England: Ruins, Cathedrals and a Medieval Hotel

A thousand years ago, laborers in England–men with strong backs and no education–built magnificent abbeys, monasteries and churches. On an earlier trip, I saw Lindisfarne…

Lindisfarne Priory

Whitby Abbey…

Whitby Abbey

and Rievaulx Abbey…

Rievaulx Abbey

For centuries the monasteries thrived and amassed great wealth. But by the mid-1500s, enlightened thinking in England and across Europe was causing people to question the monastic life and the supremacy of the Catholic church. In 1534, King Henry VIII–desperate for a son–made the official break with Rome and created the Church of England with himself as its head. Two years later, desperate for money, he began the dissolution of the monasteries. He appropriated the properties and the treasures  for the crown. The valuable lead roofs were removed, hastening the process of ruin.

On this recent trip, we spent more time in cathedrals than ruins–grand structures that also suffered from Henry’s actions, as well as those of Cromwell and, much later, German bombs.

One of our first stops was Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire. Construction began in 1197 and it was consecrated in 1258. Like most ancient towns, Salisbury grew up around its church. You can see part of the old gate tower in the background. And look, it’s raining.

Here’s what you see after entering the Cathedral Close. If you ever read Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, then you know about the hardships the cathedral builders endured. It’s often said that Salisbury was the model for the structure in Follett’s novel.
Cedars of Lebanon in the cloister.
I can’t do justice to the interior, so check here to see inside.
We also visited Exeter Cathedral but the pictures here are much better than any we took. When you look at these photos, remember this–it’s easy to get caught up in the grandeur and sheer size of these buildings. But they’re filled with tiny details that showcase the skill and, sometimes humor of the craftsmen who built them. One such item is the Green Man–a face surrounded by leaves. Here’s the one in Salisbury.
Green Man found on Hume Memorial in South Transept
As is befitting a medieval town, we stayed in medieval hotel. The Red Lion Inn first welcomed guests more than 800 years ago. Many of it’s first paying customers were craftsmen working on the cathedral which is just a short walk away.
We definitely have to go back in summer when everything is green.
So I promise this is the last history lesson. The next post is all about the beer.

9 Comments

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9 responses to “England: Ruins, Cathedrals and a Medieval Hotel

  1. Julie

    When we visited Salisbury many years ago now, it was the first time I had ever heard of a “close”. We stayed in a very, very old inn, also– wonder if it was the same inn where you stayed. A Best Western? Oh, what is the world coming to?

  2. Julie Payne

    I finished Pillars early this morning and I must say it was a moving tale and probably one of my favorite books I’ve ever read. I look at your photos and can see the work of Tom Builder and Jack and get teary eyed just thinking about it! I am so ready to go see it in person! Thanks for the post!

  3. Are you kidding me?! I want MORE history lessons! Not less! You and I are seekers on the same path. This is exactly how I’d spend a vacation, if it were my choice. As it stands, we are going to Disneyworld in March. How dreary is that?

    Beautiful stuff.

  4. Julie–the Best Western tag is a little off-putting at first, but trust me, there’s no sign of American cookie-cutter-ness. I think it’s mostly a way for these old independent hotels to manage their reservations.
    JP–Yep–I think it’s time we planned you a trip. Maybe we can even go together sometime.
    UB–C’mon–you know you’ll have fun with the kids. I wish the pix were better, but honestly, the blue sky was scarce. But we were prepared for the weather and knew that it would be gray most of the time.

  5. The juxtaposition of “13th Century” and “Best Western” is just too good to pass up.

  6. HIF- I’m with UB. Although we’ve never taken the kids to Disney, and hopefully never will. (They’re not begging, thankfully.) We love exploring history. This is fascinating stuff.
    And while the monasteries may be skeletal, they’re no less interesting. I’m so glad you brought this here for all to enjoy.
    Great photos, too!

  7. I love these posts! Your photos are so beautiful and I am a history nut. This is my idea of the perfect vacation, especially since there’s a promise of beer in the next post.

  8. David–I promise there was no hint of an American Best Western. It really is a charming place to stay. I highly recommend it.
    Jayne–Have you ever been to England? It’s such an amazing place–all that history packed into such a small area.
    Dingo–Yes–a beer post. This weekend for sure!

  9. haiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii

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