Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sticking up for Norwich

Since Karl ragged on the churches of Norwich in the comments to the last post, I feel obliged to stick up for them. First of all, for any of you late medievalists out there, or for those of you who like to visit English cities with lots of well-preserved medieval structures, Norwich is a must-see, especially as it has not yet been overrun by tourists the way York has (though York is also a must-see, tourist crowds or not). I visited Norwich on a sunny August day in 2004 and had a lot of places entirely to myself, including Stranger's Hall (granted, more early modern than medieval) and the reconstructed cell of Julian of Norwich (rather much larger than I imagine the original to have been). And if you happen to be in Cambridge, it's an easy train ride from there (about 2 hours, if I recall, and cheap day-returns are available). Also, I will always be fond of a city where I saw the Biggest. Dog. Ever. at the foot of one of the towers of the old medieval wall:


No, that's not a pony. It's a wolfhound of some variety, but I don't know which.

Anyway, back to the churches. I remember reading in one of the guide books that Norwich has the largest number of still-standing medieval parishes of any city in England. And then on top of that there are the rebuilt Victorian gothic churches, as well. The result is that you can stand in the yard of one parish and usually see one, two, or three more from where you're standing. It gives you a very clear, tangible sense of the closeness and smallness of medieval parishes, and of the religious activity that was necessary to sponsor their existence. In contrast, many parish churches in Norwich today are being made "redundant" -- despite existing in a country with a state religion.

I don't entirely disagree with Karl that the parish churches are all pretty small and dark, but they give a sense of intimacy (and the kind of close community that implies) that cathedrals and mega-churches and the suburban Catholic church I grew up in just can't do. But the Norwich churches really show you just how wealthy Norwich was in the 15th century. Take a look at St. Peter Mancroft, a parish church on the edge of the market square and near the guildhall, which probably means that its 15th century parishioners included many a wealthy merchant. Below is a picture I took of the interior, but I don't really do it justice. The home page of the church that I just linked gives more pictures, including one of the exterior that really shows its impressiveness, and you can see a panoramic view here, courtesy of the BBC. Here's my picture:

Pretty impressive for a parish church. Apparently, many visitors mistake it for the cathedral. Speaking of which, Norwich Cathedral is a wonderful place to visit, too. Though it's not quite as lovely as York Minster, it does have a fabulous collection of painted ceiling bosses and misericord carvings in the choir stalls. Here are two half-way decent pictures I took of those elements (the bosses are from the cloisters where I could get close to them):



What I also enjoyed about the Cathedral, especially on such a lovely day, was its enormous, park-like close (the biggest in England, I think). Here's a view of the Cathedral from one of the lawns:


That's only a part of the close. It goes on forever and seems to have its very own little village inside it. I *so* want to live in one of these houses (*love* the crenelation on the pink one!):


Of course, given English real estate prices these days, I couldn't afford one, not even with Norwich's relatively more affordable real estate. So I'll have to content myself with maybe going back for a visit some day. I'd like to do some easy hiking through East Anglia (it's very flat, after all) and maybe pop in on Norwich to see the things I didn't get a chance to visit on my one day there -- for instance "Dragon Hall," a 15th century building and museum of late medieval mercantile life, was closed for renovation when I was there.

So there you go -- plenty of reasons to love and visit Norwich! Now, perhaps I should ask the Norwich Tourism Board for an honorarium or something! :)

PS - Two more reasons to visit:

1) Streets like these...


2) ...where the Pastons once lived:



(I was also going to show you a picture of the Norman fortress with a nun walking a cute dog in the foreground, but Blogger won't let me post another picture. Darn!)

21 comments:

Susan said...

Thanks for the pictures of Norwich. I love the parish churches there, and had a great time when I was living there doing dissertation research. So much good wandering.

There are also, of course, good pubs..

Anonymous said...

Since I do early modern French history, I haven't made it to England yet, but my list of must-see places is ever-growing. Norwich has long been on the list, but after this post, it's moved a lot closer to the top! I really love the small but beautiful late medieval parish churches; I agree that they give one a much better sense of the intimacy of late medieval Christianity than the cathedrals do. Thanks for the great photos!
Barb

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Dang, how have I not yet made it to Norwich? My family's from those general parts (well, about an hour away, but close enough to the flat and the North Sea for jazz), and now I'm dying to go. How have I not yet seen where the Pastons lived??

Steve Muhlberger said...

Bash not Norwich, O Karl!

It was the first overseas place I ever saw (apart from a quick car ride from one London train station to another) and for an aspiring medievalist, hard to beat for an introduction to the physical texture of the MA. (I spent two months there as an archaeological helper.)

Even back in 1972, they were making parish churches redundant. But people still told foreigners that there were "a church for every week of the year, a pub for every day."

There were sure a lot of pubs, some very traditional.

I've never been back, alas.

Dr. Virago said...

NK - Yeah, given your work, you definitely need to go. But as for how you haven't yet gone -- well, it's a little like an English person coming to States and visiting Milwaukee instead of New York. It's nice and fun and interesting, but it's not usually on the top of the list of places tourists go unless they're going for a particular reason (in Milwaukee's case: beer, Harleys, or Summerfest; in Norwich's, 15th century mercantile history and culture).

medieval woman said...

Okay. The dog looks like a Shetland pony named Eagle I used to ride at my grandmother's.

All of this just cements in my mind that us blogging medievalists (interdisciplinary: History, Lit, et al.) need to pool our resources and buy a nice little 15th- or 16th-century pad in England somewhere. With a well-stocked wine cellar. Near a parish church and/or cathedral. Maybe you've found our property, Dr. V?

Karl Steel said...

Ragged on?

Okay.

Yeah, I was talking about the multitude of little parish churches, and now, okay, I see there's a reason for me to give Norwich another chance.

But no way would I ever sneer at Peter Mancroft or the Cathedral. I loved, loved, loved both places. The Cathedral has my favorite mural to date, which is, iirc, a painting of the bishop responsible for the erection of the cathedral being bribed. Talk about public penance!

MWoman: Agreed!

Dr. Virago said...

You did rag on it a *little* bit, Karl. And yes, most of the churches are littler and darker than Peter Mancroft. And I know you weren't talking about the Cathedral either. You just inadvertently egged me on, that's all.

And if you've been in York's little parish churches from the Middle Ages, they're pretty dark and small, too. But isn't that part of their charm?

Of course, they may have looked very different in the Middle Ages -- before the industrial pollution, before the white- and brown-washing, etc.

And Medieval Woman -- yes, maybe we should all get together and buy a time-share kind of piece of property.

Karl Steel said...

Of course, they may have looked very different in the Middle Ages -- before the industrial pollution, before the white- and brown-washing, etc.

But then they were full of...*shivers*...medieval people.

Don't want anything to do with that type.

Dr. Virago said...

But then they were full of...*shivers*...medieval people.

Don't want anything to do with that type.


Yeah, especially since they were all illiterate zombies controlled by The Church and dying of the plague. :)

Bardiac said...

Wow, great pictures!

Not to be TOO mean, but I bet they also smelled pretty ripe, no?

I've never been to England either. I seem to have gone in the opposite direction for now :)

owlfish said...

I've had vague intentions of going to Norwich for a while - I've never been. But it's easy to get sidetracked with living and not be a tourist. I'll see if I can't daytrip it sometime in the next few weeks.

Susan said...

One of the charms of Norwich is that it's not someplace you go unless you are going there. So it's not thoroughly touristy.

Also, it's about the same size now as it was in 1800, (though some bombing during the war affected it) so it still has the feel/shape of an old city.

Karl Steel said...

Well, if anyone decides to go, and you want a rec. on a pleasant B&B, especially if you're a fan of the full English breakfast, write me.

L.C.McCabe said...

Blogger wouldn't let you post more than nine pictures?

That's odd.

I've been able to post up to twenty in my France travelogue series.

I can't upload more than five at a time, but you should have been able to squeeze in about eleven more photos.

Unless of course, Blogger was having one of its notorious glitch periods.

You can always try adding it later.

tempestsarekind said...

Oh, *Norwich*. I love the bosses in Norwich Cathedral--I bought so many postcards of them when I was there. My favorite is the one with a unicorn on Noah's Ark.

And then you could go eat at Pizza One, Pancakes Too. The medieval and the modern!

meg said...

Well, I'm way late, as usual. But considering that I'm just up the road from Norwich and I have no plans for the weekend, maybe I'll take a daytrip there on sunday.

Anything else I should see or anywhere I should eat/drink? All suggestions welcome.

phd me said...

Lovely pictures! I visited Norwich years ago and even on a slightly overcast day, it was such a treat. The cathedral...oh my, the cathedral. I'm sure it helped that a boys' choir was rehearsing Parry's "I Was Glad" - one of the most gorgeous pieces of choral music ever, in my humble opinion - as I walked in the door.

Geoffrey Chaucer said...

All of this just cements in my mind that us blogging medievalists (interdisciplinary: History, Lit, et al.) need to pool our resources and buy a nice little 15th- or 16th-century pad in England somewhere. With a well-stocked wine cellar.

Consider thys a standinge invitacioun for all of yow good folk to droppen by myn house in Kent. Ich shal haue a piccher of mojitoes y-redied and we kan playe sum xboxe. Yif it wolde plese yow, ich kan eek rede of myn newe project.

Le Vostre Servaunt
GC

Dr. Virago said...

GC - Merci for youre awesomme invitacioun. Ich have never ben to Kent and wolde enjoien a visite on some occasioun.

Mmmm, mojitoes.

Karl Steel said...

I feel compelled to promise a parody of the Franklin's portrait from the GP, a promise I'm now going to...break.