January 9, 2007

January 9: Verulamium and Saint Albans

Kings Langley, Roz’s living room: Tuesday 9:30 pm GMT (I had a glitch when trying to add this to the album description. Whenever the service folks get it fixed I'll probably move it there. The major bummer here is that everyone I send this to by email will miss out on the description unless they think to click through.) :-(

Today we met up with the Romans, the Normans, some Plantagenists, some Puritans, the Victorians, and by the end of the day we found ourselves in Southern India... so to speak.

Jennifer, Rosalind’s mother, came and picked us up at 10 am and took us first for a bit of a ride around the countryside. Then we went to the Verulamium museum. When the Romans came over to push the Saxons about a bit, they set up a few towns. One was London, built at the last point that a sizable ship could make it up the river Thames. The second was Verulamium, where there was good soil and the Romans could grow food for the empire. And I have no clue what the third was, but I’ve heard there’s one out there somewhere.

The museum tells about the lives of the people at the time and has several artifacts on display. There’s lots of pottery, but there was also some glass bottles and pitchers that looked like something you might find today (except for the extra wide and thick handles). There was a skeleton in a tin box that was very ornately decorated. And there were several mosaics that had adorned the floors of the wealthy Romans.

After the museum we walked over to a waffle shop and had soup and waffles. Rob had vegetable soup and a wholemeal waffle and I had sweet potato and coconut soup with a wholemeal waffle. For dessert we had regular waffles with apples. The restaurant was in an old mill with the river Vere running beneath it.

Then Jennifer remembered that she’d forgotten to pay for her parking spot at the museum. So we rushed back there to see if tragedy could be averted, to no avail. The ticket was already tucked under the wiper. :-(

So then we wandered up to the Saint Albans Abbey (which is now a Cathedral). The church is reputedly built on the site of the martyrdom of Alban, a Roman citizen who apparently harbored a Christian, was converted, helped the Christian off to safety and then was hauled off and killed by the Romans at Verulamium. The man he saved managed to escape from Veulamium but was caught soon after by some Romans elsewhere and summarily had the end of his life handed to him as well.

Miracles began to happen on the hill and soon pilgrims were coming there to venerate Alban. A church was built there by the Saxons and a few columns from that building were then used by the Normans in building the abbey that we saw today. The Normans didn’t have any stone to use, to they procured bricks from the old town of Verlulamium and covered them with plaster to make them look more like stone. They decorated these with paint. Later, fairly cheap stone (a rather chalky stone that couldn’t have been used outdoors) was brought in and used for a very beautiful expansion of the church with intricately detailed arches and decorations. And then, after a time of ridiculous disrepair fell upon the building and the congregants had to all meet up in one little bitty corner to avoid rainfall, and after part of a wall fell in and another part bowed out, the building was again repaired and remade in yet another style.

I don’t have any good pictures of the inside of the sanctuary of the church because the distances from floor to ceiling are so high that much of the building ends up in shadow. But you can get a very good sense of the hodge-podge of it all from the pictures of the outside of the building.

During the dissolution (when the Catholic church was banned in England and the Puritans gained sway) most of the images/statues were destroyed. These were mostly replaced by the Victorians later.

The building was a marvelous jumble of history, sociology, religion, politics and fancy. It seems like the kind of place you could visit over and over and over again and each time see something new and interesting.

Then we meandered up to the town of Saint Albans which had the cutest little alleys and shops I’ve seen yet (and all the high streets seem to have cute shops, so this is saying something). We stopped in a book store and Rob found a book on Tolkien that includes his letters to Ghandhi. (Well, I found it but Rob bought it.) Then we wandered over to a cafe and Rob got an Americano and Jennifer and I had hot cocoa and we each got a silly little biscuit.

Oh, I should add that on our way over to the town of Saint Albans we saw lots of ducks and geese, but we also saw coots, moor hens, and some geese who’s name I never did learn. We wandered back past the birds and the river Vere in the dark to get back to the car. It gets dark rather early over here since we’re north of the 45 parallel.

Then we headed over to Jennifer’s for tea (well, Rob had some Christmas cake, too) while we waited for Alan to get back from work. Then we headed off for some south Indian food that was quite good.

And our special treat for the day, though Rob closed his eyes for it as much as possible, was to drive through the magic round-a-bout almost every time we went from one of these places to another. (The magic round-a-bout, of which there are apparently only three in the UK) is basically one large round-a-bout made with several smaller round-a-bouts at each intersection. It makes quite a lot of sense once you’ve managed to begin to understand the insanity that is the British psyche. (The same psyche, I should add, that detests a proper labeling of streets in London, that allows parking within driving lanes, and that juts a bit of sidewalk into the street forcing a car driver to veer over into the lane of oncoming traffic to get around it, in the name of safety.)