Friday, April 21, 2006

A Jaunt to York

Even though the tour company said it would take three hours by train we got to York in only two so we arrived at 9 a.m. We had been given tickets for the hop on, hop off city tour bus so we hopped on and rode up to the Jorvik Viking Center. It's sort of like the Epcot Center travel through time ride. They put you in a car on a track and you are taken on a winding ride through a Viking settlement. They are proud of their authentic surroundings and smells. Trust me - Viking settlements are really smelly! After you exit the ride you enter a small museum displaying artifacts and containing reenactors that demonstrate some of the ancient Viking handcrafts. The Jorvik center also had a great gift shop where I got some excellent books on Viking history and archaeology as well as some nice figures for my office (My office is really going to be heavily populated after this trip!)

Then Jane and I wandered through the Shambles and we found several large antique shops that we had great fun exploring. Jane bought some half dolls and we each bought a 100-year old handmade miniature doll. Jane bought a lady in a very detailed gown while I bought a doll dressed as a Stuart-era gentleman in a tiny velvet suit with lace collar and cuffs, leather boots and gloves, and sporting a real beard and mustache. They are only about 1/2 doll house size (about 3" tall). I was also excited to find an authentic (certified) 4th century bronze Roman military cloak brooch in pretty good nick. We also came across a store that had small real metal Roman helmets complete with hinged cheekpieces and crest that I can display in my office (a bit too small for my head!) They had a life-sized vinyl Roman officer out front but I didn't want to buy another ticket home for him!

After lunch we walked over to Yorkminster Cathedral and I was surprised to discover that they are the first cathedral I have visited that actually allows photos in the sanctuary. I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible and only used the flash when I absolutely had to but got some nice shots both inside and outside. They even had some Tudor-era funerary effigies like those I saw at Westminster Abbey. I find the effigies a fascinating study in portraiture and historical fashion. Using my zoom lens, I was able to get closeups of some of the gargoyles high up on the ramparts. I was a little surprised, though, that they are really rather small. Of course the stained glass windows were very beautiful and I managed to get some good photos of some of the particularly detailed ones. If I had wanted to take pictures of all of them it would have taken me days! Jane talked with an artist apprentice out in front of the church that had rolled out the template for a new ceiling fresco he was working on in pastels that is a new addition to the church's artwork.

Jane waited upstairs (she didn't want to see anything dead) while I went down into the crypt but I really didn't see any tombs or coffins. The church authorities have displayed historical artifacts down there in museum-like display cases. The church is built over an old Roman fort and you can see the dais that was used by the commanding general to address his legions. They displayed busts of Vespasian and Septimus Severus who actually commanded troops in the area at one time and a bust of
Constantine that was actually unearthed in York. He doesn't resemble the formal busts in Rome at all!

The museum is set up so the displays begin with
Rome then progress to Saxon and Viking times and end with the establishment of Christianity. It also includes the silver ritual vessels used in church services over the centuries.

After we left the cathedral we walked toward the
York Museum Gardens where the Constantine the Great exhibit is on display. Jane was getting really tired and not particularly interested in the exhibit so I put her back on the tour bus and sent her back to the railway station while I went into the museum. Probably the most spectacular item in the exhibit was the Great Cameo depicting Constantine, his wife and children in a chariot pulled by prancing centaurs with Jupiter hovering over all. This huge cameo is about twice the size of a very large western-style cowboy belt buckle and is framed in gold encrusted with precious gems. I also toured the museum's permanent collection of Roman, Saxon, and Viking artifacts but my knees were about to give out on me so I didn't try to climb the stairs to the upper galleries that displayed local decorative arts.

I went out and caught the tour bus to get a ride back to the railway station but, of course, had to take the rest of the tour in the meantime (about 45 minutes). I learned about the famous local bandit Dick Turpin and saw the traitor's gate where the boiled and tarred heads of the town "bad boys" were displayed on spikes. We circled the medieval guild hall that is the oldest guild hall still in existence in Europe and were told all about the successful local "Kit Kat" candy bar factory (the guide even had us sing the Kit Kat advertising ditty!) We passed a very old church and learned about the small door called the "devil's door" on its west side. Apparently, back in medieval times, people believed that when a baby was baptized, the devil would then flee the child's body and needed a doorway to escape the church so each time a baby was christened this little door would be opened before the ceremony to accomodate the devil. The guide explained that most "devil's doors" were placed on the north side (the dark side) of the church but for some reason this little church had placed it on the west side. Of course
York has most of its original medieval city walls in tact and you can see the slits in the wall where they used to shoot arrows and pour boiling oil over their attackers. There is even a small portion of the original Roman wall still visible as well.

I caught up with Jane at the railway station and we caught the
6:00 p.m. train back to Kings Cross.
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