13 January 2018

The Cerne Abbas Giant

You’ve got to wonder at the mind-set of someone who creates a 180-foot-high figure of a naked, aroused man on a hillside.

Now, you might well be thinking ‘But surely it’s an ancient fertility symbol?” Well, the answer is that no one knows for sure. 

There is no mention of the Cerne Abbas Giant in any historic record until an entry was made in 1694 in the church warden’s account book for St Mary’s Church in Cerne Abbas, which states that three shillings had been paid out for ‘repairing ye Giant’. 

As the figure’s outline is actually formed by means of a one-foot-wide by one-foot-deep trench cut into the underlying chalk and in-filled with more chalk, presumably the three shillings was for re-chalking.

Of course, though almost certainly not ancient, it could still be a depiction of a fertility symbol but what, then, is the reason for the 120-foot-high club? 

Interestingly, it is that very weapon that has led to speculation that the figure is, in fact, the Roman hero Hercules, who was often depicted naked, wielding a club in his right hand. As well as the club, scientific tests have revealed that the Giant used to have something draped over his left arm, though this chalk trench has since been grassed over. You may recall that the first labour of Hercules was to kill the lion that was terrorising the countryside around Nemea so Hercules was traditionally portrayed with the skin of the Nemean lion draped over his left shoulder.

(The image at right, showing the layout of the Cerne Abbas Giant with the obliterated line [in yellow], was created by Angelus, and was sourced via Wikimedia Commons.)

So, the Cerne Abbas Giant may well depict Hercules but the next question, naturally enough, is who decided to carve his outline on the hillside? Again, no one knows for sure.

One theory is that it was the work of the monks of the Benedictine Abbey at Cerne – a strange thing for monks to do, you might well think, but there is also a gigantic figure on the hillside close to the former Benedictine Priory at Wilmington in Sussex (you can see more about the Long Man of Wilmington in an earlier blog post).

The truth is that, unless some previously unknown historic record comes to light or some archaeological evidence is unearthed, we will never know who created the Giant or why. And I think I prefer it that way. Let him keep his mystery! 

01 January 2018

Christmas carols in Salisbury Cathedral

Though I’m not a religious person, one of the highlights of my Christmas holiday, staying with my friend Sarah in Somerset, was the Christmas Carol Service we attended at Salisbury Cathedral.

The Cathedral is an extraordinary building and was beautifully decorated for Christmas, with candles large and tealight-size lining the aisles. (I do wish they’d turned off, or at least dimmed, the main lights so we could’ve enjoyed the atmosphere with just the candles, though.)

We had to queue for an hour in the cloisters to make sure we got a seat – the place was full to bursting, and then sit inside for another hour before the service started but it was definitely worth the wait.

Though it was interesting to observe the process, I admit I ignored most of the religious part of the service. Sarah and I were there for the singing, though as we both had bad colds, the sounds we uttered were more like squawking and shrieking than anything remotely resembling singing (I even apologised to the man in front of me at the end of the service!).

(If you’re interested in seeing more of this stunning building, I blogged about my previous visit early in 2017, the cathedral by day here and by night here.)

31 December 2017

Christmas doors of Dorset

Not for me this modern trend for oversized flashing Santas on the front lawn or houses bedecked with dazzling lights that annoy the neighbours and drain the power grid. I much prefer the simplicity of a wonderfully wrought wreath, like these I spotted in Dorset during my Christmas holiday.