Look, I know it’s not actually a good steak, but I was a loyal Swanson’s customer as a child, and Boston Market as a young “adult”, and I have definitely eaten more than one steer’s-worth of Salisbury steak. Judge not lest you get asked pointed questions about your childhood diet. In any case, you may be surprised to find out that this isn’t going to be 1000 words about the history of Salisbury steak but, rather, about a thousand words on historical Salisbury, or at least our visit there.
Our visit was almost over before it began. The weather this day was exactly the wrong kind to want to go out it. It was cool, but not cold. It was just drizzly enough that you maybe want a raincoat, but you just knew that if you wore it you were going to get all humid and sweaty. It was a perfect situation for one of us to look at the other and say “how about we read books and watch the Beeb?” Thing is, we’d done that for a couple days straight at that point and we were starting to feel a little pressed for time if we were going to take advantage of our opportunity in England. So, almost grudgingly, we packed ourselves up and hit the road. This is not the ideal attitude with which to approach any adventure.
To our credit, we knew this. We leaned into conversation to stay engaged with the day and took note of every little thing that looked the least bit interesting. Fortunately, you basically drive by Stonehenge to get to Salisbury, at least from where we started, so putting “seeing interesting things” on the agenda was paying off. But then when we got into the city itself the day started to turn again. One lovely feature of Salisbury is a riverwalk park situation, with wide pedestrian lanes running along the River Avon (yes, we know almost all the rivers are named “Avon” but what else should we call it?) leading into historic Salisbury. Unfortunately for us, it is so popular that they are refurbishing and expanding it, which turned traffic into the main parking of the old town into an absolute nightmare. The precarious mood of the day was teetering again. By the time we had parked and walked through the *very* commercial part of town that gets you to the iconic cathedral, it was 6-to-4 and pick ’em whether we’d even go in.
So, there’s been three paragraphs about how we were wanting to bail, but this post exists, soooo what happened? Honestly, brute-force willpower. We just both, without talking about in the moment, took a collective breath and made the decision to see everything with fresh eyes. It might sound ridiculous, but we really went from “I don’t want to be here” to “hey, that conversation with the docent was fun”. And it helps that Salisbury Cathedral was just magnificent.
The cathedral has a lot going for it. First of all, more than many similar sites that we’ve been to there is a very active community of employees and volunteer docents that attend to it. If you have a question… heck even if you don’t but just want to hear something random and cool… you could basically reach your arm out and “tag” some retired Brit who was passionate about something on the premises. One nice old man saw that Lisa was taking numerous photos of the windows and strolled over. “You know,” he said, ” the pool there in the center is perfectly still. You can get some lovely photos in the reflection.” He wasn’t wrong.
One of the reasons that cathedrals are interesting (if they interest you, that is) is that they all represent humans solving the problem of having very large open spaces with enormously heavy stone roofs above them. I’d be lying if I said I really understood the math of it all, but the short of it is that it requires very specific infrastructure that could be lumpy and intrusive. The best examples, though, manage to make that infrastructure beautiful. They don’t hide it, they highlight it. Those fluted tracks running up the columns are actually assisting in the distribution of weight, but they don’t scream “supports!” they just look pretty. The same goes for those graceful swoops on the roof line; they do the job of moving weight far better than if they had just been flat planes. The flying buttresses outside, those giant curved struts you see outside of most cathedrals, are similarly a marriage between function and beauty, and being surrounded by so much craftsmanship can be very inspiring. If you’re wondering, we do feel the tension of knowing how, and upon whose backs, these things got built, and it’s hard to know what to do with that, but… yeah. But.
On top of being a very old building (consecrated seven hundred and sixty-some odd years ago) the grounds are also very tranquil and beautiful and, wonder of wonders, the cafe was far above average. Decent food at decent prices; that might not sound like high praise but one is grading on a curve when they consider the fare at these sorts of places. We sat in a cozy green courtyard and had a peaceful meal, which I would not have bet on when we got out of the car a couple of hours before. The last attraction to take in before we left was Magna Carta. Or, as we have said our entire lives until that moment, “the Magna Carta.” Docents were very clear that the definite article is misplaced in this case. ANYWAY. Magna Carta is one of those historical artifacts that has an outsize footprint in the minds of certain generations of American-taught schoolkids; it was one of those things you had to know for the test. What neither of us ever remember learning is that the reason that there are so few copies (four as of 2021 it seems) is that it was renounced almost immediately after it was created. There’s a whole long history that would change the nature of this blog to go into (but is definitely worth a read), but the politics of the day saw it created, signed, and then overthrown within a single season. Still, it was referred back to in future iterations of English law for… well, forever as far as I can tell. One funny story, though – we were reading the text as is reprinted on the walls of the exhibition and came to clause #50: “We will remove completely from their offices the kinsmen of Gerard de Athée, and in future they shall hold no offices in England.” It just made us stop and think “how did Gerard piss people off so badly that he’s in Magna Carta??” And yes, there are perfectly mundane reasons, but it still tickled us.
One last thing: John, a Protestant at heart, has long theorized that Catholics are wizards. Not in an anti-Catholic “the pope is evil” kind of way; more in the funny “they do a lot of stuff what sounds like wizards” kind of way. For example. The flags pictured above are the unit standards of military units that were comprised of men of the parish. There is a tradition that when the unit is disbanded the colors are struck and brought to the church, where they are hung but not cared for in any way. Eventually, they will fade or deteriorate to the point of being unrecognizable. At that point, someone will take the flag and bury it secretly in an unmarked grave. If that doesn’t sound like a magical ritual to you then I don’t know what would.