That Which Eludes

“Marvellously revising
at the beauty
of the Chappel,
greatly praised it,
above all others
within her realm.”


In an entry marked Tuesday, the 16th of March in this year 2010, this delicately composed sentiment of Queen Elizabeth graced the opening of a post from one of my revered blogger acquaintances The Blue Remembered Hills. When last I took a respite, or what then I deemed a “Gentle Repose” from these pages, it was to The Blue Remembered Hills I traveled, in search of sustenance, and found it in this tranquil photograph of Campse Ashe, Suffolk, from 1903 to commemorate my self-imposed retreat.

Hence, in this time of my own bewildering flux, I thought to journey over to the hills of Blue to see what might be occupying his thoughts. What bit of fascination or intrigue might await to fill out my own hollow musings?

It took hardly a moment to discover that Blue seemed to be suffering from the same troubling malady as I, the cursed affliction of “bloggers block” that he aptly defined as an “oddly exhausting state of mind and fearsome loss of faculty.” While I attributed my malaise to the recently transpired events of late that rather savagely and unapologetically wrenched me far from my reveries of the Errant Aesthete, it was comforting to know, and just the least bit unsettling to learn, that ennui can strike the most fertile of imaginations.

My own odyssey in and out of the the rabbit hole was, I believed, the cause of my angst with the accompanying “block” left in its wake, the residue. But, here, was evidence from a respected other that it is, in fact, a shared experience than can seize your whimsy and crush your artistry. How to escape, then, this dilemma of lack? What form of succor might restore one’s muse?



In Blue’s case, enthrallment was to be found in the recently purchased Elizabethan Architecture by Mark Girouard, a sumptuous work featuring the “uniquely strange and exciting buildings built by the great and powerful,” and accompanied by the “literature of Shakespeare, Spenser, Sidney, Marlow, and others,” including what Blue describes as the “inordinately glittering” language of the 16th century as uttered by Queen Elizabeth, herself, quoted above.

As for me, I fell into something of a rapturous swoon in beholding the heavenward slant of that which her royal highness spoke of, the inconceivably majestic “chapel of King’s College, Cambridge or, more formally, The King’s College of Our Lady and Saint Nicholas in Cambridge – one of the glories of English Perpendicular Architecture.” (Shown above).

The history is as richly textured as the chapel itself. Henry VI was a mere 19 years of age when he laid the first stone of the ‘College roial of Oure Lady and Seynt Nicholas’ in Cambridge on Passion Sunday in 1441. Although the building of the famed edifice didn’t begin until 1446, it would take over a century to reach completion due to wars, (most notably the War of the Roses) deaths, treachery, feudal infamy and the reigns of four different dynasties.

It was not until the death of Henry VIII in 1547, just over a hundred years after the laying of the foundation stone, that King’s College Chapel was recognized as one of Europe’s finest, late medieval buildings. One might rightly conclude it was nothing less than ‘a work of kings’.

While four master masons were responsible for the superb craftsmanship and largest fan-vault ceiling in the world, it is Reginald Ely, who is credited with much of the early design of the Chapel, but it is John Wastell, the last and perhaps most brilliant master mason to work on the edifice who claims ownership as the architect of “the noblest stone ceiling in existence.”

Lore and legend tell of tales that would make the most ardent of atheists believe in a divinity that would spare this magnificence from religious upheavals, warring occupations and kingly proclamation; a crucifix upon the screen, and a high altar in the Choir, for example, were all removed under Edward VI, restored under Mary, modified under Elizabeth, elaborated under Archbishop Laud, and removed again under Oliver Cromwell.

Much of its history can be found here and here and here.

While Henry VI expressed a distaste for elaborate ornamentation, the audacious and consumptive Henry VIII (he loved palaces; he began with a dozen and died with fifty-five), felt not a moment’s remorse for the embellishments of the spectacularly arrayed fan-vaulted ceiling decorated with intricately carved bosses of wood and stone or the superbly carved screen between the antechapel and choir, a gift to his mistress and later, wife, Ann Boleyn (the screen bears Henry’s initials twined around those of Anne’s).


Other noteworthy points of interest:

The interior is composed of 12 bays of great windows containing some of the finest medieval glass anywhere in the world.

The organ is a true work of art, constructed 1666-68, and rebuilt several times since then. The pipes rise above the screen, upon which they rest.

The Tudor choir stalls were made by Peter the Carver, who was also responsible for the screen. The canopies were added in the 17th century. Rubens’ striking painting Adoration of the Magi (1634) looks down on the high altar.


While dreams, sweat and bloodshed created this earthly masterpiece and the years since have culled a semblance of sacredness into its core, it is the exquisiteness of the acoustics that offer what is nothing less than a transformational experience. See and hear for yourself:




If you’re one of the fortunate few to find themselves in Cambridge this coming holiday, and seek the enrichment of what is assured a memorable outing, don a bonnet worthy of the occasion, snatch a fanciful bouquet of spring, like gladioli, the beloved bloom of Oscar Wilde, for instance, and set forth on a pilgrimage to the chapel’s Easter services, now in its fifth year. Download the programme.


“Easter Morning”

The fasts are done; the Aves said;
The moon has filled her horn
And in the solemn night I watch
Before the Easter morn.
So pure, so still the starry heaven,
So hushed the brooding air,
I could hear the sweep of an angel’s wings
If one should earthward fare.

~Edna Dean Proctor


My thanks to The Blue Remembered Hills for the inspiration that is woefully absent in my life these days.




~ by eaesthete on 03/23/10.

5 Responses to “That Which Eludes”

  1. To inspire we now know is to breathe. I am glad you have caught your breath again.

  2. swoon-worthy. What a delightful post

  3. I’m sad to say that I didn’t know about this magnificent chapel when I made a short visit to Cambridge many years ago; I really missed the opportunity to see something truly beautiful.


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