden enjoying the spring sunshine it is easy to concentrate on the positives rather than the negatives of the present situation. Firstly there is the absence of traffic and other extraneous noise to the point where the air seems to be full of birdsong. For the first time in many a year, I even heard the distinctive cry of a yaffle (green woodpecker) yesterday. And the sky, usually by mid-morning it is criss-crossed with aircraft vapour trails, but now it is a flawless blue from horizon to horizon. Wonderful!
Finally I would like to thank our many followers who have been reading our blog during the past three years. They come from over 30 different countries and in increasing numbers – we had over 320 visits to the site in one day in early March. Your interest makes the whole endeavour worthwhile. Hopefully rather than goodbye, it is au revoir. If you want an alert when the blog recommences, just tap ‘follow’ on the site. MW
- Bruschetta BQ
- Toscana Soup MW
- Pork Belly Calabrese – oven-roasted pork belly in a roast pepper, tomato & spicy ‘Nduja sausage sauce with potatoes, mascapone & crispy sage BQ
- Lemon Butter Seabass – Two pan-seared seabass fillets, with garlic kale & broccoli, fried herby potatoes, lemon butter and white wine sauce
- Andeluna 1300 Malbec from Argentina BQ
- Organic craft Primitvo red from Puglia