Day 2: St Martin in the Fields & St James Park

Our third church service of Sunday, 10 Aug was at St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Unlike Westminster, the interior was painted—and white; add in the grand windows, and it was quite bright in there.  Imagine travelling from a tenebrous and mysterious stone castle whose ceiling itself is nearly lost in shadow to this bright, white worship hall.  Each is lovely for its own merits.

st martin in the fields organ

We visited St Martin-in-the-Fields for the sake of hearing the choristers, but I didn’t enjoy the music nearly as much as that at Westminster.  (Often, churches have visiting choirs performing, but this was not the case at any of the three services we attended this day, so if you’re trying to size of choirs based on my appreciation of them, make sure you remember this.)

The acoustics of the place were nice, and there was a lovely pipe organ in the balcony rearward.  The singing  didn’t hold my interest, though.  It was good, of course, but not so tight as to make me stand up and take notice, neither were the arrangements very exciting to me.

Who was St Martin in the Fields?

I assumed the name of the church meant that it would be a church among fields, dedicated to a saint named Martin.  Luther set me straight on the matter: ‘in the fields’ is an appelative phrase for distinguish

ing the St Martin in question (not designating the church).[1]  The Martin in question appears to be St Martin of Tours, whom I don’t see referenced as St Martin-in-the-fields anywhere except in the name of this very church.

The St Martin-in-the-Fields church

The earliest reference to a church on the site of present-day St Martin-in-the-Fields dates to 1222, but the church currently occupying the site was completed in 1726 (so it predates the revival of interest in St Martin of Tours, occassioned by the rediscovery of his tomb at Tours in 1860).

The church claims to be (or have instigated) the first free lending library in London and the first religious broadcast.

St James Park

After the service, we made our way across Trafalgar square to St James Park, where we had a good picnic.

household cavalry museum from st james park
Cavalry museum, viewed from St James Park

Old Admiralty Building, London

Ah, but isn’t picnicking a worthy pursuit?  It surely demands that we speak to one another; and the mundane, bandying of words in which we tend to engage daily just won’t do in such a setting.  One is induced to really hold thoughtful conversation—unless the weather be so muggy that one is induced, rather, into stupor.

inquisitive squirrel

I tried to draw the others into reading together, but Cait would have none of it, so we ate and conversed, and every time that the inquisitive squirrel tried to insinuate himself, Dad chased him away (though we admonished him to leave well enough alone).

[1] How may St Martins are there?  I don’t know but I guess they include Martin of Tours, Martin of Braga, Pope Martin I, Martin of Arades, Martin de Porres, Martin Tho, Martin Tinh Duc Ta, Alexis St Martin.

Day 2: Hyde Park Ward

After Sung Eucharist at Westminster Abbey, we hurried off to South Kensington Station for the LDS church meeting with the Hyde Park Ward.

It’s a small world for Mormons

We had white shirts and ties but were hardly in our usual Sunday best, nevertheless, upon exiting the station, I made eye contact with a couple of young Germans who were dressed for Sunday and somehow recognized us for a party of LDS, one of whom made in inquisitive look.  “Are you looking for the LDS church?” I asked, and indeed they were—but in doubt for directions—so the eight of us proceeded together to the ward house.

The majority of the ward was… expatriots!  Surprise!  (That’s my synonym for ‘immigrants’.)

The services were nice, rather more religious than the sermon at Westminster.  I was surprised at how large the congregation was.  (Perhaps seemed so because I’ve been routinely attending wards in the suburbs for so long.)

It’s small world for Mormons, after all

In Sacrament Meeting, Luther and I sat behind someone who recognized myself from my time in the Granite Bay ward.  What a thing!  On top of that, In Sunday School, I recognized a former classmate of mine from BYU.

There’s a disputed theory that everyone is three steps from Kevin Bacon.  In LDS circles, a similar claim asserts that every church member is at most three steps away from every other LDS church member.  (Remarkable if true, since it’s a worldwide church with membership exceeding 14 million[1], but it’s definitely possible, what with the perpetual diaspora of full-time missionaries across national and linguistic boundaries.)

Another remarkable claim: Luther said it was only his first time ever not knowing anyone at church, including his two years as a missionary in New York.

Day 2: Westminster Abbey

Sunday morning, we visited Westminster Abbey for Sung Eucharist, scheduled for 11:15.

Westminster Abbey is a grand, gothic edifice, and I found its architecture, music, and sculpture a garden of empyrean delights, the music most of all.

We were obliged to leave the service before it was complete, shortly into the imparting of the sacraments.  Given our position, we thought it least obtrusive to make our exit through the nearest egress (at the south transept).  We got out of the building alright, but found that the gate beyond was locked, so we took advantage of a narrow slot between the abbey wall and the iron fence about it.  Being of narrow frame every one of us, we slipped from the locked yard into an adjacent one and exited through the usual gate.  In the photo, you can see Brad turned sideways to negotiate the passage (which would not have been so narrow, except for a bent iron bar which extended from the stone wall toward the gate.)

The Choristers

The singers were tightly on key and raised harmonies that infused life into the brain and magic into the blood.  The all-stone construction created a strong reverb to give the music a very ethereal, haunting effect.  Remarkably, I did not find that the effect to diminish the experience but rather found it highly pleasing.

My impression of the Westminster choristers contrasts strongly with my experience with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in the LDS Conference Center, which also makes use of a strong reverb; the latter has always sounds like a loud, atonal whisper, which always makes the music merely less distinct to my ears, cloaking merit and error alike.  Unpleasant to my taste for as long as I’ve been alive.

The rest of my party preferred the music we heard later that day at St. Martin in the Field church.  I can’t say why.

Poet’s corner

We had the good fortune to be seated in Poet’s corner.  A bust of William Blake occupied a commanding position partway up a load-bearing column ahead of us.  During our exit, I observed the resting places of the corporeal remains of Geoffrey Chaucer and Edmund Spenser.  Against the west wall were an abundance of masterful likenesses and scenes in relief.  Ah, to have had longer there.

The architecture

Gothic architecture is notable not only for it’s ornament, sharp angles, and aspiring height (and concomitant flying buttresses) but for the light interiors (permitted by grand and often ornamental windows).  Or so the art history texts instructed me.  Because I was expecting light interiors, I found the inside of gothic constructions suprisingly dark.  I suppose they might have been marginally brighter than the Norman age constructions we visited, but not noteably so.  (My recollection of York Minster is that it was considerably brighter than Westminster.)  What was noteable (to me) is that there was electric lighting in the church, though dim and unobtrusive.

All to the better, really; the darkness contributed to a really priceless atmosphere of wonder.

The photograph here gives you an idea of the scale of the building and the multitude of windows.  (That’s our 6’+ bodies standing on the left.)

The service

The cloth gave a really fine sermon about forgiveness.  It was really well delivered and entailed a truly interesting history.  Nevertheless, it struck me as rather humanist, which I suppose is not uncommon in today’s Christian churches, that is, something along the lines of, “We must and can do good and difficult things,” but without mention of relying on God for his saving or strengthening power.

In contrast, the liturgies contained language of religion in addition to philosophy.

Topmost snap of Westminster Abbey obtained from Wikimedia commons: Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License.

Day 1: Globe Theatre

If you’re native to an English-speaking country, you’ve heard of the Globe Theatre.  Two things all U.S. high school grads know are that Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, and Shakespeare’s theatre was the Globe.

My review of the Globe Theatre

I had seen a drawing of the Globe in one of my high school English classrooms, and I didn’t think much of it, but seeing it in person, I was genuinely impressed (and surprised to find myself so), impressed at the splendour of the stage and the capacity of the house.  It was a good deal bigger than I expected, and I could instantly see that views of the stage were much better than I had imagined when viewing the old drawing in high school.

One hopes that the people in 1599 were shorter than they are now, though, because there was not much leg room on the benches on the lower story.  Mum, Luther, and I had seats on stage left.  Dad, Sav, and Brad had seats in the pit, which is rather like the standing room around the stage at a rock concert.

Alas, photos were not permitted the theatre-goers themselves, but there was a professional photographer going about and snapping pics at his pleasure through the performance. (I can’t guess why they didn’t allow photos.  It’s not like people would have had flashes going off since the theatre is open-air, and the performance took place at 2:00.)

The show we caught was Anne Boleyn.  My review of the show follows, but first: history.

The history of the Globe Theatre

Prior to my England trip, I listened to an audio book A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare.  Among other matters, the book described the history of the Globe Theatre, which I’ll attempt to reconstruct:

The Globe Theatre’s origins lie in another theatre which lay on the north side of the Thames, owned by a certain Mr Burbage.  The theatre was in time inherited by Burbage’s two sons, and it was under their hand that the lease came due.  For a reason I can’t recall they determined to remove to another location.

The Burbage brothers didn’t have the money to strike out in this manner, so they invited certain other of the Theatre’s actors (including the talented William Shakespeare) to buy in and become co-owners.  The buy-in was quite steep for the actors, but becoming co-owners would increase their earning power above the not-much-more-than-subsistence, which it was at the time.

The four invitees did buy in, but there was a complication: the Theatre was owned by Burbage Sr, but the land on which it stood was actually leased.  That may not seem like a problem, but the question of whether or not the Burbage brothers had a right to the building was significant that the six actors carried swords and came in the night in the dead of winter to dismantle the Theatre and move the timbers and pegs on their own.

After the turn of the year, they rebuilt the Theatre on the other side of the Thames, specifically Bankside, Southwark.  The new theatre, named the Globe, was assembled in the very image of the old one.

My review of Anne Boleyn

I was rather disappointed.  There.  It was a good deal better than most of the performances I’ve seen whose dialogue is Elizabethan English, but it was, notwithstanding, rather vulgar (in both senses of the word).

I find it a regrettable commonplace that people find it the height of wit to insert crass language and lewdness into supposedly high-brow entertainment.  Seriously?  This is what elicits waves of laughter from audiences?  Even audiences who eschew the popular and seek out something less accessible?