Saturday, 27 August 2016

In the Company of Angels


 The living and the dead,
The awake and the sleeping,
The young and the old
are all one and the same.
~ Heraclitus ~

Arnos Vale is a 45 acre green oasis of peace and calm in the middle of Bristol - a haven for wildlife - a place of 'heavenly works' created by man for man.
Almost 200 years ago the need for new burial places coincided with a trend for creating 'garden cemeteries'. The movement owed a lot to the fashion for all things classical, but was also inspired by Père-Lachaise Cemetery created in 1804 in Paris. By the time Arnos Vale Cemetery was opened in 1839, garden cemeteries were being established in other cities across England. The best known of these is London's Highgate Cemetery which has some of the finest funerary architecture in the country.

It is interesting that much of the religious symbolism in the cemetery that was so familar and known to our ancestors is often completely lost on us today.
A typical example above shows a pelican feeding her young. In medieval Europe, the pelican was thought to be particularly attentive to her young, to the point of providing her own blood by wounding her chest when no other food was available. As a result the pelican came to symbolise the Passion of Christ and the Eucharist, usurping the image of the lamb and the flag. There is a hymn by St Thomas Aquinas where the penultimate verse describes Christ as the 'loving divine pelican' able to provide nourishment from his breast". 
A cross is the most common furniture architecture in a cemetery closely followed by an urn. The urn  represents an ancient symbol of death and the drapes symbolise sorrow and passage from one existence to another.
In funerary architecture the white lily represents the idea of purification of a departed soul - sometimes you will see a broken lily which indicates that the person died before their time

This unusual tomb for Raja Rammohun Roy Bahadoor is based on one from Bengal in a style known as 'chhatri' - an elevated architectural Indian dome.  A commemoration is held here annually attended by Bristol's Lord Mayor together with the Indian High Commissioner and admirers of Raja Rammohun Roy Bahadoor, a noted social reformer and the "Founder of Modern India". He was visiting Britain as the representative of the Mugual Emperor, Muhammad Akbar ll when he fell ill with meningitis and died in Bristol.
The cemetery is a unique time capsule of the Victorian and Edwardian period where the listed memorials and gravestones pay tribute to more than 300,000 people from Bristol's past. The Victorians would lease family graves 'in perpetuity' or for 125 years without giving any thought as to who would pay for their care after that. 

Wandering around the area is redolent of a time long gone where thousands of family graves have been effectively 'abandoned' over the years meaning that there are no funds for the upkeep of the graves. Nature has stepped in - trees push their way through the tombs which are in turn covered in ivy and brambles.
 The Victorians spent large amounts of money on their tombs. This enormous obelisk would have cost over a £1000, representing £65,000 in today's money. 
 What is the fate of this sylvan Arcadian landscape?




Members of the Friends of Arnos Vale have set up a trust to restore and protect the cemetery, and an open competion has recently been won by an American design team from Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture who submitted radical plans for its future. Their vision is to construct a constellation of lights among the woodlands around the cemetery, with each beacon glowing in remembrance of an individual. It is thought an urn containing the cremated remains would be embedded within the structure of the lamp, together with a digital depository of their online existence

Whilst respecting and preserving its past, could these radical plans be the future of Arnos Vale?  Personally I am not convinced that this is necessarily the way forward. However, it is imperative that this historic landscape with its Grade ll* listing should be preserved, and prevented from further degradation.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Hofkirche, Innsbruck

Maximilian was King of the Romans, also known as King of the Germans, and Holy Roman Emperor. He was never crowned by the Pope as the journey to Rome was always considered too risky 
 
 Emperor Maximilian l by Albrecht Dürer, 1519
Maximilian holds his personal emblem, the pomegranate - a symbol of fertility, bounty and eternal life
The Hofkirche (Court Church) in Innsbruck was built to be a mausoleum for Emperor Maximilian l by his son Ferdinand l. However, it appears that when Maximilian was on his death bed he had a change of heart and said that he wished to be buried in St. George's Chapel at Castle Wiener Neustadt
Guarded entrance from the Cloisters to what is now Emperor Maximilian's cenotaph
Flanking the tomb are 28 much larger than life bronze statues either representing the Emperor's ancestors or his heroes from antiquity.
The emperor kneels on top of the empty tomb accompanied by virtues - Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance
All of the statues are very impressive having been designed or cast by distinquished artists and sculptors from the C16th.
With such a large collection of historical characters is it possible to highlight just one figure?
For me the choice is easy - but who?
My choice is our very own dear English legendary King Arthur whose magical exploits seemingly impressed Emperor Maximilian l. It is interesting to reflect that in the c15th/16th Arthur was considered to have been a real King and not the mythological figure that we now know he was.
King Arthur's elegant statue was designed by none other than Albrecht Dürer - painter, printmaker and theorist of the German Renaissance. Born in Nuremberg, Dürer established his reputation and influence across Europe when he was still in his early twenties.
I seem to have known and loved Dürer's exquisite painting of a hare forever, and been amused by his woodcut of a rhinoceros. Dürer had never seen a rhinoceros, his woodcut was based purely on a written description and a brief sketch by an unknown artist.
Whilst Dürer designed the statue of King Arthur it was cast by Peter Vischer the Elder, a German sculptor, and the most noted member of the reknown Vischer Family of sculptors from Nuremberg.
Dürer paintings and woodcut courtesy Wiki

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

A Slice of Alpine Life


Next time you are tasked with the job of cutting your lawn consider the plight of the Austrian farming family
Whenever there are three consecutive hot, sunny, completely dry summer days, the farming community have to cut as much alpine meadow as possible on both the mountain slopes and in the valleys - this makes the precious winter fodder for their cattle. When the weather forecast is right the sounds of mowing in the Alps can be heard echoing around the valleys; on the second day the grass is lifted, turned, thrown in the air and made into furrows; on the third day the now dry alpine hay is gathered in to be safely stored away in barns. There is no shying away from the job, if the weather is right then the task must be done.
Depending on the location it is quite a feat to observe. The higher the meadow the harder the task.
This was taken half way up a mountain from a chair lift - it was much steeper than it appears - my camera lens zoomed down from on high
On the second day the hay is drying nicely; on the third very hot day we spent the morning walking but decided to return to the hotel and seek some shade on the balcony with our books. However, not much reading was done as we watch the extraordinary antics of a farmer and his family
A large tarpaulin white sheet was dragged up the mountain slope - mainly hidden from view by the tree
The farmer used a blower and rake to collect the hay together
I couldn't catch the next action as the tree blocked the cameras view - the farmer piled the hay on to the tarpaulin and made a large haystack. To our atonishment he then pulled the tarpaulin complete with haystack down the mountainside backwards - as the load gathered momentum he ran faster and faster, still backwards! - we watched with our hearts in our mouths until he reached safety at the bottom of the mountain - the whole process was repeated several times until all of the meadow grass was safely gathered in.

Job done - at least 6 little truck loads passed beneath our balcony on their way to the storage barns - the aroma of good hay smells sweet which this did.
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Some of the village decorative details that I admired