Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Whatever is Alice doing here in Ripon Cathedral?

I had a trip to Ripon yesterday, which I haven't been to since I was teeny, and I don't think we ever visited the cathedral. Baby Alice probably had really dreadful taste and wasn't interested in a Saxon crypt. Loser.

Ripon cathedral is free to get in, but you need to buy a photo permit to take photos, which is a concept I love. Entry fees make me sort of grumpy for places like this, but it's not that I don't want to give them money to help maintain them, either! This just felt like helping each other out? Once I'd paid for the permit and got my little sticker, I felt obliged to take as many photos as possible, which is always a good thing.

While I was walking down this stupidly narrow (and incredibly awesome) passageway to the crypt, the fire alarm went off. I had to do a mad terrified dash along here only to surface and find it was a false alarm. My little heart was going, oh my gosh. But for 3 whole seconds there, I was Lara Croft and it was awesome.

You can see the main body of the crypt below, which isn't a great photo and doesn't really do it justice. This thing is incredibly old, it's been there since 672 AD (the rest of the cathedral is mostly 12th century.) It's the only part of the original church built by Wilfrid to be still standing, and was probably made with stone from Roman ruins nearby. The photo makes it look like a badly lit, grubby room, but it's amazing. Tiny and magical and so incredibly old. To the upper left is a small hole in the wall, which I photographed from the other side as well, which you can see below:

This is the crawl space from the other side, complete with my feet for reference. I overheard someone saying that this was used to keep the monks in shape - they had to crawl through the hole periodically to prove they could fit! It's a great story (Peter Pan, anyone?!) but I am super dubious. I'm not an Anglo Saxon monk expert, but from what I know that just sounds kinda silly. I can't find anything to back that up, either. Also, it's really quite small! Even accounting for humans being bigger and more robust than they were in the 7th century, it seems really, really tiny. (Alas, there was glass covering it. Presumably from stopping people attempting exactly that and getting stuck.)

I had a brief moment of confusion when I saw this leaflet, as I actually had no idea there were so many Lewis Carroll connections in Ripon. For one stupid moment I thought my presence in Ripon cathedral was being questioned!? Apparently, a lot of the misericords had carvings that inspired Carroll when he was a choirboy, so I went on an Alice-hunt.

Misericords are really awesome, because they're a little out of sight and things get weird. It's awesome.

Here is (apparently) the inspiration for the gryphon from Alice in Wonderland, and below is another gryphon eating a human leg. (See what I mean about weird?) Below that is a truly terrifying monkey-beaver-thing.

These two bizarre things above are... horrifying, I think is the word I'm looking for. The former is a blemya, and the latter is a sort of reversed blemya, which apparently inspired this drawing of Alice after she's eaten the mushroom and shrunk:

Then I had a wander round the town, made a butterfly friend, and did some work on my dissertation outside the cathedral on the grass, which felt very awesome and appropriate. (My dissertation involves a lot of Anglo-Saxon monks and Old English.)

It was completely unintentional, but I realised I was spending the day of the WWI centenary in the place where Wilfred Owen spent his last birthday. Apparently, this is where he composed and revised nearly all of his poems, which is very exciting! When I read all his letters, I found it stupidly adorable how much of a fanboy he was for Keats, visiting all the places he lived and getting super excited about it. And now I do the same thing with him, and I just think that's kind of awesome, that he got to be someone else's Keats. Not to get too cheesy about it, or anything. I just think it's a really nice thing about something that's otherwise a bit awful and tragic.


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