Author Archive: cihangursoy

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

Quite possibly the most well known cathedral in London with Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of the finest examples of English Baroque architecture and a major tipping point for the famous English architect Christopher Wren. Built after the Great fire of London, this cathedral since has been one of the major parts of London skyline with its huge dome and distinguishable Christopher Wren city spires. It was the highest building in London from 1710 to 1962 and its dome is still among the highest in the world.

One thing that’s really important is that, this is not the first St. Paul’s Cathedral on this site. The Old St. Paul’s Cathedral was built in 1087 and had one of the world’s tallest spires and was unarguably one of the best examples of Gothic architecture. With the Great fire of London in 1666, this cathedral burned down to the ground and Christopher Wren was appointed to build the “new” St. Paul’s Cathedral. Even before the Old St. Paul’s Cathedral there used to be at least three different churches on this site, and all of them burned down. The cathedral also became a symbol of the English resistance during the Blitz with the famous photograph taken by Herbert Mason.

Although I can go on and on about this cathedral, the main reason why I visited this cathedral lately was mainly due to a recital that I attended. Every once in a while St. Paul’s holds a free recital, which is open to the public. This is both a great chance to experience the architecture of this place and also listen to a great organ recital.

The organ recital that I went to included Choral No 2 in B Minor and Choral No 3 in A Minor from Cesar Franck‘s Dénounement. These chorals were written a couple of weeks before his death and are a fitting epitaph to his life. Describing this piece the organist Simon Johnson said: “At the very end – the dénounement- Franck looks further back, to the music of Bach. This can be seen in the very idea of “Chorales” which, though different in conception from those of Bach, nonetheless express something of the same yearning of spirit.” Both of the pieces were absolutely haunting and listening to this recital under the giant dome of St. Paul’s cathedral was definitely a very unique experience. For a video of St. Paul’s Cathedral’s organ please watch the video below.

Admission to St. Paul’s is £13 for adults and £12 for concessions.

http://www.stpauls.co.uk/

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St. Margaret’s Chapel – Edinburgh Castle

The oldest surviving building in Edinburgh is St. Margaret’s Chapel, which sits in the Edinburgh castle. Because of the humble looks of the building from the outside, one can’t guess that this is actually one of the most important buildings in Edinburgh (the oldest surviving building in the city).

This chapel is one of the few fine examples of Romanesque architecture, which is characterized by its semi circular arches and thick walls filled with rubble. It is very small (hence the name chapel), but it’s so charming inside, it’s definitely a trip back in time. The stained glasses look gorgeous, some of the best I’ve seen so far. On the stained glass to the right, you can see a depiction of William Wallace who was one of the main leaders during the Wars of Scottish Independence.

Legend had it that St. Margaret used to worship here, which was well accepted for a very long time and according to Life of St. Margaret Mary, she died in Edinburgh Castle in 1093. But recent research indicated that recent research indicated that it was built by her son King David at the beginning of 12th century.

During the Wars of Scottish Independence, the castle was captured by Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray and he destroyed all buildings in the castle except this one, which makes it really special. Although it was used as a gunpowder store during the Protestant Reformation (and until 1845), with efforts of the Canadian academician Daniel Wilson the chapel went under major reconstruction and took its form today.

Although the admission the castle is £16 for adults and and £13 for concessions, there’s no extra charge to visit this chapel. If you’re in Edinburgh, this is definitely the first thing you need to do. Go to the castle, get an audioguide and explore the history of Scotland while visiting this historic chapel.

http://www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk

http://www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk/index/tour/highlights/highlight-st-margarets-chapel.htm

York Minster, The Largest Cathedral in Northern Europe

This cathedral situated in northern England, in the beautiful York, is one of the most widely known cathedrals outside London. The minster is the seat of the “Archbishop of York” and which is the second-highest office in Church of England. But why is this cathedral so important, why is it one of the biggest tourist attractions in the UK? These questions crossed my mind as I was exploring the city of York.

Let’s start with a little history of York. First, what does “minster” mean at all? It is an honorary title given to churches established in the Anglo-Saxon period who were exceptionally successful in their missionary activities. It’s not hard to see how York gained this title, with its long history of Christian activities in Britain. York is one of the earliest Christian settlements in British Isles. Records shows that missionaries arrived to York from Rome, as early as AD 180 and the first recorded church in this site was a quickly constructed wooden church for baptism of Edwin of Northumbria in 627. During the English reformation much of the treasures of the minster were destroyed but Thomas Fairfax protected the minster from further damage.

York Minster is the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe (after Cologne Cathedral). Architecturally it  is best-known for its “Decorated Gothic” nave and the “Perpendicular Gothic” choir. Although the minster took its current form in 1408 (more than 600 years old) it is very well-preserved and new looking. It is open to people from different cultures and faiths and is still a place of active worship. If you want to experience English Gothic architecture in all its glory and learn about Christianity in Britain throughout centuries this is definitely the place to be.

Entrance: Adults £14, Concessions £12

http://www.yorkminster.org

Bath Abbey

During my visit to the charming city of Bath, I visited the famous Bath Abbey. Also known as the “Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul”, Bath Abbey sits at the center of the city and draws many visitors from all around the world with its gorgeous architecture and very-well preserved interior.

Originally founded in early 7th century, the abbey went through many restoration and reorganization processes throughout the history. It took the current form by the works of George Gilbert Scott, a famous English architect from the Victorian era. This abbey is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture (another famous example: Westminster Abbey). It takes this name because of its emphasis on vertical lines.

When I entered inside the abbey, I was fascinated by how clean and new it looks.  Considering that this is an ancient monument, I really admire the effort put into preservation and the restoration of this abbey. The gorgeous fan vault is probably one of the best features of this abbey. Different from the rib vaults, fan vaults are way more detailed and a conoid shape is farmed which gives the name “fan”.

The abbey is also built on Bath stone which is an oolitic limestone, which has a warm, honey color. One great feature of this stone is that it’s a freestone, which means it can be sawn in any direction compared to other stones used for the construction of the abbeys. This maybe explains the amount of effort put into detailing of the interior.

The abbey is still an active place of worship, it’s admission free but donations are more than welcome.

http://www.bathabbey.org

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, A Place of Worship for Centuries

This is a bit different from the other posts on my blog because this is not a church or cathedral. Stonehenge being one of the most visited and famous landmarks in the world, used to be a temple for centuries (and it still is for some people) and that’s the main reason for the inclusion for my religious-themed blog. I had the chance to visit the landmark on my way to Cornwall and Devon. It’s about an hour drive from London and really close to Salisbury. After being stuck in a traffic jam right outside the site, we arrived to Stonehenge with a minor delay and took our audio guides and started exploring this monument.

The radiocarbon dating which was done in 2008 suggested that this monument was constructed as early as 2400 BC, it is definitely one of the oldest sites of worship in the world. Walking around it, looking at it and thinking about all the people who built it and worshiped for centuries sends shivers down the spine.

The landmark consists of two parts, an inner circle and an outer circle. Theories suggest that the surrounding circle was built centuries before the inner circle. Scientists know that Stonehenge was destroyed and rebuilt at least 7 times in the history. Why were people so keen on building this monument over and over again, what was its significance, it’s still not known. One thing is known for sure, there are several hundred burial mounds on the site and people were definitely using this site for their Pagan worships.

Stonehenge was re-popularized by the worship activities of Neo-druids in the early 70s. These people had an ideology and belief which included respecting the nature and worshiping the harmony and greatness of its essence. They gathered at Stonehenge during Winter and Summer solstices and performed their rituals. The site was also the stage of a free festival which was a celebration of different alternative cultures. Nowadays Stonehenge is under a lot of security and admission is charged. This is probably good for the preservation of this historic monument.

Visiting Stonehenge and exploring Salisbury (including the cathedral) would be a great day trip. Although this is a very touristy place and get super crowded, it is definitely worth paying a visit. Adult £7.80, Students £7.

http://www.stonehenge.co.uk

Westminster Abbey, London

Westminster Abbey has been the most important cathedral for centuries in the UK, mainly because of its association to the royal family. Since 1066 all the coronations of the queens and kings have been held here (with the only exception being Henry III who couldn’t make it to London because of the French occupation in the city around that time). Another feature of this abbey is that, it was home to numerous royal weddings, including the recent marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

But what importance does this abbey hold other than being home to weddings and coronations? When I visited the abbey recently and had a chance to talk to the Dean of Westminster Abbey Sally Dawson, I had the opportunity to learn many interesting facts about this structure. Here’s a transcript of our chat that day:

Can you tell me a little bit about the history of this abbey, why is it so important to the royal family?

Scientific research shows us that the first abbey was first founded in the time of Mellitus, around 600s. It was called St. Peter’s abbey, inspired by a sighting of St. Peter near the church. However the present day Westminster Abbey was initialised by Henry III in 1245 on the ruins of St. Peter’s abbey. The importance of the abbey most definitely comes from the close proximity to Westminster Palace and numerous Norman kings demanding their bodies to be buried in this cathedral.

What is the architectural style of this abbey? Any important features that you can tell me about, or any similarities you can draw to other cathedrals?

The abbey is constructed in Anglo-French Gothic architectural style and it was a shrine to Saint Edward the Concessor. A lot of features of this building are undeniably Gothic, the stained glasses the flying buttresses and the pointy spires. Many similarities to Notre-Dame de Paris can be drawn.

Finally, what sort of reconstructions and plans are ahead for this abbey?

Three years ago we announced the next 250 years reconstruction plans for the abbey, which is available online, a corona was intended to be built but after some exploratory work we can say that construction of this corona is suspended indefinitely.

Thank you very much Ms. Dawson for your time.

My pleasure.

Admission is £15 for adults and £13 for concessions.

Christ Church, Oxford, Home and Inspiration to Harry Potter

I have to be honest, I didn’t know a whole lot about Oxford before visiting the city. University of Oxford kind of overshadows every single thing in the city with its importance. But apart from the university, the city is beautiful, ancient but also very young and vibrant. The city of academia, holds one of the most beautiful and historically significant churches in the UK. This magnificent building is not only a church but also a college, which gives it a very special status.

Originally built in 1525, the monument took its current form in 1546 by Henry VIII as part of his re-organization efforts of the Church of England. At the cathedral, I was given a guided tour by one of the volunteers at the church and had the chance to learn about its great history, architectural style and the beautiful stained glass panels. The cathedral architecturally blends Romanesque and Gothic styles very well. The rounded arches of the Romanesque style and the pointy spires of the Gothic flow so naturally in this structure. Among the burials,  philosophers John Locke and George Berkeley are quite attention grabbing.

After examining the interior of this cathedral, I had a little tour of the dining hall of the college. This dining hall is quintessentially British and it was the influence to Harry Potter books and the interior was actually used in the first movie. Rows of children giving poses for photos kind of causes a bit of traffic jam in this part, but it’s still very enjoyable. On the walls are pictures of great British people who were once part of this college and dined here.

One thing that I was really surprised about this place was their inclusion of written guides of almost 30 languages (including Turkish). I guess we have to thank the Oxford University students for their efforts in the translation process.

Admission is £8 for adults and £6.50 for students.

www.chch.ox.ac.uk

Truro Cathedral

Although I didn’t have the chance to go inside Truro Cathedral, I was quite impressed by looking at it from the outside and reading about its history. It’s undeniably beautiful and adds a very nice feel to the already charming little (and only) city of Cornwall, Truro.

Having our cups of coffees and throwing some guesses about the age of this cathedral and then finding the truth surprised me and my friends. Although the building looks ancient, it was actually built in 1887. The pub that we were having our coffees was at least 300 years older than this cathedral. But does this mean that it’s not significant? Of course not. Actually this is one of the few cathedrals in Cornwall and one of three cathedrals in the UK with three spires. It was also the first to be built on a new site in England since Salisbury Cathedral (1220). Built in Gothic revival style, this cathedral is now under heavy restoration and is trying to raise money for the big renewal of the main spire.

If you have time to spend in Truro I feel like this is a must, but it’s probably not significant enough to go out of your way especially for this cathedral.

www.trurocathedral.org.uk

Salisbury Cathedral

This cathedral has so much history and significance, it’s simply jaw dropping. On my way to Cornwall and Devon I decided to stop at Salisbury and I’m so glad that I did. The construction of the cathedral began as early as 1220 and it has been so wonderfully preserved it’s really hard to guess that this cathedral is almost 800 years old. This cathedral is being considered as one of the finest examples Early English Architecture, which was highly influenced by Gothic style.

Being featured in many books, movies and paintings, the cathedral has the tallest spire in the UK and it’s pretty much visible from anywhere in town. When we enter we see the beautiful interior design and are surprised to see the world’s oldest operating clock. The clock doesn’t even have a visual display, it just chimes at every hour. After seeing the beautiful chapels, modern art exhibitions and memorials inside, we were surprised again by one of the original (and the best preserved) Magna Carta copies inside. For those who don’t know, this is pretty much the first human-rights document and is considered to be a major influence in the start of democracy. Looking at this document, which shaped the way we live so much today, in easily one of the best cathedrals in the world is unmatchable.

If you get too tired and want to relax for a bit, you can sit down and have your high tea ritual in the beautiful garden looking at the cathedral. And it’s admission free, but I would highly recommend you to donate a little bit to preserve this magnificent piece of art.

www.salisburycathedral.org.uk