Monday, April 9, 2018

England 2018, Day 3

Entrance of OLEM

We spent the night in Cambridge and breakfasted before walking to Mass at the Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs, a Roman Catholic church located in southeast Cambridge not far from the university. It is a large Gothic Revival church built between 1885 and 1890, fairly dark and dreary (although the morning rain didn't help).   However, as my mother wrote her thesis on the English Catholic Martyrs, I knew she would be excited to visit it.  Also, coincidentally, a book I reviewed recently, Look for Her by Emily Winslow, took place in this Cambridge and the main character attended a funeral at this very church.   I was tempted to tell the priest about this but separately my mother and I had asked him for more information on our favorite martyrs (Edmund Campion and Nicholas Owen; i.e., were they recognized anywhere in the church with plaques or stained glass) so did not want to overwhelm him with info.   The priest, who was very nice Benedictine, did not know much about his martyrs.  The deacon who was quite full of himself said he didn't remember. 
Approaching Ely Cathedral
The construction of the church in the 19th century has a story behind it that sounds like a historical romance: the local priest organizing land and fundraising was assisted by the Duke of Norfolk (a prominent Catholic peer since the 16th century despite Henry VIII's threats) but more money was needed or the church would not get built!   To the rescue, in 1884, came a retired ballerina who had married the richest banker in England with £70,000 of her fortune (an enormous amount in those days) to support the construction.  We also read that the local Protestants loudly opposed the construction of a Catholic church.  My mother posed for a rare picture in front of the church.
Bishop Peter Gunning, 1675-84; imprisoned for his loyalty to Charles I
Next, we headed to the train station to visit Ely, a historic city with a beautiful cathedral about 14 miles northeast of Cambridge.  Etheldreda, an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman (later sainted for her piety, etc.), founded an abbey in 693, which was destroyed by the Vikings several hundred years later, but rebuilt periodically from 970 to 1375, with contributions from the Normans (more or less helpful) and Tudors (unhelpful - Henry VIII and his henchmen took it from the Catholic church in 1539 when he imposed the Protestant Church on his country).  Henry's new bishop zealously destroyed the stained glass and much of the sculpture, and any Anglo-Saxon items remaining (a German tourist came into the cathedral just after I arrived, asking if there were any St. Etheldreda relics in existence to venerate but the answer was no). Further repressions took place when Oliver Cromwell ruled England.   However, after Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, it was safe to have beautiful churches again.   In the 19th century the Victorians undertook a massive restoration, resulting in the beauty we saw today.   And considering it was a gray and rainy day, it is even more amazing how the stained glass electrifies the interior of the church while from the outside the cathedral and grounds are also impressive - built onto a slight hill which my mother said was unusual for such a flat part of the country.  The church is huge: 537 feet in length (a football field is 300) with a west tower that is 215 feet high and turrets that are 120 feet high.
Listening to Evensong
After several hours exploring the cathedral, which had a great app we downloaded and free Wi-Fi to facilitate use, we braved the rain to check out the nearby High Street (the exact length of the nave of the church) and ate at the Almonry (indifferent roast beef sandwiches and Victoria sponge cake but the hot tea and picturesque setting were very appealing).   We also stopped a lovely bookstore, Topping and Company, which is hosting Robert Goddard in May.  I would have bought his new hardcover except did not want to carry it.  Had it already been signed, it would have been very hard to resist as I have been a fan since my first weeks at Bantam Doubleday Dell in 1989, when I picked up a Transworld paperback of Past Caring.  We bought a couple paperbacks for the nieces and nephews instead.

Then we laboriously made our way back to Cambridge (bus) and then London (train), and after a mishap with Uber landed happily at the Arosfa Hotel.  Our room is beyond tiny but well situated and very secure.  It even overlooks Waterstones!   Why does my mother keep saying I don't need any more books?
From 83 Gower Street
Book count: three
Cathedral count: one
Church count: one
Miles walked: 3.6

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