On our bike trip northwards, we stopped at a lot of churches and cathedrals, not really for religious reasons but because old churches in England really are the keepers of local history. Usually they are the oldest buildings in town, and most thank goodness are still open to the public. And although they do have their ups and downs over the centuries, local people usually care a lot about their church, abbey or cathedral. Sometimes, in a town like Selby, Yorkshire, the church is such a treasure that I feel quite envious of the locals for having it on their doorstep.
I had heard only vaguely of Selby Abbey, but when we finally cycled up to have a look, it was so interesting that I thought I'd share some of it with you. Rather than copying out highlights of its history, I'll refer you to the website here to read more about the abbey and the Three Swans of St Germain. In this post I just want to tell you about some of the curiosities that caught my eye.
It seemed to be quite a lively place. There were lots of people around, some drinking tea, some arranging flowers, and they seemed to be preparing the place for some event
One lady was showing off her fancy dress cloak which she thought made her look like a monk.
I liked the human interest in some of the memorials. Can you imagine old John Archer, the gravedigger who patiently served the church by ringing bells and digging holes till he was 74, before setting down his spade and obediently answering the summons of Death himself?
And Frank the gravedigger, half a century before John Archer, inspired someone to point out that "What Frank for Others Used to do, Is now for Frank done by Another."
I hope you don't find it depressing to consider the lives of people who have died. I don't - I like to think that they are remembered. But there is more to see than memorials. I was at first surprised to see a beautiful American quilt displayed as a gift to the Abbey from across the sea.
But then, I hadn't realised that George Washington's family were locals, and I have to say the family coat of arms looks as if it gave him some ideas of the flag for the new country.
The Abbey's foundation is very old, but it had a serious fire about a century ago and was largely rebuilt. The craftsmen who did so put their own little personal touches in. Here is a tiny statue of King |Edward VII, the reigning monarch at the time, which is hidden inside a column head carving - I'm pleased with myself that I managed to photograph it
Quaint carving on the outside of the capital head too, mostly of wild creatures.
A memorial window for Victoria's Diamond Jubilee proudly sports the latest steam train technology....
And one of the instruments from the abbey band has been preserved. It's a serpent, which was a mainstay of church bands in the eighteenth century, when most churches didn't have organs.
I think the serpent sounds beautiful - like a sort of bass cornet - and it's rather a pity that it gone out of favour.With looks like that, it deserves to come back, don't you think? It probably drowned out the singers and other instruments though Here is what it sounds like.
And talking of music, Selby Abbey by the way is running an appeal for its famous organ which is now in need of renovation. If you're interested, here's the website.to find out more about that.
There is something touching about the idea of a parishioner sitting down and creating a beautiful scale model of the abbey, but this one is of particular interest because it was made immediately before the big fire of 1906.
I hope you don't mind a few more memorials. Selby has some particularly good memorials to young men who died in the war - tributes that make them seem real to me.
I was unable to photograph the plaque to Flying Officer Cyril Joe Barton, VC, but here is the gist of it:
On the night of 30 March 1944 Flying Officer Barton's aircraft was severely damaged by enemy fighters. Three of his crew parachuted out, but he continued flying single handed, completed his mission and continued home flying by starlight.He was hit by anti aircraft fire over the Channel. With all his engines out of action, he avoided the densely populated area around Sunderland and crash landed on Ryhope Colliery and his final words were asking about the safety of his crew, all of whom survived the experience. He was 22 years old, and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry
It was also good to find this very beautiful plaque to William Littlewood, who merely lived "a useful and unassuming life." As Milton said, sometimes "they also serve who only stand and wait."
Well, you know me, I don't like to ramble on for too long and this post is already long enough. So here's one final image of Selby Abbey. It is part of the Norman structure, so it is getting on for a thousand years old. The abbey once had a central tower which collapsed. The parishioners must have suspected something was going to happen when they saw the wonky shape that the right hand arch was developing, right under the tower.
It's all right now, though. Perfectly safe, and they don't have a tower on top of it any more.
There is a lot more than this in Selby Abbey, which is halfway between Darlington and York, and I suggest that if you are in the area it is a good place to see.
By the way we had lunch in one of those traditional Yorkshire tea rooms where you get big plates of delicious home cooked food, breakfasts, teas and light lunches, for reasonable prices all day. You can always spot them because they are always full of local ladies and families, they often have lace curtains and old fashioned chairs and tables, and are usually tucked down side streets. This is off St James Street, almost opposite the abbey grounds. Not a panini in sight and the lunches were not in fact particularly light, unless you think steak and kidney pie is light..