September 16th, 2010

never there

Treasures of the Anglo-Saxons; How to Build a Cathedral

TV night again last night, after a couple of weeks break (including our holiday, obviously). And the magic box is back to 90% full after that break :o

Both the programmes we watched this evening were connected to the BBC's Norman Season - we started with Treasures of the Anglo-Saxons which looked at the art of the culture that the Normans conquered. As the presenter (Janina Ramirez) pointed out the Normans quite effectively replaced this & so what we know of their art is based mostly on the things we've managed to dig up over the last couple of hundred years. As she's an art historian there wasn't much discussion of the history of the period, more an overview of the objects & art they created. She showed some of the earlier non-Christian stuff, like that from Sutton Hoo, and talked about the symbolism of ravens, snakes & boars (the latter included an utterly fantastic pun on boar/bore) in pagan Anglo-Saxon mythology. She also talked about the legend of Weyland Smith, and read from a couple of different pieces of Anglo-Saxon poetry (one of which was Beowulf). Later, of course, the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity - and she showed us pieces of art work where the Christian images were mixed in with the older symbolism. Overall I enjoyed the programme - lovely to see many of these pieces, and have some of it explained - but I felt Ramirez could have done with a better script writer (tho even having said that there were some good lines in it), and it had those "random shots of modern street" that have started to niggle at me in so many of these history programmes.

The second programme (after a break for chocolate pudding) was How to Build a Cathedral - which doesn't seem to be listed on the BBC website as part of the Norman Season, even tho the programme info says it was. This was presented by Jon Cannon & he showed us both how cathedral architecture changed over the medieval period (round arched Norman churches through to the fanciest fan-vaulted gothic) and how the actual work to make them was done. The latter was mostly illustrated using the work of people who do restoration on cathedrals. He started by talking about the role of the master mason - much the same as the architect and structural engineer of today, except that all the work was done based on rules of thumb not the mathematical and theoretical knowledge that we use today. Then we saw how the stones were carved & mortared into place & how they used wooden supports (not just scaffolding) to build the arches. And a bit about how stained glass was made & installed, as well. He also talked about some of the theological thought behind cathedral architecture - the idea of building a piece of heaven on earth, and how things like the height symbolised courage & other symbolism like that. And didn't neglect the disasters that you'd expect from such monumental projects that were all, in effect, experimental (as each tried to out-do the last) - in particular showing us Ely Cathedral, where the octagonal central tower is actually a replacement for the one that fell down. A very interesting programme - and one which I suspect I'll get to watch again sometime, as J was too sleepy & kept dozing off even tho he was interested in it!