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  1. If you’re walking around the glorious Edinburgh Castle, then you might be forgiven for walking past one of the smaller buildings, dismissing it as nothing important. However despite it’s size, you should still pay attention to it, as you’re looking the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh – St Margaret’s Chapel!St Margaret

    St Margaret of Scotland is a former Queen of Scotland, and is English by birth. Originally a Princess of the House of Wessex, Margaret was born in Hungary, where her father ended up after being exiled following the Danish invasion of England in 1016, when he was just a boy. Margaret was born around 1045, and in 1057 her father was summoned back to England by Edward the Confessor, possibly to be acknowledged once again as heir to the Anglo-Saxon English throne. However Margaret’s father died soon after their arrival back in England. The family appear to have lived at court until the Norman invasion of 1066. By 1068, they’d ended up in Scotland, where Margaret became the bride of King Malcolm III.

    Margaret appears to have married Malcolm around 1070, and together they had six sons and two daughters (Margaret also became stepmother to Malcolm two sons from an earlier marriage). Margaret was reportedly very devout, and devoted a lot of time and energy to charitable works. She and Malcolm appear to have been very close, her death on 16 November 1063 came three days after Malcolm and their eldest son were killed in battle at Alnwick. She was already ill, but the shock of the news of this loss may have contributed to her death.

    It was originally believed that this small chapel was a place where Margaret had worshipped, but later studies have shown that it was built around the time her son David held the throne as King David I. It's difficult to see how a chapel so small could hold a whole court, so I have to wonder if it was built as a more private sanctuary for the King and his family, especially since it was originally part of older Royal buildings. Margaret wasn't canonised until 1250, but I couldn't find a source stating whether the chapel was dedicated to her before she was canonised, or was originally built for a different saint.St Margaret's Chapel, Edinburgh

    The chapel survived the destruction of Edinburgh Castle by Robert Bruce's men in 1314, and went on to be used a place of worship. After the Reformation the chapel became redundant, and was instead used as a storage space for gunpowder! During the Victorian period the original history of the chapel was discovered, and the chapel was restored with Queen Victoria's agreement. Today this tiny but timeless building has a beautiful series of 20th century stained glass windows, depicting four Scottish saints (including Margaret) and William Wallace. It's still used for weddings and baptisms.

  2. At this time of year it seems to appropriate to have at least one entry on a church dedicated to St Nicholas, so I’ve gone for the one at Great Hormead in Hertfordshire.St Nicholas, Great Hormead, Hertfordshire

    There are two churches rather close to each other, and St Nicholas at Great Hormead is the larger one. It’s also the younger one, as an earlier church had already been founded up the road at Little Hormead. Both churches were built close to their respective manors, suggesting that the people in the manor near St Nicholas really couldn’t be bothered to walk down the road (or across the field as it probably used to be).

    St Nicholas was founded in the early 13th century, and considerably extended in the 14th, including the creation of the tower. The corbels in the roof reportedly date from the 13th century, and are therefore from the original building. Inside the tower has a peal of six bells, with the oldest dating from 1606, and the final one added almost a century later in 1701. The church underwent a full restoration in 1873, which along with rebuilding the chancel also saw the addition of an organ chamber and the south porch, as well as new stained glass windows. A more recent 20th century addition is a further extension at the back of the church, providing a kitchen and toilet facilities.

    Sadly the church appears to be devoid of any medieval brasses or older memorials. One interesting one from 1696 details the bequest of William Delawood of Hormead Hall. His will left provisions for a donation to be made to the poor of the Parish “upon every feast day of the nativity of our Lord”. The will also stated that a “table” be inscribed with his bequest and hung in the church, so that the parishioners would be aware that he had left money for the poor, and “see if duly performed” – perhaps he didn’t trust that the money would reach the right people! It also mentions that a copy of his will “in parchment is now deposited in a chest in this church forever to be kept there”, this now appears to be deposited at the Hertfordshire Record Office, and the original version has been digitised and appears on the National Archives catalogue under PROB 11/431/144. 

  3. The church of the Holy Sepulchre seriously stands out. For many it is the only round church they will see, and it sits in the heart of Cambridge, near the corner of St John's College. Today it is one of only 5 surviving round churches in England.Holy Sepulchre, Cambridge

    The church was built in 1133, approximately 100 years after the founding of nearby St Bene't. The unusual circular style was based on the interior of the church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and thus also took it's name from it. Originally it was a church for those travelling along the main road, but it was eventually taken in as a parish church by Barnwell Priory, a wealthy priory in Chesterton.

    Like the church at Thriplow in Cambridgeshire, Holy Sepulchre was damaged by William Dowsing in his anti-Popery crusade, and various pictures, statues and inscriptions in Latin were damaged or destroyed. In the following centuries the church fell to ruin, until a partial collapse in 1841 prompted a restoration, with architect Anthony Salvin commissioned to carry out the work. Salvin was an expert in medieval buildings, and spent most of his career working on restoration projects, including castles and manor houses. Part this included replacing the 15th century bell tower with the original roof, as the bells were proving to be too heavy for the walls to safely support them.

    Older surviving parts of the building include the doorway, pillars and arches, which all date from the Norman period, and parts of the chancel date from the 15th century. The restoration work in the Victorian period included new stained glass windows, some of which were destroyed when Cambridge was bombed in July 1942, and replaced in 1949. Today the church is too small for the local congregation, instead it's open to tourists (for a small fee), and hosts talks and small musical concerts.

  4. If you visit the city of Lincoln, you won’t be able to miss the cathedral. Standing on top of a hill (the walk up to it is named “Steep Hill” – it’s not an exaggeration!) the cathedral dominates the skyline. The climb up the hill is well worth it though, as it brings you through little medieval streets in to a small square, and the cathedral itself with a medieval gate in front of it.

    It’s Up, It’s Down, It’s Up AgainStained glass window, Lincoln Cathedral

    Lincoln Cathedral has had a bit of a history of falling down. The first cathedral was built after the Norman Conquest, with completion in 1092. A fire in 1141 destroyed the roof, which led to an opportunity to expand and rebuild, but an earthquake in 1185 destroyed most of the building. St Hugh of Lincoln was appointed as bishop after the earthquake, and a new period of rebuilding began from 1192.

    Disaster struck again in 1237, when the main tower collapsed, probably due to poor support when it was originally built. The loss of the tower gave an opportunity for further expansion, St Hugh’s burial in the cathedral had led to an increase in pilgrim visits, and more space was needed. More building work was carried out in the 14th century, including increasing the height of the central tower to 271.

    Lincoln does not appear to have suffered too badly under Henry VIII, although a storm in 1548 did lead to the collapse of the spire that had been raised on the central tower. The worst damage was done during Cromwell’s time, when Lincoln was besieged by Cromwell’s forces. Restorations and new building work were carried out from the mid-17th century onwards, including the building of the Wren Library and the installation of bells in the central tower, which ring every quarter hour.

    Memorials and GlassEleanor of Castile, Lincoln Cathedral Tomb

    The Victorian restoration led to a new collection of stained glass being installed in the cathedral, especially in the windows along the nave, which show the usual Old and New Testament scenes. There’s also several memorial windows, such as the one dedicated to Robert Parker and Arthur Malcolm Cook, both canons and subdeans of the cathedral.

    Multiple Bishops of Lincoln have been buried in the Cathedral, and their carved tombs can be found dotted around the building. Up past the altar you can also find the viscera tomb of Eleanor of Castile, wife of King Edward I. Eleanor died a few miles away from Lincoln and was brought to the city to be embalmed before her remains were returned to London. The embalming process at the time included removing the internal organs, an in Eleanor’s case hers were buried in the cathedral. Her widower had a tomb raised in the cathedral, identical the one built for her in Westminster Abbey, although the effigy in place is a 19th century replica, the original was destroyed in the 17th century.

    Another memorial that was damaged during the Civil War, although one that hasn’t been restored and thus is now very unassuming, is the tomb chest of Katherine Swynford. A former Duchess of Lancaster as the former mistress and third wife of John of Gaunt, Katherine’s tomb was raised by her daughter Joan Beaufort, which was buried in a smaller tomb next to her mother. Before the damage the tombs had brass effigies of both Katherine and Joan, and were decorated with their heraldic symbols. Nowadays two plain stone chests, placed end to end instead of side to side, are all that remain.

    Lincoln Cathedral has continued to need serious restoration work over the years. The west front in particular has had a lot of work carried out. The cathedral is well worth a visit, a ticket can be purchased for £8 and entitles to you to a second visit within 6 months. Alternatively if you can’t visit but would like to donate to their restoration projects, you can do so here.

  5. Although most of this blog series has focused on English churches, there are also a few Italian churches I've visited as well. Today we have the church of Santa Maria in Trastavere. Quite close to another famous Trastavere church, St Cecilia, St Maria doesn't have any evocative sculpture, but does have some beautiful art.St Maria in Trastavere

    The church is one of the oldest in Rome. It's believed to have been founded in 221 by Pope Callixtus I, and has been rebuilt several times since. Most of the current structure dates from the mid-12th century, when Pope Innocent II had the old church pulled down and rebuilt using materials from the Baths of Caracalla. Many centuries later some of these materials (the pillars in the church) were defaced when pagan images of Roman and Egyptian gods were identified on them.

    The covered portico at the front of the church is very interesting, as the walls are inlaid with Roman and medieval inscriptions and grave markers. These are apparently fragments of the original churches that were on this spot, and they given an interesting insight in to the people that worshipped and were buried here hundreds of years ago. You could spend a good few hours alone photographing and translating the Roman inscriptions and images along the front.

    The inside of the church features a series of beautiful 13th century mosaics by the artist Pietro Cavallini. The heavy use of gilt in the mosaics makes the whole end of the church glow. As you 'd expect from a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the mosaics depict scenes from her life, such the annunciation. There's also a series of 16th century frescoes, particularly in one of the chapels, where the Council of Nicaea is depicted.

    Among the notable burials at this church is Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio. Cardinal Campeggio has an important part in England's history, as he was the legate sent to England to rule on the validity of the marriage between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.