S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

Touring in Canterbury

On Thursday, I had a rare opportunity to be a tourist for a few hours in Canterbury.

St. Martin's Church
It was my second visit to Bertha's church, and the same volunteer was on duty. We caught up: no, I wasn't eligible for a keycard to the grounds of St. Augustine's since I'm not a resident; I still hadn't followed up on the multiple Ebbsfleet pondering. She introduced me to a fragment of text on an outside wall and said that no one had been able to tell her what it said. It was Latin, medieval I'd bet, and not that unclear. I'll post a photo some other day. The sunlight was much improved over the previous month so I took more photos: of the stained glass windows with all the women proselytizers of Christianity, and the fabulous font they have, commemorated in several other windows. The earliest building, from which this was made, was indeed Roman, but no one knows what kind of a building it was. It may not have been religious at all.

The Roman Museum
Down in the basement, the museum looked more dated than it was. Then again, I suppose 1990 was two decades ago now. The recreation archeologist and scholar of antiquity were slightly creepy, even if really is useful to model how scholars work. The highlight was the in situ remains of the Roman villa around which this modest and under-populated museum was build: large expanses of now-undulating mosaic floor and the remains of a hypocaust. Lovely objects are clearly illuminated from above in glass cases, the downside of the which is that the thick layer of dust on top of each case is also well-illuminated. I loved the urn decorated with a blacksmith's tools and the beautifully-precise carpenter's square.

One standalone case looked as settled in as the others, but, based on signage, is clearly recent. It's the museum's contribution to the BBC/British Museum collaboration, A History of the World in 100 Objects*. The Samian-ware bowls, small, standard sizes, terracotta, and strong, was an exotic important to Roman England. A few ships' worth went down around two thousand years ago. In recent centuries, the bowls sometimes come up with the fish in fishing nets. Thus many fishing families have ended up with these small, intact bowls, perfectly functional dishes. They became used as bakeware for Lenten cakes, and thus are now known as "pudding pots". As locals familiar moved to the colonies and ex-colonies across the world, they took their pudding pots with them. And so, drowned Samian-ware is in use today worldwide in the celebration of Lent. The 100 Objects episode of them hasn't aired yet; later this year somewhen.

Canterbury: England's Crucible

This is a temporary exhibition, on until late March, of Canterbury's medieval and Elizabethan history. It's structured around the blown-up copies of the pages of a new cartoon history of the city. These are accompanied by short essays and illustrative display cases of relevant artifacts. After the darkness of the Roman Museum, the skylight-brightened white-walled room was a relief. The display format was a good novelty, catering to a variety of tastes. The cases of artifacts blocked off the cartoon pages, making it awkward to fit in behind them to read. For Marlowe, they chose modern Elizabethan replica costumes to make their effect more vivid. My favorite case, however, was the medieval skeleton, with descriptions of its distinctions and what we know about the man's life from his remains. Perhaps I liked it so much only because I'd been looking at objects for hours, and, amongst those, this was a novelty. Revamping existing museum displays is expensive, but the City Museum could benefit from some of the remains of this display.

* I listened to the first few episodes, available via podcast as well as on air, and, after warming up, they really are quite good. I was wondering: can those of you in America and Canada hear them too? I can't test the site from outside the country conveniently and would like to know.
Tags: canterbury
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