The Altar Boy

At the end of August I made a visit to the Pfalz region of Germany with friends. We went to visit friends of my friends (if you follow). The couple I’ll call Josef and Beate showed us around the historic city of Speyer. The Speyer Cathedral is the most important Romanesque church on the planet.

A bold boast, but true. For starters, it contains the world’s largest Romanesque crypt. The crypt has been described as ‘the most sublime monument on German ground.” [1] Speyer is the last resting place of both kings and emperors. The Pope had to crown a king (always men, natch) for him to be officially titled Holy Roman Emperor. Depending on political conditions, the Pope might – or might not – name the ruler “Imperator Romanum”.

Rudolph von Habsburg, a lugubrious chap in an unusually true-to-life depiction for the Middle Ages. He died in 1291.

The oldest grave belongs to Emperor Conrad II, who died in 1039. Take that date in for a moment. This church was consecrated almost a millenium ago. And it’s built on the site of an older church, founded hundreds of years earlier. Speyer is the heart of ancient Germany.

Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl came from the Pfalz and is memorialized with a plaque in front of the cathedral. Kohl was notorious for bringing dignitaries to admire the cathedral and then making them eat Saumagen for lunch. [2]

“In appreciation of the merits of Bundeskanzler Dr. Helmut Kohl.” Plaque placed in thanks for the way he pointed to the Cathedral as example of the Christian roots of a united Europe. No mention of the Saumagen though

Speyer’s Cathedral was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1981. Yes, the breathtaking and harmonious proportions make this a site and sight to see. But what really blew my mind was the story of Josef, which he told me as he showed me around the cathedral and the crypt.

He spent much of his childhood in a boys’ home run by nuns, just around the corner from the church. The sisters had plans for him to become a priest. Each Sunday he served as altar boy, taking part in the church services. [3] Then he met Beate, the woman who has been his wife for 52 years, and that took care of that.

As we stood at the high altar Josef talked about the years after his mother died and he came to live as part of the religious community. I looked out over the vast interior of the Cathedral and almost felt dizzy. Yikes. This wasn’t some great monument for him. He wasn’t describing a thousand of years of history; he’s literally at home here. This grand space helped formed him as a human being. Josef, his story, and the soaring church are beautiful.

NOTES: [1] – German poet Reinhold Schneider. [2] Saumagen is the German version of Scottish haggis. Instead of suet and sausage in a sheep’s intestine, the Pfalz version uses pig’s stomach. I’ve tried it, and it’s not bad. Tasty, even. [3] Josef is 74 years old, so the services would have been conducted in Latin.

Speyer Cathedral’s Dimensions [Source: Wikipedia]

  • Total length: 134 meters/ 440 feet (from the steps at the entrance to the exterior wall of the east apse)
  • External width of the nave (with aisles): 37.62 meters/ 123 feet (from exterior wall to exterior wall)
  • Internal width of the nave: 14 meters/ 46 feet
  • Height of the nave at the vertex of the vaults: 33 meters/ 108 feet
  • Height of the eastern spires: 71.20 meters/ 233 feet
  • Height of the western spires: 65.60 meters/ 215 feet
  • Crypt Length: east-west 35 meters/ 114 feet; north-south 46 meters/ 150 feet; Height: between 6.2 meters and 6.5 meters/ 20 feet and 21 feet

© Text and Photos Jadi Campbell 2018. Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Merry Christmas

MERRY CHRISTMAS !!

Here’s the annual round-up of my blog offerings. I grew insanely prolific this year, and went from biweekly posts to once a week. Happy Holidays and we’ll meet again in 2018. —Jadi

Art: Burma took center stage with A Burmese Spirit Guide and Sand Paintings. Food as Art was a tasty diversion. Andalusia was featured in Granada Heights, Alhambra Walls & Water, and Cordoba’s Arches. And we always have Paris! J’aime la Vie

Book excerpt: From my first book Broken In: A Novel in Stories, about a little boy and other people’s belongings. Carl Possessed 1 & 2

Current Events: I opined (quietly) concerning the mood in America, hurricanes, and the refugee crisis with Flags and Houston, We Have a Problem

Food: Always a fun subject…. A Cornucopia, The Seeds of Summer, Food as Art, and the local specialties here in Christmas Markets, Flammkuchen, and The Seeds of Summer

History & Cultural Heritage: Flags, In Search of Inspiration, J’aime la Vie, Christmas Markets and Death by Yawning

Holidays: Halloween, Japan’s Jidai Matsuri, plus Germany’s Christmas Markets

Memory: A tricky topic involving both emotions and events. I explored memory in The Seeds of Summer, Going Home (this one resonated deeply with readers), Granada Heights, Alhambra Walls & Water, Cordoba’s Arches, and Sevilla Song and Dance

Music: The sound of castanets and flamenco guitar in Sevilla Song and Dance

Nature: I went nuts writing a thread dedicated to my father. It began with The Animal Kingdom: 1 and so far 19 (!) posts have gone live. Since that wasn’t enough for me, I wrote special posts concentrating on individual critter families, such as A Clowder, A Cluster, A Cornucopia, and A Brood. I wrote a post on natural disasters, too: Houston, We Have a Problem

Places: America, Andalusia, Burma, Estonia, Germany, Japan, Latvia, Paris…

Religion: I was lucky to revisit a glorious spot where Christianity and Islam coexisted in Granada Heights, Alhambra Walls & Water, and Cordoba’s Arches

Writing: A goodly dose of humor helps on those baaad days… In Your Shoes or  In Search of Inspiration

Take a look around and see if you find old friends or stumble upon posts you may have missed. I like to think that these blog posts are my gifts to the world. As always, I welcome any and all feedback. See you next year!

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2017. To see  Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips, go to viewpics.de

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Andalusia Memories 3: Córdoba and the Arches of Infinity

Uwe’s camera always captures the exquisite details

We began our trip to southern Spain in Granada. When I stood inside Granada’s Cathedral, I suddenly – and very vividly – remembered what and how I’d seen it 40 years earlier. At the Alhambra, my memories were blurry remembrances of running water.

A few days later in Córdoba, I had a further experience with spatial imprinting. We spent a half day in the Mezquita, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The outer wall to the Mezquita, Córdoba
A door to the Mezquita, Córdoba

The Mezquita was first built in the mid-6th century as a Visogoth church, built up in the 780s as The Great Mosque of Córdoba, and finally re-dedicated as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption (Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción) in 1236. The Mezquita’s altar incorporates and blends Catholic iconography and design into the original Moorish structure.

The early Muslim prayer hall is filled with rows of arches in colored bands of stone. They seem to stretch into Eternity.

This hypostyle hall (meaning that the roof rests on pillars) contains a grand 856 columns of finest jasper, marble, onyx and granite. These columns are topped with the arches, which are futher topped with more arches.

No, this is not a repeat of the earlier photo. This angle gazes in another direction in the prayer hall

If Granada’s Cathedral is all soaring heights, the Mezquita in Córdoba is an endless repetition of forms. Gaze in any direction and turn your body in a slow circle. The repeating arches always bring the viewer back to the beginning again.

I didn’t know until later that Uwe had photographed me, standing quiet in awed delight

The repeating patterns are beautiful. They’re haunting, too; it’s no accident that what I recall best from my first trip to Andalusia are deeply buried memories of graceful forms in plaster, stone and tiles.

What would I say if you were to ask me to select one thing I remember most after my first visit to the Mezquita as a teenager, all those years ago? I’d say: A sense of wonder.

Islamic architects and artists are masters of geometric decoration. Their patterns’ deeper purpose is to bring visitors and viewers to a sense of another, underlying reality. Maybe it’s just the beauty in the world. Perhaps it’s the presence of God. I’m perfectly fine with either explanation.

The mihrab niche. The Mezquita’s mihrab ((Arabic: محراب‎‎ miḥrāb) is exceptional because it points south rather than southeast and to Mecca

I rediscovered the whimsical and the wondrous as I gazed at repeating, interlocking, intertwined squares, circles, triangles, flowers, tessellations and stars.

Artwork both secular and sacred is woven into every stroke of calligraphy that embellishes gorgeous walls and doorways and niches at both the Alhambra and in Córdoba. The effect is one of standing in a house of mirrors or an echo chamber with lights and patterns extending on and out into Forever.

No single detail stayed. Just… a fleeting glimpse of the Divine.

NOTES: Sacred Geometry; Crystalinks; Islamic geometric patterns. © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de. Go to my earlier posts to read more about our visit to Andalusia.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Andalusia Memories 2: Alhambra Walls and Water

“Perhaps there never was a monument more characteristic of an age and people than the Alhambra; a rugged fortress without, a voluptuous palace within; war frowning from its battlements; poetry breathing throughout the fairy architecture of its halls.” ― Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra [1]

 I just made a second trip to southern Spain. It had been over forty years between visits, and I had no idea what – if anything – I might remember. My first trip was with my high school Spanish Club. We were all young, and boy were we excited to be able to drink legally for a change!

In an earlier post I wrote about my spatial memories in Granada. At the Alhambra I had strange wavy recollections of reflecting pools and intricate walls.

To visit the palace rooms of the Alhambra is like stepping inside one gigantic extended scrollwork of interlocking geometric design.

I can remember loving the symmetry. I sure don’t remember any specific part of it. As I say, my memories are a blurry recollection of warm stone walls with ingenious decorations. Just… an impression of a harmony that contains a hundred thousand details you will get lost in once you begin examining the space more closely.

Southern Spain is frequently the hottest region in Europe. At the peak of summer, it stays oppressively hot (100°F and above) and very dry. We visited Andalusia at the very end of September/start of October, and the temperatures were still in the 90s. You seek relief in rooms with the latticed windows that let in light but not heat. Or you walk in the walled gardens.

Water, water, everywhere…. The former Islamic rulers built a sophisticated system of fountains and pools. Those fountains were designed to include the sound of flowing waters, and flowers and fruit trees were planted to delight the senses with their perfumes.

Memory returned vivid and at the same time somehow distorted at the Alhambra palaces’ innermost courtyard spaces. Only those wonderful carved lions at the private fountain were just as I remembered them.

And those were more than enough to make me very, very happy.

“In the present day, when popular literature is running into the low levels of life, and luxuriating on the vices and follies of mankind; and when the universal pursuit of gain is trampling down the early growth of poetic feeling, and wearing out the verdure of the soul, I question whether it would not be of service for the reader occasionally to turn to these records of prouder times and loftier modes of thinking; and to steep himself to the very lips in old Spanish romance.” ― ― Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra 

NOTES: [1] Wasington Irving is a lifetime favorite, beginning with my childhood: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow! Rip Van Winkle! I’d forgotten that he stayed and wrote at the Alhambra in 1829, when it was a neglected  ruin. Now, that’s artistic inspiration. © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Andalusia Memories 1: Granada Heights

Uwe and I recently went on a holiday in southern Spain. I was excited when we decided Andalusia would be a good spot for an autumn getaway. We’d each been there before, but it would be our first trip to the region as a couple. He was there in his PJ (pre-Jadi) days. I visited much earlier, with a group for my high school Spanish Club. I was 17 years old and on my very first trip out of the country.

I thought back to that high school trip over 40 years ago and wondered what, if anything, I’d remember. That first trip was so exotic! And I had a revelation as I looked back. I realized the chaperoned trip was what set me up for a lifetime of loving travel.

Memory is a funny thing. For the first day or two I felt somehow disappointed. Nothing I saw struck me with that aha! feeling. I didn’t get that rush that comes when you see a beloved place or face again. And then that sense of wonder arrived after all.

We’d started off our trip in Granada and sure enough, memories came back to me. They weren’t at all what I expected, though. I didn’t recognize the lay-out of old city streets or a particular sight. Instead, what happened is this: we went to the Cathedral.

Uwe was off taking photos, so I wandered around the huge space by myself. All at once I had a memory, but the memory that overwhelmed me was spatial. I couldn’t recall a single religious image or statue. What I did recall was all about proportion. What I suddenly knew again was the thickness and height of the cathedral’s pillars as I gazed up.

Take a good look at how the Granada Cathedral pillars soar over the visitors inside!

I was re-experiencing the vastness of this structure. Then, the instant I looked down from the pillars to the floor, all at once I recognized the pattern of black and white floor tile squares.

The tiles seem to extend off into multiple dimensions, don’t they?
Space both massive and delicate

It was the oddest déjà vu I’ve ever felt. I had visited this space before and tucked a Dimensional memory away in my brain. And it wasn’t just the usual 3-Dimensional memory. I was living an experience occuring on four planes, if you include Time.

In a split second I finally ‘got’ what Einstein told us a century ago about time and space.

It happened several times on this trip. I’ll return soon with new posts to tell you more.

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.