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Ripon Cathedral © Freefoto

June 23 – A Room with a View
Ripon Cathedral

Oh, those twisty hilly roads with the sun shining through clouds that come and go. I have grown quite fond of Yorkshire. Winding this way and that on a forested road, I catch a glimpse of the Kilburn White Horse on a hillside again, but this time instead of needing a zoom lens to get a good view of it, it's getting larger and larger.

Up, up, up we go on a very narrow road and then – there it is. It's huge. The figure is completely distorted from this vantage point. It doesn't look like a horse at all, just a white hillside with little bumps on top. But those bumps are moving – those are people! We pull into a little car park, and I go to locate the path, finding it quickly and noting with some dismay that it's an almost vertical climb.

Okay, I admit it, I wimped out. I satisfy myself with reading the sign at the base of the path, which explains the origins of the horse. There is also a notice that warns adventurers to not walk on the hillside. I translate this to my own suiting and use it as justification for not hiking to the top. As I climb back into the car a small plane drifts over the hill; a glider soaring silently through the thickening clouds. What a magnificent view he must have.

Back in the car, along the winding road we travel, through Thirsk, finally arriving in the medieval town of Ripon. Leaving the car park, where squirrels scamper rambunctiously, we walk through the courtyard of a police museum, passing by the debtors' cells on the way. Past a large and very crowded grocery store with a Grand Opening banner strung across the entry we walk and, turning the corner, find ourselves in the midst of town. I note all of the small shops here – the green grocer, the butcher, the baker, (no candlestick maker) and wonder how the arrival of the supermarket will affect their business over time.

Around another corner and there is the cathedral, which was begun in 672 when Saint Wilfrid built one of England's first stone churches on the site. Enlarged and restored over the centuries, Ripon is still a very active place of worship. We enter the cathedral, and there is so much to take in that I stand back and do just that before moving on to explore.

My eyes flicker over the nave, choir and transepts. Then, from across the room, a stained glass window catches my eye – calls to me, demands my immediate attention, pulls me, like a magnetic force, to it. I walk directly over to it and stand, gazing upward. It isn't a biblical scene, like the majority of the stained glass windows I had seen thus far; it's two panels, identical, of a flowering vine. I stand there and, there are no words to describe how I feel, there's something about it that touches me so. And then the choir starts singing a cappella. I crane my neck, looking around, but can't see them. Their voices are heavenly and tears fill my eyes.

I back up to lean against the wall behind me, to study this stained glass window, hoping that it will become etched in my memory, and bump into a sign that reads "Anglo-Saxon Crypt" with an arrow pointing down. So down I go and suddenly, I am transported back in time. The stairs are very narrow, the air so cool. In the dim light before me stretches a maze of passageways. I feel as if I am there 1300 years ago as I wander alone through this silent labyrinth. I feel as if I am the first person to ever see this, the first person whose footsteps echo on the stone floor.

Returning to the Cathedral, I study the pulpit. Bronze, with marble supporting pillars, a sounding board hangs directly above it. The misericords in the choir are elaborately carved with fantastic creatures. A griffin with a rabbit in its claws and another rabbit hiding in its hole make me smile. These carvings were the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, whose creator stayed here when he visited his father who was a Canon of Ripon from 1852 to 1868. My only regret about visiting this wondrous place is that I didn't purchase a guidebook before leaving ... but, maybe next trip.

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