Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Unos 20 personas simpáticas, así como Usted

'Probably the finest Gothic building in Spain', the cathedral in León  'the House of Light' passed me by.  I didn't rejoice in the 125 medieval stained glass windows, 1,800 square metres of glass catching and mediating the sunlight in different ways as the Sun moves (or as the Earth moves, if you must); it was the last church that I went into as a (vestigial) believer,  in March 1971, and my mind was on other things. The Guardia Civil were not among the '20 personas simpáticas' who, according to my sales spiel, I was to talk to each day ('diáriamente y en cada lugar donde vamos visitando...').

I had just been arrested at gunpoint, and my one colleague (I had previously been in a group of about a dozen 'students' – well, young people, mostly students – but we two were to be the nucleus of a new group) was still being held. I had no return ticket, precious little money, and I was working  with a man whom I didn't know from Adam – or rather Adán, he being Spanish – who, the police had tried to convince me, was probably a spiv. So I turned to religion; or just  wanted to sit down somewhere cool (a need which I think may explain the popularity of Catholicism in the Mediterranean).

I was reminded of that magnificent Gothic pile yesterday, at Truro Cathedral (and cognoscenti of the money-changers story may be interested to note that, by the magic of predictive text, 'Truro' is only a finger-slip away from 'usury'). As the cathedral's website says:
Since at least 1259, and probably before, there has been a Parish Church of St Mary located on this site. When Truro was chosen it was assumed that the Parish Church would be completely demolished to make way for the Cathedral. However, the architect John Loughborough Pearson, argued and eventually gained permission to keep at least part of the old Parish Church. He cleverly incorporated the South Aisle of the church into his design for the new Cathedral, so that symbolically and physically the Mother Church of the Diocese has a protective arm around one of her daughter churches.
 There had been a bishopric of León since the ninth century AD, their website says:
A Christian community is first recorded in León in 254, but no bishop is recorded in Visigothic times. The bishropic of León was established in 860, after King Ordono conquered the city from the Moors. It was subordinate to the diocese of Toledo until 1105.
But it was not until the middle of the thirteenth century AD – about the same time as the building of Truro's Parish Church of St Mary – that work on  the cathedral at León was started with money from Alfonso the Wise. [Cardinal Wiseman school? No, that would be a digression too far, even for me.] Both cathedrals, also, were built mainly over two periods: León's in the thirteenth and then in the nineteenth; Truro's in the nineteenth century (the foundation stone was laid in 1880) and not completed until the twentieth (with refurbishment extending into the twentyfirst).

They are both Gothic – although Truro's is an example of the Victorian Gothic Revival. And although Truro's stained glass bears no comparison with León's, it is still spectacular (a word with a pleasingly optical double-entendre). And, presumably for lack of funds, much of its glass above ground-floor level is clear. The rose window at the front of the building, though, is magnificent; and there is much other notable stained glass (just not 1,800 square metres!)

I was in Truro at the end of my choir's short tour of the West Country, of which more anon. But before I go I can't resist an etymological reflection induced by my visit to the Mayflower Exhibition.
Plymouth was noted for being a Roundhead stronghold during the English Civil War – and that name for the Puritans' soldiers, was coined with reference to their headgear (I prefer the soldiers' helmet theory to the pudding-basin haircut theory expounded – very briefly – here).

The Roundhead soldiers were by no means the first fighting force to be given a nickname based on what their heads looked like. When Roman soldiers occupied Gaul the locals thought that their helmets looked like cooking pots (Vulgar Latin TESTA(M)). Among all the Romance-language names for head (capo, cabo, cabeza, cabeça ...) where does the French tête come from? Well, here's a hint; the circumflex in French is often a vestige of an s.

I'll leave that with you. After 5 days away I have mail to delete; and then I must get on with V3.1 of #WVGTbook.PPS

PS Another headgear-based term of abuse and/or contempt was one that I was exposed to in common with other wearers of the uniform of St Gregory's RC Primary School – which included a cap that sported the papal arms (a mitre, that looked a bit like a bee-hive). Hence the unbelievers' cry of  'Look out, here come the bee-hives', a term of derision that I classed with the "dungeon, fire and sword" that, according to the hymn, the Faith of our Fathers [was] living still in spite of.
 With any luck it'd be worth a good few Hail Marys in the Hereafter Stakes.

Update 2017.06.02.13:50  – Deleted old footer and added PPS.

PPS –This link no longer works, as at the time I wrote this post the book was half finished. The finished book is here.

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