And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

fredag 30. desember 2011


When he finishes refection,
Knife and fork he never lays
Cross-wise, to my recollection
- Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister, Robert Browning

We'll pray for her soul...after pudding.
- Adele Goffe, Inspector Lewis (S5E2)

Although my main purpose of returning to York this September was to reunite with my friends I was also mindful of the English cuisine which I had become so fond of during my student days. Despite its rather dubious reputation I find English cooking both tasteful and enjoyable and I looked forward to taste things new and old, some in the company of friends, others in solitude. This time around I have included pictures of the venues in question so that it might be easier to locate for anyone intent on meandering the streets of York to acquire some of these delicacies.

From The Hole in the Wall, High Petergate

Yorkshire pudding

I fear that we shall be obliged to leave this pudding
- The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, Beatrix Potter

This classic dish is an obligatory implement of a culinary excursion in York, consisting of a bread-like bowl filled with gravy, meat - in this case presumably hog - and a ball of sage and onion stuffing, accompanied - if I remember correctly - by the ubiquitous side-dish of chips.

It is a very filling meal and I fell short of consuming all of it, especially because the heavy gravy soaks the pudding and makes it excessively soggy. Additionally I have to add that despite my outspoken fondness for sage and onion stuffing, this marvellous invention becomes too compressed and dry when served like a ball. Consequently I did not enjoy the pudding as much as I could have, and despite my well-established faith in kitchen of the Hole in the Wall, I cannot recommend its Yorkshire pudding. For those who would like to try this I direct you to the Yorkshire Hogroast in Stonegate. It should, however, be noted that there are good alternatives at the Hole in the Wall, one of which is my long-time favourite as seen below.

Ham and eggs

The Hole in the Wall ham and eggs was the first warm meal I consumed on the day of my arrival in York as a student January this year, and although the taste is nothing spectacular - it is rather bland - I kept coming back for it on a number of occasions, partly owing to it being perhaps the cheapest on the menu, partly due to the fact that I am a person who very quickly establishes traditions and sometimes has a hard time breaking free from them. This particular tradition, however, is not something I have a strong urge to break free from in any case.

From Uppercrust, Lendal

Uppercrust was a relatively late discovery for me as it came to my attention only in the last few weeks of my stay in York this spring, but after I had discovered their excellent pork sandwiches - of which I have spoken of effusively in a previous blogpost - I quickly became a regular up until the point the ladies behind the counter recognised me when I came by. Although my stay in York this September was considerably shorter I made sure to visit this venue as often as my stomach would allow me, and so I again became a regonised regular for a few days.

They also have a nice selection of other comestibles, but since I am somewhat single-minded at intervals, I did not explore these options this time around. 

From The Cornish Pasty Bakery, Coney Street

Like the pork sandwich the Cornish pasty is also an item I have dealt with in greater detail previously, but this time I remembered to take a photograph of one of the venues. There is also a Cornish Pasty Bakery shop in Colliergate which is somewhat bigger and has a bigger selection. Regardless of which venue one decides to visit one can be assured to find a wide range of fillings to suit any palate.

From Classic Crepe Company

One of the many nice little details in the cityscape of York is the various portable vendor stalls purveying food. This particular stall - the Classic Crepe Company - is at no fixed location, at least not as far as I have established, and as such must sometimes be sought out or stumbled upon by happy accident. Due to limited time of my stay I couldn't allow myself to feast on every item available, so I settled for a regular crepe with chocolate, a delightful - and quite filling - snack on the go.

From the Lamb & Lion Inn, High Petergate

Located by Bootham Bar the Lamb & Lion Inn is a deceptively spacious pub with an impressive menu. I went there with a couple of friends late in the evening. Although the ambiance is pleasant and the selection includes deliciously sounding items as rabbit and various pies, they were not very well-supplied at the time of our visit and I had to try at least three times before I found something on their menu that actually was available. This item was the pork chops served with apple sauce, forcemeat mashed potatoes and vegetables.

Although the food looked lovely the pork chops tasted somewhat overdone and aside from the forcemeat there was not much flavour to be had from the meal. I am, however, willing to be lenient and ascribe this to a busy evening and I haven't completely given up on The Lamb and the Lion Inn, although next time I hope they have rabbit.

From Evil Eye Lounge, Stonegate

Whew! We'll have our platter burnished,
Laid with care on our own shelf!
- Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister, Robert Browning

To celebrate that a friend from Constantine House had handed in her MA dissertation a couple of friends and I went to Evil Eye Lounge, a pub with an emphasis on Asian cooking, but also serving very Anglo-American lunches on Sundays. This was a Sunday lunch and I decided to order the turkey platter, filled with cabbage, carrots, broccoli, potatoes, fennel, sausage, cranberry sauce, Yorkshire pudding and even more which I can't remember. Seeing the vast array of trimmings I decided to go for a children's platter and I still didn't manage to finish all of it. The meal - taken in the Lhasa Lounge on what the Brits call the first floor - was wonderful and rich in taste, and the experience was of course made all the better for the company of my friends. In the end we were all so full that when I left them for a couple of errands I had to hug one of them sideways.

From the Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Lendal

This little venue was brought to my attention by a couple of friends one day we went strolling about town for a bit, and having been alerted to its rich selection I stopped by a couple of times due to its convenient location.

Pork pie

York is famous for its long traditions of pork meat and I felt obligated to try a pork pie at some point. I discovered, to my delight, that these could be acquired at The Gourmet Burger Kitchen to a very reasonable price, and I have to admit there is something deeply satisfactory about eating pie in England, at least to a committed anglophile such as myself.


The world's moved on from cheese and tomatoes, Sir.
- Sergeant Gavin Troy, Midsomer Murders (S3E1)

A nice alternative to the very English pie is the slightly more French quiche, equally reasonable in terms of price and almost just as filling. This particular one was a very tasty, savoury tomato and leek quiche.

Sausage roll

This is another very distinctly English contrivance, a flaky dough wrapped around a sausage comprised of more fat than meat, and although it is filling enough to serve as a quick brunch it is neither very tasty nor particularly appetising. It is one of those culinary idiosyncracies that sometimes have to be tested for the sake of one's curiosity, but which you may eventually regret trying, especially if you have a beard that will catch the flakes of dough. 

From La Bodrum, Bootham

(...) which is more of a Constantine experience
- Former flatmate on La Bodrum (paraphrase)

At an early stage of my student days in York I was introduced to La Bodrum, a rather mediocre takeaway place on Bootham. Its proximity to Constantine House made it a natural choice whenever we were feeling a bit peckish late in the evening or were on our way back to the house from some late night excursion. A friend and I established a tradition of movie nights and La Bodrum pizza, a tradition we resurrected during my revisit in September.

Pizza, Persuasion and personal friends. One of the perks of being a Constantine.


Many of my culinary adventures took place in Constantine House or on the go, and sometimes I forgot to document the venues I visited. Below is a minor selection of foodstuffs typical of my days in York.

To my taste the chips in England are far superior to any similar comestible I've encountered in Norway or the United States, and although one easily tires of them due to their ubiquitousness they are nonetheless a nice grub on the go. The above pictures were taken at a fish and chips shop one evening we were heading for The Golden Ball. On the last picture can be seen my travelling hat, given to me by fellow Constantines.

Boy, you really like those cookies.
- Fellow Constantine's comment on my consumption of caramel digestives

Caramel digestives became a favourite of mine back in 2009 when a friend and I were visiting York for a couple of days. We no longer have this delicacy in Norway and to compensate I consumed more than my fair share of these biscuits, as may be guessed by my former flatmate's above comment.

When some friends and I headed back from a meal at The Lamb and the Lion Inn - as mentioned above - it was decided we should deep-fry cake. This had been done once before, in January, but I had not dared to taste it back then and I was now quite curious to find out what it was like.

The selection included biscuits, one cream cake and a third kind I no longer remember, and they all tasted like dire, undelicate - but not undelicious - transgressions against the body.

And of course they came with sprinkles.

The above examples of available foodstuffs in York is a far from exhaustive list, neither with regards to foodstuffs or venues in which to acquire foodstuffs. For anyone staying or planning to stay in York I will recommend not only to seek out these venues I've presented here, but also to try new things and look for venues that appear pleasant when meandering the streets of York. The pleasure of discovery is essential to the joy of eating, and to a newcomer in York there is a vast range of places to discover.

søndag 25. desember 2011

The Herefordshire Carol

This is the truth sent from above,
The truth of God, the God of love:

- The Herefordshire Carol, traditional

One of the most beautiful Christmas carols in the English language is in my opinion This is the truth sent from above as arranged by composer Ralph Vaughan Williams in the early 20th century. The song is found in at least three renditions of varying length and the one collected and arranged by Williams comes from Herefordshire, hence commonly known as The Herefordshire Carol. Its complete text can be found here, and I bring this to you with my best wishes for a blessed Christmas.

The Herefordshire Carol is also the title of Geoffrey Hill's concluding implement of his sonnet sequence An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England, here taken from The Collected Poems, Penguin, 1985. Aside from the title there is little textual coherence between the two works, but since it is a beautiful poem I have added it as an extra Christmas gift.

The Herefordshire Carol

So to celebrate that kingdom: it grows
greener in winter, essence of the year;
the apple-branches musty with green fur 
In the viridian darkness of its yews

it is an enclave of perpetual vows
broken in time. Its truth shows disrepair,
disfigured shrines, their stones of gossamer,
Old Moore's astrology, all hallows,

the squire's effigy bewigged with frost,
and hobnails cracking puddles before dawn.
In grange and cottage girls rise from their beds

by candlelight and mend their ruined braids.
Touched by the cry of the iconoclast,
how the rose-window blossoms with the sun!

Merry Christmas

mandag 12. desember 2011

Annealed in Glass

But when thou dost anneal in glasse thy storie,
Making thy life to shine within
The holy Preachers, then the light and glorie
More rev'rend grows, and more doth win ;
Which else shows watrish, bleak, and thin.
- The Windows, George Herbert

As mentioned in my previous blogpost I have a certain fascination for stained glass and its place in the didactic unit of the Medieval church building, a fascination I seem to share with George Herbert. Depicting scenes from the Bible or Christian mythology the stained glass could convey elements of the Christian religion in a way that made it accessible to the illiterate. There is also a certain mysticism inherent in such a didactic approach for in stained glass the sun itself - whose diurnal course is and was a perfect metaphor for the Passion of Christ - becomes the teacher, animating the figures crafted from glass and making them cast their colours on the stone. For anyone who has stood in the long, dark nave of Durham cathedral and looked towards the rose window seemingly miles away, or seen straight at the heart of Yorkshire in York Minster when leaving the quire after Evensong knows what a wonderful sensation this is. To the Medieval mind, unaccustomed to the variety of visual impressions of our time, such an experience must have been tantamount to feeling the presence of God Himself. 

  The heart of Yorkshire

Since there are many churches in York, all with their own stained glass windows, I do not intend to mention them all here, but rather draw the reader's attention to this subject whenever I write about the various churches, as I intend to do in due course. This particular blogpost, therefore, will be centred around the church of St. Martin, cum Gregory on Micklegate, now home to the stained glass centre

The church itself is referred to already in the Domesday Book, but most of the present building dates from the 14th century and onwards, the brick tower being raised in 1844. It is currently no longer functioning as a parish church, but instead hosts the stained glass centre where people can drop by to learn about the historic windows of the church, try their skills in the glazier's craft and buy their own little windows crafted by current glaziers. 

I came across this church by chance one day I had decided to explore the city on southwestern side of the Ouse, and as I was walking down Micklegate I noticed the church and that the church was open. I walked inside, always eager to see new places of historical value, and was met by a friendly woman who informed me about a guided tour that had just started and which I was free to join. She also directed my attention briefly to the selection of cakes available for sale, but there and then I chose scholarly nourishment over bodily sustenance and drew closer to the guided group. 

During the English Civil War many churches suffered badly from the iconoclasm of Cromwell's troops, in some cases spurred on by a Puritan rage against art, in other cases presumably just a manifestation of a certain lust for destruction. In the case of St. Martin cum Gregory and other churches in York, however, the glass was spared due to the direct orders of Lord Fairfax, commander of the parliamentary army. When the royalists lost the Siege of York in 1644, Fairfax forbade his soldiers to wreak havoc on the churches and his orders were to my knowledge largely followed.

In 1709, however, came the Great Wind, a storm that ravaged the country and caused much material damage, and human damage too, presumably, and that destroyed many church windows throughout England. This was a time when there were very few glaziers around since the trade had fallen out of fashion since the Middle Ages. Fortunately, however, some of St. Martin cum Gregory's 14th century glass survived even this and can be admired today, which I of course did.

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye,
Or, if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav'n espy
- The Elixir, George Herbert

The stained glass of this window is genuinely Medieval as can be seen both from the style it is wrought in, thedark ruby-red colour typical of 14th century English glazing and also the fact that the glass has become opaque through centuries of oxidation. The central panel shows St. Martin of Tours (4th century) cutting his cloak in half to dress a beggar. This beggar, according to legend, later turned out to be Christ and Martin was soon thereafter baptised and eventually left the army in favour of religion. The flanking figures are Virgin Mary and John the Baptist.

At the bottom we find the donors of this particular glass, namely Edmund and Katherine Grey, earl and countess of Kent. 

The Virgin Mary

To the right side of this window can be found two other Medieval windows, crafted by the glazier Richard of Micklegate and depicting St. Catherine and John the Baptist. Richard's trademark can be seen on the borders. Some parts of the windows are not original but 1899 replicas, nor have they all escaped destruction scot free but have been subject to rearrangements. As can be seen especially in the case of poor Katherine Grey above, certain bits have been irrevocably lost, whereas in other cases the bits have been put together again more or less successfully.

Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one
When they combine and mingle, bring
A strong regard and aw:
- The Windows, George Herbert

I wandered a bit in and out of the tour in order to turn my attention to details I found fascinating. There are many beautiful pieces of art throughout the church, be it stone carvings or stained glass. I roamed a bit on my own at intervals and - while trying the baked goods - I ended up having a nice chat with a local vicar about history, and, as often is the case in York, he took even greater interest when he learned I was from Norway.

It so happened during my visit that I met a friend whom I had just recently become acquainted with and we decided to go for a cup of tea when she had finished her glazing and consequently I did not sit down myself to try my hand at it. Next time I'm in York I hope I get the chance.

onsdag 7. desember 2011

The Glazier's Cenotaph

There are in York many churches and in these churches there is a lot of stained glass, beautifully fashioned and some of it dating all the way back to the 14th century, roughly speaking. They are all very proud of their stained glass there and this is absolutely understandable. During my stays in York I have seen much of this glass myself in the course of my church-going, fascinated as I am by its role in Medieval communication and ecclesiastical didacticism (one of my favourite topics of Medieval history as faithful readers may have noticed). For those particularly interested there are even guided tours at the Bedern glazier studio, one of York's sights I have sadly not yet been able to experience.

In not very long I aim to put up a couple of photographs from some of my visits to York's various churches, focussing on its stained glass windows but of course also including other features. As an introduction - or perhaps a teaser - I present to you a picture taken at St. Denys Church, Walmgate, showing Robert de Skelton, a York citizen, holding up a replica of the window he donated to the church at about 1340. When I first saw the painting I was immensely intrigued by it, and somehow I got the idea that this man was the glazier himself, holding up his own craftsmanship before God. Later on I learned that this was not the case, but at that point I had already composed a short verse praising the painting as a cenotaph for the glazier. The premise of the poem is in other words false, but I hope nonetheless that some artistic freedom will be granted, and that you will agree the painting can still justifiably be called the anonymous glazier's monument if not his cenotaph.

The Glazier's Cenotaph

St. Denys' Church, York

Crafted from strange flesh he moves - as light
Allows - his hands at Heaven in piety,
Offering the glass he inhabits. The bright
Shimmer at noon emulates the ruby perfectly

As glass casts its blood on tread-worn tiles. "Here lies"
The letters read, while the glazier's cenotaph,
Fixed between earth and Heaven of his own craft
Filters the light for what is born and dies.
- September 15-16 2011

tirsdag 29. november 2011

From the quill of old virgins

Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.
- 1 Corinthians, 7:25

But so that, lacking the firm support of the scriptures, I am not blamed by someone for the verbose garrulity or garrulous verbosity of my dissertation, I shall attempt to weave with Christ's favour a most beautiful crown of virginity, plucking crimson flowers of purity from the meadow of holy books.
- On Virginity, Aldhelm of Malmesbury (translated by Michael Lapidge and Michael Herren)

He [Aldhelm] has his meed of praise, the glory won by his deserts; we must pursue our narrative.
- The History of the English Kings, William of Malmesbury (translated by R. A. B. Mynors, R. M. Thomson and M. Winterbottom)

Since I am writing my MA thesis on Edward the Confessor I decided to read up on what people in the Middle Ages thought about one of his prime claims to sanctity, namely chastity. Somehow I came across a little treatise most likely written in the latter quarter of the 7th century by the monk Aldhelm of Malmesbury (d. 709/10) and I decided to investigate it. 

 Despite being only marginally relevant to my thesis subject, I managed to take plenty of notes.

The treatise in question, On Virginity or De Virginitate, is the first implement of an opus geminatum, a double work, written by Aldhelm to Abbess Hildelith of Barking Abbey so that she might learn of the glorious virginal forebears found in the Bible and Christian mythology. It was later completed by the second implement, also dealing with virginity but this time in verse. The stylistic model for this work was Opus Paschale by Caelius Sedulius (5th century), described as the first Christian epic, whereas the subject-matter had already been expounded by church-fathers such as Tertullian, Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine, the latter three well known to Aldhelm himself. Like his antecedents in trade Aldhelm too enjoyed popularity and he became a widely known author and a stylistic influence on Bishop Boniface of Mainz, Bishop Daniel of Winchester and Abbess Eadburg of Thanet to mention a few. After the Norman conquest Aldhelm's popularity faded, but he received significant attention from William of Malmesbury (c. 1090-1143) who dedicated a large portion to him in the book The Deeds of the English Bishops and lamented that Aldhelm was no longer as appreciated as he had been in ages past.

I embarked on the project with a quaint mixture of dread and anticipation, for after reading the introductory material I soon realised that this was no easy text to deal with. As the translators and editors themselves tersely point out on page four:

Indeed, Aldhelm's love of verbiage for its own sake - he calls it "verbose garrulity or garrulous verbosity" - must often exasperate the well-intentioned reader who, having penetrated the lexical and syntactical obscurities of a two-page long sentence, finds that he is left with a trivial apopthegm of the merest banality.

And all of this dedicated to the matter of virgins. Not your ordinary bedside reading material, in other words, and I soon found out that the thinly veiled frustration of the editors was well merited. Aldhelm was quite obviously a man who enjoyed writing, who knew quite a bit and had even more to say, and was not afraid of sacrificing clarity for the sake of convolution. Since I picked this up in the middle of my research I was tempted to just skim it or read a small selection so as not to spend too much time trapped in its verbal wilderness, but I eventually decided to go through with it; partly as a challenge, partly because I was sick of not finishing books due to my research. Consequently I spent some late evenings charging through Aldhelm's maze of words, often enjoying his prose, equally often laughing loudly because of some odd phrase. One if these phrases is, I think, one of my favourite phrases of all times. In one of his sections of some length he compares the three levels of virginity he operates with to threads in an embroidery or tapestry, and after he has kept this going for some length he suddenly bursts out "But why are we rhetoricising about the tintings of fabric-dyes?" whereupon he continues with a lengthy simile replacing the fabric-dyes with diverse metals. What the editors and translators diagnosed as "love of verbiage for its own sake" proved very true indeed, and I burst out laughing as soon as I had read it. This may also explain my note on page 56 that sums it up by "Virginity and chastity compared in a tiresome array of similes."

Aldhelm's prose On Virginity is divided into two parts: an introduction where he writes about virginity and a catalogue of virgins from the Bible and Christian legends. He operates, as stated, with a hierarchy in which virginitas (virginity, signifying the monastic alternative) is the purest option, likened to gold and a whole range of other things, since Aldhelm is far from sparing with his similes. The second best option is that of castitas (chastity, a wedlock which is untainted by carnal activity or, as Aldhelm puts it, "the commerce of matrimony), and this is likened to silver and so on. The third option is iugalitas (conjugality, the consummated marriage) which in Aldhelm's opinion does not rank very high, and it is obvious he would have preferred that Christ had spoken quite vehemently against wedlock due to the risk of carnal activity.

This tripartite division differs from that of Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine who identified the stages of female chastity as virginity, womanhood and marriage, and the difference is due to a particular dilemma Aldhelm was confronted with.The treatise is written to the Abbey of Barking, a nunnery whose members mostly came from the noble estate and were in many cases women who had divorced their husbands to dedicate themselves to the monastic life of virginity, despite this being expressly forbidden in Christian teaching. To reconcile his views with the situation of his audience he therefore uses his own tripartite division rather than the one established by the church fathers. Aldhelm also points out that although virginity is the purer option, compared to which "(...) all the sublime loftiness of wedded folk, takes second place", virgins run the risk of becoming tainted with pride by knowledge of their purity. Chastity, Aldhelm asserts, is therefore lesser than virginity in that it is not as pure, but chastity assures humility which is important to avoid pride which is of the devil and must be shunned. Virginity is nonetheless better, despite the risk of pride, because in reward for virginity men and women are endowed with prophetic powers "and things closed in the mystical coverings of the sacraments are divinely unlocked."

 Wall-plaque at the Catholic Church of St. Aldhelm. Yes, he became a saint.

On Virginity is a curious and highly interesting work, not seldom beautiful in its voluble prose sprawling the pages like a briar bush but more often frustratingly dense, not because it is lofty but because Aldhelm - or rather his translator as Aldhelm did not have these things - is miserly with periods and lavish with semicolons. Among his most beautiful sections I would like to present the following:

O excellent grace of virginity,which like a rose grown from thorny shoots blushed with a crimson flower and never withers with the defect of dread mortality, and although the tired fragility of the moribund flesh droops and ages with stooping and bent senility as the terminus of death approaches, virginity alone in the manner of happy youth continually flourishes and is constantly growing!
- page 74

I shall not indeed allow AMBROSE, redolent with the ambrosia of heavenly nectar, to lie hidden behind a veil of silence - [Ambrose], whose mellifluous sweetness of doctrine and the privilege of pure virginity were prefigured by beautiful omens (...)
- page 84

However, despite Aldhelm's mastery of language it is oftentimes a bit too evident that the piece comes from the quill of an old virgin who becomes exceedingly pompous when praising and borderline scatological when deriding the matter at hand. It is well worth a read, especially if you have an interest in the Middle Ages, but it must be met with a very open mind since both the subject-matter and the conclusions are strange to our times and difficult to get to terms with.

lørdag 26. november 2011

Advent Sunday

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the threshold of a season and a time for anticipation and reflection. To me this is a beautiful time of the year, a time fit for beautiful words and thoughts, words that, put together, will illustrate some of the emotional and symbolic gravity of the days ahead. The most beautiful words I have read concerning this season is put into a poem by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and a very fine poet. I have a profound respect and admiration for Dr. Williams, both as a priest and as a poet, two roles he himself adamantly insists on keeping separate. The poem in question is Advent Calendar, published in The Poems of Rowan Williams, reprinted in 2002 by Perpetua Press.

Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf's fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud's folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

Nativity scene by Sandro Botticelli