Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Scarborough Castle, England

Scarborough Castle sits on a rocky headland which has a commanding view of the North Sea and much of the inland. The headland was first settled in the Iron Age (at least according to archeological evidence that dates from 800 BC). Over a thousand years later, the Romans built a signal station here in the mid-300s. Archeologists aren't sure how the stations were used, but several of them extend down the coast from Hadrian's Wall. Viking raiders came in and took over, giving the area the name "Scarborough," meaning "stronghold of Skardi." Strangely, no one knows who Skardi was. When William the Conqueror came to England, a battle with Norwegians wiped out Scarborough. The Domesday book of 1086 doesn't mention the town. A castle was begun in the 1130s but King Henry II rebuilt it as a royal castle in 1159. Royalty visited the castle all the way up to Richard III, who used it in 1484 to amass a fleet to counter an expected invasion by Henry Tudor. The castle began to fall into disrepair. It became a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War. The keep's west wall was destroyed in a bombardment. The castle was used as a prison afterwards and later a barracks. It finally came under the care of English Heritage in 1984.

We entered the castle through the barbican, a fortified causeway that leads onto the promontory. The other three sides of the castle have sheer cliffs guarding them.

At the entrance/ticket office

One of the defensive towers

Jacob and Lucy listen to their audio guides in the defensive tower

View to the north

Just beyond the barbican is the Master Gunner's House, an 18th century construction for the (you guessed it) master gunner in charge of the castle's batteries. A few of the cannon remain outside.

Master Gunner's House

Cannon riders!

Jacob waits for the go-ahead to fire

Inside the house is a small museum showing artifacts from the history of Scarborough, including a replica of a bronze sword found here from 3000 years ago and several stone cannon balls.

Bronze age sword

Cannon balls

Crucifixion scene

Other archeological finds

A large, empty field lies just beyond the gunner's house. The edge is a rather precipitous drop.

That's what "precipitous" means!

North bay

View back to the gunner's house and the Keep (more on that below)

By the sea is the remains of the Roman Signal Station, now little more than foundation stones.

Outline of the Roman Signal Station

A well used by the Romans

Also at the edge is a small chapel dating back to AD 1000 called St. Mary's Chapel.

St. Mary's Chapel

Inside the chapel

Near to the chapel is a memorial to the Christians buried here.

Burial memorial

We walked a bit along the edge of the area before going back to the curtain wall that overlooks the southern side of Scarborough.

Jacob at land's end

View back to the Keep and the gunner's house

I don't remember what this hole was, but it was there

The curtain wall was a long wall cutting the castle area off from the town below. Several points along the wall have small towers. A smaller hall was built along the wall for visitors that was used later as a prison.

Some of the curtain wall

Lucy visits a prison cell

Viewing tower

A rest area under the tower occupied by Jacob

The same enjoyed by Lucy

The view from the tower gives a good look at the barbican and the keep.

South bay

Fortified entrance to the castle

The keep and the well for the castle

The castle had an inner defensive area known as the bailey. Inside the wall and ditch were the castle's keep, where the king would stay when he visited, and several other support buildings like a kitchen, a brew house, and a bakery. The keep was really the show piece of the castle, displaying the king's wealth on the outside, with its imposing four stories of stone, and on the inside, with many rooms for entertaining guests. As I said before, the west wall of the keep was knocked down in a bombardment during the English Civil War, essentially gutting the keep. It's amazing to see it still standing almost 400 years later.

Keep sans west wall

Inside the keep

Two stories of fireplaces!

A non-regal resident

No access to the top floor

The views from the keep are also impressive.

The cannon that Jacob and Lucy rode

The North Sea in the distance

Scarborough Castle is an amazing place to visit, as is the town that surrounds it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Scarborough, England

Scarborough is a coastal Yorkshire town that has been a popular resort destination since 1626, when it became known as a spa town. The castle dates back to the 1100s and will get its own post.

The town has two beaches. The North Bay (north of the castle) is lined with quiet cabanas.

North Bay as seen from the castle

The South Bay is the touristy area with the pier and the arcades and fried food, etc.

South Bay as seen from the castle

We headed down the castle and saw St. Mary's Church, which is notable as the burial place of Anne Bronte. She had come to Scarborough in 1849 to recover from an illness but died and was buried here.

St. Mary's Church

Anne Bronte's grave

The walk down to the beach was steep and windy, leading us through many roads. We found a good parking spot in town and walked past the short train down to the shoreline. On our way back to the car, we used the train to go uphill.

A house near the castle


One of the poshest attractions in Scarborough is the Grand Hotel. Opened in 1867, it was the height of luxury then. It still looks fantastic, especially from the shore.

Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel's shoreline facade

Jacob and Lucy weren't interested in the hotel, however. They were perfectly happy to splash around in the water (which was not at all warm) and eat some boardwalk snacks.

Jacob in the water


Boardwalk arcade

We loved visiting Scarborough.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Birmingham Oratory Church, England

St. Philip Neri founded the Oratory in Rome during the 1550s. He gathered a small group who met informally to pray, discuss, and read spiritual works. Neri was able to blend religion and recreation. He also had a great sense of humor, which drew followers and admirers for centuries afterwards.

One such admirer was John Henry Newman, a leading figure of the Oxford Movement. The Oxford Movement was a revival of spiritual life in the Anglican Church. Newman's study of the Church Fathers made him conclude that the Roman Catholic Church is the true church of Jesus Christ. He struggled to convert, eventually going to Rome where he was ordained a Catholic priest in 1847. He discovered the Oratorians in Rome and decided to bring the Oratory to England. He founded the first English Oratorian church in Birmingham in 1848; a year later, he opened another in London.

The Oratory in Birmingham moved from location to location several times, settling on Hagley Road. The current church was built from 1903 to 1920, the year it was solemnly consecrated. The church is rather unassuming as seen from the street but is splendid inside.

View from the parking lot

The church's main entrance

The cloister by the main entrance

The nave is ornate with a great ceiling featuring various coats of arms.


Nave ceiling

The baptismal font dates from 1912 and has a marble base with a bronze canopy topped by a figure of John the Baptist.

Baptismal font

The Holy Souls altar commemorates those who died in World War I. The mosaic above depicts Our Lady of Sorrows at the moment of Christ's entombment.

Mosaic and cross of the Holy Souls Altar

Another side altar is dedicated to St. Athanasius, a favorite of Newman's. The coffin under the altar contains the body of St. Valentine, given to Newman by Pope Pius IX in 1847.

St. Athanasius Altar

Our Lady's altar has a fantastic statue of the Madonna and Child, copied from Notre Dame des Victories in Paris.

Our Lady's Altar

Our Lady's statue

The St. Anne's Altar depicts the presentation of Mary in the Temple as a child. The altarpiece shows Mary and her mother Anne and was painted by Benedictine nuns.

St. Anne's Altar

The sanctuary has a fantastic main altar. The tabernacle is designed in imitation of the one in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at St. Peter's in Rome. The mosaic above the altar shows the Coronation of Our Lady. She is surrounded by Newman's patron saints, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.

Main altar

Closer view of the altar

Mosaic and baldacchino

The dome above the main altar is also impressive, showing the four major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel).


Other interesting decoration include a nun over one of the exits and a ceramic panel outside depicting St. Philip Neri and the Seven Children (representing his love for education young people; he loved animals too, so they are represented on the sides and top).

Exit lintel

Close up of the nun

Philip Neri and the Seven Children