June 15 – Last Day of 59

Two Guided Tours around St Albans Cathedral and Abbey Church

Hello from 1066 – A medieval Mosaic

Today is the Thanksgiving service for Stephen Hawking at Westminster Abbey where his ashes will be interred with 18 other famous scientists. Now I know why we haven’t visited Westminster yet.

Today on our walk to the Cathedral I had a thought that I cannot believe I have reached my grandmother’s age tomorrow. When you are in your 20s, 30s, 40’s it never occurs to you that you will one day be 60!

Things were pretty quiet at the exhibition so I decided to do the church tour. We did a tour last time we were here last year but you always get slightly different information each time you take a tour. Geoffrey led the tour and we started in the Lady Chapel as there was a Catholic service about to begin. The church is an Ecumenical church so services are held in the church for Anglican, Catholic, United Reform and Greek Orthodox at different times of the week. These services are usually held in the Lady Chapel as are most weddings, baptisms and funerals. The Lady Chapel was the last part of the church to be built in 1350. Initially, it was separate from the church with a road in between then it became a school and then it became part of the church again later when the building became a cathedral in the 1880’s.

In the afternoon I took another tour with John. In 793 King Offa built the first Benedictine Abbey and by the 1200 – 1300’s it was the premier abbey in the country partly due to its being a place of pilgrimage to visit the shrine of St Alban. After the Norman Conquest between 1077 and 1115, the Norman arches and the tower were added. The crossing is the oldest part of the cathedral. St Albans has the longest nave in England as it was 20 cm longer than Winchester. The second half of the nave is dog tooth Gothic architecture and on the right side of the nave, the arches are decorated Gothic and perpendicular Gothic.

The rood screen was added in the 1350’s after the Black Death to partition the Abbey. The pilgrims would come into the nave and view the wall paintings. At the base of each column and wall-painting was a table where things could be bought to prepare the pilgrim for entry to the shrine. They then left the abbey and returned through the north door to visit the shrine. Only the monks went into the are of the crossing, the quire and the sanctuary. The abbey was built of Roman bricks from Verulamium and plastered over. The high altar screen was built in 1450 in the English Perpendicular style by Abbott John but all the images were smashed at the time of the Reformation. When the abbey church was made a cathedral in the 1887’s the statues were reconstructed. On the top right of the high altar screen is the Venerable Bede, then to his left is Pope Adrian IV, the only English Pope. On the opposite side of the screen is King Offa with his model of the church in his hands.

Pope Adrian IV, also known as Hadrian IV was born Nicholas Breakspear about 1100, was Pope from 4 December 1154 to his death on 1 September 1159. He was born in Bedmond in the parish of Abbots Langley in Hertfordshire and received his early education at Merton Priory and the Abbey School, St Albans. Nicholas’ father was Robert, who later became a monk at St Alban’s. Nicholas was refused admission to his local monastery, so he went to Paris and later became a canon regular of St Rufus monastery near Arles. He rose to be Prior and was then soon unanimously elected abbot. On the death of Pope Anastasius, Nicholas was unanimously elected as Pope on 3 December 1154, taking the name Adrian IV. Pope Adrian’s father Robert is one of the bodies which have been moved to the ground under the slab in the sanctuary. The chantry chapel to the side of the screen had six angels depicting the six stages of grieving. The reredos is technically unfinished as the artist kept asking for more money until finally, someone said no and that was as far as the reredos got finished. It is limestone and features New Zealand paua shell

The roof of the crossing was reproduced in 1951 in an exact copy of the previous roof which celebrated the Battle of the Roses and shows both roses of the Lancaster and York. The ceiling over the sanctuary is very delicate. It was restored in 1930 but is very thin.