Saturday, February 26, 2011

Leeds Castle and Canturbury

One of the funny things about living in a country that has had the system of a Monarchy so long is that you can visit the institutions of that system. One of those institutions is Leeds Castle. Since it is usually a king ruling over the country, when they die, their son becomes king. Of course the son will want to move into Buckingham palace with his wife (now queen) which means the old queen needs to find a new home and has also had any money striped of her that is part of the crown. A tradition started up of giving Leeds castle to the Queen as a wedding present in her own name. So once the king dies, she lives out her life then leaves the castle to her son in the will so the castle stays in the family. Apparently this castle went through quite a few generations of this happening.
The castle itself had all the proper romantically stereotypical castle traits like a mote, archer slits, and the sawtooth roof-line. Hence, it being the tourist attraction it is. Inside of the castle there is the castle side of castle and home side of castle. The castle side of the castle dates back to the 1300's because they never felt the need to remodel the whole thing. The home side seems the same as Hearst Castle or the Rockefeller Mansion.
The part that I found the coolest though was the castle maze. It had a real hedge maze that was circular with the goal being a large rock in the middle. I was not expecting the large rock to actually have a set of stairs leading down to a grotto under the maze. It was like the prize for solving the maze. Everything was decorated in shells and set in the motif of under the sea. It must have taken someone years to have glued all the shells all over the walls into these patterns. It makes me wonder if they did it out of boredom. The people I was with came to the realization that anyone rich enough to build their own private zoo has crossed the line between real life and eccentric loss of reality.

Part of the bus (coach) trip also included stopping off in Canterbury. Of course I had to read Canterbury tales in high school so I couldn't help feeling like I was making my own pilgrimage to cathedral since I studied the cathedral in Art class. (It's a very good example of British Gothic.)
Besides fame from the book the cathedral is also famous as the seat of the head of the church of England, so basically the U.K.'s own personal Vatican City. The reason why this is so important is the idea that the Monarchy receives their power from God. This basically gives the arch bishop of Canterbury some real power. So it was cool to see the one of the few pieces of British history that I knew before coming here: where Thomas Becket was murdered. (The kings knights did it since he wasn't giving his support to the king, and it is such a big deal since they killed him in the church.) And by one of the "few pieces I knew" that I mean is he was murdered in 1170 and they presented it on a plaque giving the day of the week. I'm not used to building standing since 1170 much less written records accurate enough to know the day of the week it happened.
It was nice seeing all the art in the church but I felt a little like a tour guide to my group of friends I was with since I was explaining the symbolism. (dogs at the feet of tombs represented fidelity - hence the name Fido for a dog's name.) to the technique of how to create stained glass windows (glass powder is mixed with water then baked until it melts into glass again.)

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