Saturday 17 July
We spent today in Chester with David and Julia and their younger son, Nick, who lives there.
Chester is a city established by the Romans, who originally intended it to be the capital city, before they eventually chose Londinium instead.
First we went to the Mill Hotel, where we had lunch on their narrow boat in the Shropshire Union Canal. You make reservations beforehand, and then check in at the hotel dining room at noon. You order from the menu, board the boat, which is all outfitted as a dining room with 12 tables, and sit at your assigned table.
The starter (appetizer) course is brought and off you sail, down the canal. You return to the hotel in time for the first course to be cleared away and the main course and desserts to be brought aboard. Then off you sail in the other direction, up the canal. You pass through several locks, which is interesting. You pass a stone tower in which lead shot used to be manufactured for use in the Napoleonic wars. Molten lead was poured through a sieve at the top, separating it into globs. The globs fell down, forming themselves into 'perfect spheres' before landing in a vat of water at the bottom. We also passed some morehens, with tiny, new-hatched babies swimming along the edge of the canal.
Two hours after we had begun, we tied up back at the hotel and disembarked. Next on David's agenda was Chester Cathedral. (He must have pricked up his ears when he heard me once wish to ride a narrow boat, and to see Chester Cathedral!)
On our way there, we walked along a stretch of the top of the ancient city walls; that was fun, too. (Everything is fun in a new place with beloved people!)
The Cathedral began in 1092 as a Benedictine abbey, centered on the existing shrine of St. Werburgh, a nun renouned for her miracles of healing. (That shrine had undergone some restoration in 1057 by, of all people, Lady Godiva.) The Abbey became an Anglican cathedral in 1541.
You can still see the Chapter Room, where the monks assembled daily to hear the reading of one chapter from St. Benedict's rule. Tehre is also a courtroom, called the Bishop's Consistory Court, where eccelesiastical cases were heard. It's a large room containing a very ancient, large, square, wooden table surrounded by wooden beches. At the center rear of the table is the bishop's throne. The overall effect is highly intimidating!
Here are some pictures of it, courtesy of Wikipedia. For more photos and info, go here.
Instead, we sat on a couple of benches in this garden, back in the corner to the left of the tree, and I wondered aloud if each person would share two or three adjectives that for him most described his overall impression of the Cathedral. Demetrios said 'majestic' and Nick said 'impressive.' Julia said it was impressive but didn't make her feel any closer to God. David said the combination of the architecture, the choir, the organ, all together gave him a certain feeling he described as the hairs of his neck standing up, a feeling of awe and reverence, I suppose; but David is sophisticated enough to question whether a physical sensation has anything to do with the spiritual realm.
I agreed the Cathedral was both majestic and impressive, but my main reaction was, 'Creepy.' I've just begun, more and more, to dislike non-Orthodox places of worship. I appreciated the wooden carving, very intricate and it must have taken ages, and the stone carving and all the tremendous love and dedication and work that went into the constructing of the Cathedral, but it seemed to me a monument to the God of Fear.
A detective novel I'm currently reading, set in England, has one character commenting that people are less religious than they used to be, and another replies, 'Perhaps people are less frightened of God these days.' So I asked our English friends whether they thought religion here was driven largely by fear, and they all three heartily agreed that it was. Whether fear of God or fear of parents, though, wasn't perfectly clear to me. Fear, at any rate; they grew up with, 'You WILL go to church!' with the 'or else' implied.