Monday, 28 July 2008

The Ruthwell Cross

The Ruthwell Cross

Crafted some time between the 7th and 8th centuries by a skilled Anglo Saxon craftsman, the Ruthwell Cross has a quite a story to tell.

Described as the finest Runic Cross in the World, and the Oldest and most Interesting Monument of its kind in Britain, the original unhewn stone monolith was 12'high, 3'6"wide, and 2'6" thick.

It has not always stood inside this little country church near the Solway Firth in SW Scotland, but was designed as a sort of marker, designating a preaching place, where people would gather on consecrated ground to hear about Jesus.

However, it also preaches its own story as can be seen in both Latin inscriptions, which would be for monks who could read, and in runes for those who could not read Latin. The sculptures told their own story.
Through its history it has survived the Viking invasions, and also, more devastatingly, the Reformation in Scotland when it was ordered to be broken up. The reason for this is that Scotland took the Reformation further than England, and banned all references to the Cross as it was deemed to be idolatrous. So in the mid 16th century it was taken down and lay forgotten partly buried in the floor of the Church, and in Ruthwell Churchyard, until in 1794 parts of it were discovered. A grave digger found the largest piece depicting John the Baptist, whilst digging a grave, other pieces were found under grave slabs. The only part which was never discovered was the cross beam of the cross.

These pieces remained in the Churchyard until a minister Dr Henry Duncan came along in 1799. He marvelled at these wonderful pieces of sculpture and determined to find out all about them. It became his mission to restore the beautiful Cross, to its original state.

But what to do about the missing crossbeam?

Henry Duncan researched the matter and together with a local mason came up with the design as it now stands.

Eventually it was complete, but although times had changed since the Reformation it was still deemed unsuitable to erect the Cross within the area of the Church. Henry got around this by erecting it in the garden of the Manse (Scottish name for the vicarage).

But then through time the vagaries of the Scottish weather were working against the preservation, and the sculpture was beginning to suffer.

In 1871 a new minister Rev James Caplin realised this and saw that if the Cross were to survive it had to go indoors. By this time it had become world renowned, and this project had the backing of prominent scholars from within Scotland and beyond. In the Year of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, 1887, it was taken in to Ruthwell Church. As it was too tall to be erected without raising the roof of the building a compromise was reached and a pit dug into the floor to house the beautiful Cross.

And to cut a long story short, it remains there to this day.
I have to say it is quite one of the most beautiful things I have had the privilege to gaze upon, and when one considers it was created over 12 centuries ago, one must wonder what other such pieces have been lost to us today.

Detail on the Cross

The Visitation

The new Crossbeam with Archer underneath

Landscape around the Church

A brief description of the Cross.

Thicker at the base it tapers to the Crossbeam.

Jesus is always portrayed with a halo inside which is the shape of the Cross, other dignitaries whilst being depicted with halos, do not have a cross inside them.

It is thought that the Master Carver left some of the lesser work to an assistant, as some of the figures do not exhibit the same level of skill. The Master Carver however always carved the images of Jesus.

When the Cross was reconstructed it is thought that some of the parts may have been incorrectly placed.

Vine Scrolls can be seen in many European countries, especially in the Catacombs in Rome. The examples on the Ruthwell Cross far outshine the workmanship of those anywhere else.

There are also wonderful depictions of animals on the Cross. Look for lizards, pigs, eagle, dove...

The Story the Cross Tells

It tells of St John The Evangelist, and shows his emblem the Eagle.

One can see an act of penance where a woman washes Jesus' feet.

Also it tells of the Annunciation where Angel Gabriel tells Mary she will give birth to Jesus.

One can see the Visitation scene, where Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant with her son who will be known to all as John The Baptist. The baby in the womb is said to have leapt with Joy when Mary came to visit.

There is a scene of the flight into Egypt, showing Mary and the Baby Jesus riding on a donkey.

At the base, there is a scene of the Cruxifiction.

Jesus is shown in one section standing on what looks like pigs, which illustrates the triumph of good over evil.

Two of the Evangelists are shown.

John the Baptist is depicted with the Lamb of God, his feet are placed on two orbs.

Another scene shows Paul meeting Anthony, a hermit, in the desert.

The Story of Jesus is there for all to see, and the message of the Ruthwell Cross will carry on down through the generations for all of time.

My Next post will pose a question.
What connection does the Ruthwell Cross have with a Savings Bank?

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Comlongon Castle Revisited

Comlongon Castle Revisited

It is some time since I was last at Comlongon Castle. As I was in the neighbourhood, I decided to go along to show it to a friend who was visiting.

The weather was beautiful that day the Castle looked splendid, so I took some photos to update my diary. Here they are.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

The Devil's Porridge - The Conan Doyle and Suffragette Connection.

The Devil's Porridge

The History of Scotland goes back a long way, but here we look at more recent times.

The year is 1915. The First World War is going very badly for Britain. There is a huge number of casualties, caused mainly by a lack of guns and ammunition. This caused unrest in the British Public, and it was necessary to do something really drastic, otherwise our country would lose the war with Germany.
So it was decided to commandeer land on the Solway Coast, stretching for 9 miles and 2 miles in width.

Why choose The Solway Coast?

The reasons were both to do with geography and transport links.
Firstly, the area was outwith the range of the Zeppelins and German bombers, and it was protected by Mountains to the North, East, and South.

Secondly it was served by extremely good north/south road and rail links.

What was the land commandeered for?

Britain was going to build the largest Munitions Factory the world has ever seen!

Architects were brought in to design two new towns, Gretna and Eastriggs, to house the workforce. They were designed on the same model as Welwyn Garden City with picturesque tree-lined streets and avenues. At first the houses were built of wood, but as supplies of timber ran out, they were later to be built of brick. Hostels were provided for the bulk of the workforce, and could go up in as little as a day! There was also churches, a dancehall, pubs and a cinema, as well as shops, admin offices.

Reconstruction of a worker's bedroom.

Who was going to do the building with most of the men away at War?

This was the job of Irish navvies, in the main, who came over to Scotland. It took 30,000 workers to build the factory and the two towns, which were ready for use by 1916.

Who was going to provide the workforce?

Women! But as this was a rural area where would the workforce come from? The answer is that they came from all countries of the British Empire (as it was known at that time).

How large was the workforce?

20,000 women worked there! Now one can imagine this was an added incentive for the Irish Navvies! and I am told there was many a wedding resulted from this project. There was also a good amount of brawling as a result of what was being consumed in the pubs! But despite the distractions, the job got done.

Why did they need 9 miles x 2 miles for the factory?

Between each section of the factory, they had to build a mound of earth to separate the buildings, because if one exploded the mound would prevent the others from following suit in a chain explosion.

Mounds between each section of the factory.
How did they make the ammunition?

The basic ingredient was COTTON. It arrived from the USA in huge bales. This was then mixed with nitroglycerine, and acid. This mixture was so volatile that the women were not allowed to wear any metal object e.g buttons, as this could trigger an explosion. (There were explosions -over 300 women died in munitions factories in UK) Upon arrival for work each women would be searched for metal, and if any was discovered the girl would be fined.
The girls would turn the mixture into long cords of explosive material which would be cut to fit the Guns on the Front Line in France. The name CORDITE comes from here.

Cotton was the basic ingredient

The atmosphere was not a healthy one compared to today's standards, with many of the women suffering health problems in later life.

What is the Connection with Arthur Conan Doyle and the Suffragette Movement?
In his role as a war correspondent, he visited the factory, and marvelled at the effort, writing about the girls stirring their "Devil's Porridge" (thus the phrase was coined)

In those days, women were very much subjugated, and because of Conan Doyle's glowing reports on their war efforts, opinions towards women changed and they eventually got the vote.

All of this huge enterprise was only in use for 3 YEARS with the War ending in 1918.

The buildings were either pulled down or sold at a knockdown price as housing. Gretna and Eastriggs remain to this day, in Scotland, with their distinctive English-designed houses.

The workforce dispersed to their own countries, but their efforts will always be venerated in this small rural part of Scotland, for without them, the outcome of the First World war would have
been very different.

Souvenirs made for the women to take home with them

Hats they wore at work

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Sweetheart Abbey a 13th Century Love Story - What is the Connection To Oxford University?

Sweetheart Abbey

Nestling on the edge of the charming village of New Abbey is the very lovely Sweetheart Abbey. As it sits just after a bend in the road I always try to have a good look at it when I drive past, and no matter what the weather, it never loses its appeal. The Abbey was commissioned in 1273 for the Cistercian order of monks by Lady Devorgilla of Galloway, as a memorial to her husband, John.
This was the last of twelve Cistercian Monasteries to be built in Scotland, thus giving the name of New Abbey to the village.
The monastery was designed in the shape of a cross.

John was one of the wealthiest people in Europe,
Devorgilla and John were utterly devoted to one another, and she was heartbroken at his death, in 1269
She had a casket made of ivory and silver, where John's embalmed heart was placed, and kept by her side at all times.

Devorgilla died in 1289, and is buried along with her precious ivory casket and its contents, in Sweetheart Abbey, where her tomb can be seen to this day.

What is the connection between Oxford University, and Sweetheart Abbey?

Devorgilla's husband John came from Barnard Castle in the North of England. He also had another estate in England, and yet others in France. But he and Devorgilla loved each other very much, and he decided to live with her in the south of Scotland. This was a time of great happiness for the couple, as they brought up their young family. It was also a period of stability for the area.

Whilst they were extremely wealthy people, they were also great benefactors. John had decided that he wanted to establish a college at Oxford. He also provided funds for the education of needy students there.

Thus, we have the connection with Oxford University.

The name of Devorgilla's husband was John Balliol. The College, is the world famous Balliol College.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

The John Paul Jones Museum

The John Paul Jones Museum

This Museum is run by Dumfries Museums, but would not be in existence but for the generosity of Americans, who travel to Scotland to see his birthplace. After John Paul Jones' family died out the cottage, sadly, fell into ruin. In 1832 a Lt Pinckham who visited the site, was so appalled at the state of it that he paid for repairs to be done. This cost £25.00 (oh, that house repairs were still at these prices today!)

Next to help was an Admiral Wright,who, having retired from the US Navy, raised funds, so that it could opened as a Museum in 1993.

At the back of the cottage, an extension was added which has been made to look like his cabin in the Bonhomme Richard.

In the grounds a commemorative Rose Garden has been planted, and there is a lovely picnic area where one can look out over the sea to the coast of England. I just love this picnic area.

I could not resist adding the pictures of the two self appointed guardians of the Museum, Mojo and Tilly who take their work very seriously!