Saturday, September 25, 2010

London: Churches and Museums

Various items from churches and museums in London.

This sign for the Chinese Church in London features a nicely stylized form of the Chinese word 華 (huá), which means "China" or "Chinese" in most contexts. Here, a "cross" (or Star of Bethlehem) motif is incorporated into the center of the character.

Near the church, in Chinatown, I saw this poster that teaches children the Pinyin romanization scheme for Chinese. Each sound in Mandarin is assigned a corresponding Roman letter. Most of the words chosen are simple, everyday ideas or objects: 大 (dà) = big, large; 土 (tǔ) = earth, dust. I'm confused by the image for for 你 (nǐ) - I always thought it just mean "you."

St. Dunstan in the West is a church that caters to the demographics of its congregation in a variety of ways. Here, an entrance sign asks visitors to pray for peace (in English, French, German, Russian, Greek, and Romanian). Although the church is Anglican, I noticed many (Greek and Romanian) Orthodox icons and motifs inside. The praying hands are, I suppose, German in origin, after Betende Hände by Albrecht Dürer (c. 1508).

All Hallows by the Tower isn't one of London's most famous churches but it's worth a visit (check out the crypt and the brass rubbing center). Some notable people associated with the church include William Penn (baptized here, 1644) John Quincy Adams (married here, 1797), and Thomas More (beheaded near here, 1535).

The crypt underneath the church allows you to view centuries of treasures. The medieval livery companies of London contributed funds to develop this space to display valued artifacts and documents. Appropriately, a French inscription reads "Conservez ce qu'ont vu vos peres" [Safeguard those things upon which your fathers have looked]. Why French? It's the language medieval guilds used in most of their administrative and civic documents.

There are maritime motifs all throughout the church itself (among other things, there's a Mariners Chapel). This heraldic device is the emblem of the old Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, which bore the Latin motto "Per Mare Ubique" [Everywhere By Sea]. What I find most curious is the use of sea horses as supporters for the shield device! Apparently sea horses do appear elsewhere in heraldic insignia but in more imaginative and stylized forms; see this website (scroll to "sea-horse") for other examples.

I end with this curious detail from a medieval comic strip (or "graphic novel") version of the Book of Revelations. This panel depicts Rev. 16:13-16, when the text describes "three unclean spirits like frogs" coming out of the mouth of the False Prophet, Dragon, and Beast. Read (and hear) more about this artwork, with larger image, at this Victoria and Albert Museum website.

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