Saturday, April 14, 2007

Three pauses for thought in Winchester

1. The boy with the book. We walked down Jewry Street towards the cathedral and were almost forced off the pavement by a young lad smoking a cigarette with one hand ... and reading a book he was holding in the other. I mean, a proper book. A paperback. A novel of some kind. Everything about this boy - fag, clothes, general atmosphere all speaking to my polite middle class prejudice - said "inconsiderate lout" except for the book, which excuses almost anything. Cognitive dissonance still rattling around inside my head.

2. "Sound II", by Anthony Gormley. Like all cathedrals, Winchester cathedral is worth a visit. Originally built in a Romanesque style (arches upon arches upon arches, layer upon layer, hidden detail and nooks and crannies wherever you look) but then the nave was redone in Gothic perpendicular (fragile curtains of stone suspended from the sky). The transept is still in the old style so you gets yer choice. But the crypt has never been good for anything due to its habit of flooding at a whim. That is, until Anthony Gormley donated a statue modelled upon himself. The layer of water is perfectly still, perfectly reflective; and there, in the distance, alone in these bare stone vaults, is a man looking down at his hands cupped thoughtfully in front of him. Something weighs on his mind. Or maybe he has just come to some astonishing realisation. Something other than "I appear to be standing up to my ankles in water in a cathedral crypt". It speaks to you, somehow, and I've no idea how or why.

3. The poem. Winchester was a Roman colony fallen into ruins by the time the Anglo-Saxons turned up. A poem called "The Ruin" is written on the wall in the City Museum. Some Googling tells me it was written about the Roman remains at Bath; but it could so easily be about Winchester or sixth century zeitgeist generally. Picture this blond, moustached German staring at the remains of a mighty wall and wondering how it could have come to this state. Yep, must be magic ...
"Well-wrought this wall: Wierds broke it.
The stronghold burst...
Snapped rooftrees, towers fallen,
the work of the Giants, the stonesmiths,
Rime scoureth gatetowers
rime on mortar.
Shattered the showershield, roofs ruined,
age under-ate them."


  1. I think it is Winchester that is reputed to have the bones of princes stashed away in boxes sat atop some of the arches ?

    And that poem is exquisite.

    Pop over to Dorset sometime.

  2. That's the one. There's three boxes in total said to contain the remains of sundry saints and Saxon rulers. They were torn down and their contents were thrown about by Cromwell et al, then repacked as best they could come the Restoration. So, the bones are now more distributed across the three boxes than is usual in a skeleton.


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