Saturday, September 8th 2012
We may be on holiday but, as we are staying at home, the shopping finally caught up with us. After breakfast at Pret we trundled the trolley round to Sainsbury and collected our needs for the forthcoming week.
After putting away the spoils and fortifying ourselves with tea, we boarded a bus and got off in the Kingsland Road in Hoxton. The rather exotic minaret that you see in the photo belongs to the Suleymaniye Mosque, built 1995-9 and funded by the UK Turkish Islamic Cultural Centre.
We had come to pay a visit to the splendid Geffrye Museum but before going in, we went to have a look at the Victorian drinking fountain set in a nearby wall. This bears a date of 1865 and the inscription tells us about the donors:
THE GIFT OF
Mr and the HONBLE Mrs RASHLEIGH
OF 31 HILL STREET BERKELEY SQUARE
The house at the address given for the donors still exists and is a Grade II listed mid-18th-century building but is today occupied by a firm of lawyers. For some interesting snippets on the Hon. Mrs Rashleigh and the fountain, see here and here on the London Remembers site.
The Geffrye Museum of the Home is a lovely place to visit. Rare for this part of London, it has an extensive garden between itself and the road where open-air exhibitions and other events can be held. It was built in 1715 (some say 1714) at the behest of Sir Robert Geffrye, sometime Lord Mayor of London and Master of the Ironmongers’ Company, as a set of 14 almshouses, principally for the widows of ironmongers. Its original function having come to an end, it was eventually acquired by the London County Council and converted into a museum, opening in 1914. In 1991, the Geffrye became an independent charitable trust with funding from various sources and a modern extension was added in 1998 in a style different from, but in sympathy with, the original buildings. The museum seeks to portray the history of domestic interiors, from Elizabethan times to the modern day. The heart of the permanent collection is a series of rooms furnished and decorated, each in a manner consistent with the particular period it represents.
The rooms are beautifully arranged, as authentically as possible, but are not static, dust-gathering displays: they change according to the seasons and we usually pay a visit in December to see the rooms decorated for Christmas as they would have been at their respective periods.
I have to admit that these interiors fascinate me. I know they are artificial but they are so designed as to leave you with the feeling that the occupants could walk into the room at any moment and I like to imagine myself into these settings, perhaps sitting reading beside the first or taking afternoon tea perched on one of the delicate chairs. Information boards describe the social and historical background and point out features of particular interest.
All of the interiors are appealing and deserve to be shown but I have chosen a more or less random selection of three. In case you are wondering about the intrusive pink labels, these are a temporary feature to do with an exhibition entitled At Home with the World (see the Web page for details). Interesting as that may be, I found the presence of the labels jarring and hope they will have disappeared by the time of my next visit.
As well as room settings, there are other types of display, such as the classic museum glass case, information boards and…
…displays of furniture, ornaments and other domestic artifacts.
The museum also has a small shop and a rather nice cafe but today the latter was busy and people were queueing so we gave it a miss.
After our visit to the Geffrye, we took another bus ride, this time to the Southbank Centre.
There were plenty of events and activities taking place and the crowds were dense. This and the heat dissuaded rapid movement. We went to Canteen and had lunch.
Our next move was to Victoria, where we were intending to visit the interior of that monument to Catholicism, Westminster Cathedral (not to be confused with Westminster Abbey), another sort of monument). As luck would have it, a sung mass was in progress when we arrived and photography was banned until it ended. We waited as patiently as we could while the pantomime wound slowly to its conclusion. The temple was packed. Some people were curious onlookers, some visitors like ourselves, but the vast majority seemed to be faithful members of the flock.
The mass over, a few people remained behind in contemplation while others tidied up. We were able to wander at will and take photos of whatever interested us.
While we were doing the rounds, a group scuttled past carrying an effigy of the Virgin Mary. I only had time for a quick snap before they were gone. This was our first intimation that there was to be a procession outside the church.
The interior is certainly very colourful and reminded me more of Greek Orthodox church decoration than the usual Catholic church interiors. There were a lot of mosaics and gold and silver abounded.
As with most larger churches in both the Catholic and Anglican confessions, there are a number of side chapels, each dedicated to a particular saint or whatever. Each is different in design and some are rather beautiful, even if their religious theme does not appeal to an unbeliever. This one is Holy Souls Chapel, dedicated to those who are on their way to Heaven but who, because of some minor unpurged naughtiness, still have to do time in the celestial choky, aka Purgatory.
Above are two examples of mosaics, representing St Christopher and St Joan of Arc, respectively. St Christopher was said to be a man of fearsome countenance and some attempt has been made in the mosaic to hint at this. The caption beneath St Joan reads “BEATA JOANNA INTERCEDE PRO NOBIS” (“Blessed Joan, intercede for us”), something which I suspect the good lady might be reluctant to do as she was put to death rather horribly by burning at the behest of the English.
I was rather fascinated by this silver ceiling because (as you may have guessed), I prefer the subtlety and understated beauty of silver to gold, which I find showy and vulgar – not for nothing is it the mainstay of “bling”. The inscription is the second half of a quotation whose first half is above and behind me. In its entirety, it reads “[ET SICUT IN ADAM OMNES MORIUNTUR] ITA ET IN CHRISTO OMNES VIVIFICABUNTUR” (“[For as in Adam all die,] even so in Christ shall all be made alive”).
Finally, here is a rather splendid sculpture of Saint Peter, clutching a big key, the symbol of his post mortem role as bouncer at the gates of Heaven. On the face of the pedestal is a medallion bearing the inscription “TU ES PETRUS ET SUPER HANC PETRAM ÆDIFICABO ECCLESIAM MEAM” (“You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church”), the famous pun on the name of Peter, in Latin Petrus, meaning a rock.
When we emerged into daylight once more, we found the Virgin and her porters still waiting. I believe the procession was in honour of the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin.
We waited a while, as did a curious crowd of onlookers, politely remaining behind the tape barriers, but as it seemed to be taking for ever for the procession to get organized, we retired to a nearby Caffè Nero for refreshments and then took the bus home.
We had, after all, had enough excitement for one day!