Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas in the Cloister

So there I was, on a pilgrimage to St James. The night was rainy and by the time I reached the cathedral, my hemline was sodden and so were my shoes and feet. Pilgrimage certainly strips one of comforts! There was also a brisk wind. I opened the heavy wooden door and the entryway was already full of people. I had arrived an hour early so I would have some time to myself to tour the cathedral, but no such luck!

I visited the Shrine of St Mary. This picture doesn't show the ceiling, which is painted with stars. There were only a few candles lit, so it was dark and cozy-feeling. A picture taken of me in here would have been a nice souvenir, but there was a sign requesting no photos, so I had to get this one off their website.

Of course no one else in attendance was time-traveling from the 14th century, only me, and the people there didn't seem to know what to make of me. The general consensus was voiced by one man, who said "So... are you like a super-serious kind of nun, or something?"

You mean in contrast to all those silly, I'm-only-in-it-for-the-weekends kind of nuns? I wondered. "No, I'm simply dressed as a person from Chaucer's England, in the 14th century."

Oh, so not a nun, but a bit weird, if not downright crazy. I kicked off my wet shoes and tucked my damp feet up into a drier, warmer part of my skirt. Having settled myself in, I pulled a linen bundle out of my bag and unwrapped it to partially reveal a small spiced cake studded with dried fruit and nuts. I broke off pieces and nibbled them while the pews around me filled with people. No one wanted to sit near the possibly crazy, possibly-a-nun lady eating in church. The rebel in me rose up and I pulled a mandarin orange out of my bag. The smell of rich spices and orange peel could not have been more Christmas-y. It was gorgeous.

The music started and it was lovely. The program had the Latin printed out with translations beside, so I followed along and made a mental note to take up my Latin lessons again. A tall fellow came in at the last moment and saw the empty spot next to me. He sat down and then looked at me, startled. He kept his hands folded neatly in his lap for the whole performance, and I noticed that if I looked in his direction, his spine would stiffen. Must have attended parochial school.

After the performance, I had more time to look around the cathedral. One woman asked if she could take my picture, so I struck an appropriate pose. "Now do something totally modern!" she said, giggling. So I obligingly withdrew my smart phone from my bag and sent Dave a text saying the concert was over and I'd be home in a bit. I have a feeling that picture is up on Pinterest somewhere. If you ever find it, send me a link!

I spoke with a French woman for about half an hour before we were shooed outside. She was fascinated by what I was wearing and gave me the loveliest compliment: "I love what you are doing, because you show such respect for the people that lived this way, by doing research and wanting to make everything right." I had never actually thought of it that way, but she's right -- that's what has always bothered me about people equating "middle ages" with "Lord of the Rings", or "medieval" with busty women falling out of corsets -- it doesn't seem respectful to the people of the time.

I ended my sojourn by viewing some illuminations done by Susan Bondurant before heading back out into the rain. I had gotten turned around while in the cathedral and had to walk around the block twice before I could figure out where I'd parked my car. My feet and hemline were completely soaked as I drove home, but I had had a wonderful time.

I wanted to include a video of the choir, but I can't seem to find any online except this one, and for some reason I can't get it to format so you'll have to click the link. There's no visual to it, just the audio track. Use your imagination, I guess. It's not from the performance I went to, but it'll give you an idea.

I doubt I'll be doing any more posts until after Christmas, so I hope you all have your favorite kind of holiday with your favorite people. Merry Christmas!


  1. I love that you did that. You look beautiful and appropriate. And you made some magic. That's awesome.

  2. What a lovely compliment; thank you!