Written by Ellis Ian Fields
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Monday, 4 July 2011

image for British Museum - Treasures Of Heaven St Gary's boxing glove.

Subtitle: saints, relics and devotion in medieval Europe. The stars of this exhibition are beautifully-crafted reliquaries that demonstrate the effort, skill and expenditure that went into housing the purported bits of saints' bodies for the faithful to visit.

Historian Ken Lucid went along for a look...

What is it with the BM, eh? Last time out it was The Book of the Dead, all about ancient Egyptian death cults (reviewed here by Chasuble Mendip-Never, March 4 - ed). Now we're looking at bits of saints.

The show's had some pretty good publicity - Andrew Graham Dixon got that old nun, Sister Wendy, to look at some of them for the BBC and the curator was on Today the other week.

But, judging by the number of visitors when I was there, this one ain't gonna pack 'em in. Old Mendip-Never would have enjoyed this one - plenty of room, only one or two pillocks occasionally blocking your view, and few children.

Mind you, there's always one attention grabber, isn't there? I was pondering an artefact said to contain a part of the True Cross when I heard some child wailing, probably bored witless - this isn't for the young'uns. Then a few minutes later I heard a dull "thud." I looked around and a small kid was on the deck, making his kind of bored protest, I guessed. A disembodied voice from round the corner uttered in one of those fed-up and about-to-give-in-and-call-it-a-day tones: "Titus!"

Titus! Poor bastard!

There is some exquisitely crafted stuff in this show, particularly interesting if you're unacquainted with reliquaries and ossuaries. We know that people in the dark ages (oops! A modern historian shouldn't be using that term, but bugger it, you know what I mean) were terrified that the Day of Judgement was imminent and the craftsmanship invested in these pieces demonstrates the devotion, the desire to be close to something that could help you attain heaven.

(A word of adviceā€¦ if this exhibition does pique your interest, make a beeline for the Hofburg in Vienna. The Hapsburgs collected loads of this sort of stuff - they've even got the lance supposedly used to pierce Christ's body on the cross and a contender for the Holy Grail).

Bad news for old Mendip-Never - the exhibition souvenirs did not include a pack of playing cards, so we left the shop empty-handed. Sorry, old man.

But we thought we'd better see if lunch at the Museum Tavern had improved since he was there in March. Keighley's Timothy Taylor Landlord Bitter wasn't available so we went to the other end of the country and had Lewes's finest export, Harvey's Best Bitter. Bloody nice.

However, remembering Mendip-Never's experience, I watched a plate of nachos go by on their way to another diner and they still looked to be sadly lacking in jalapenos, so we passed and had a bag of Nobby's Nuts each!

Oh, and some more Harvey's.

Post-script: that evening, the Empress and I settled down to watch a Nicholas Cage movie on TV. Season of the Witch is set during the dark ages and is about worship and the devil and all that. Bloody crap, it was.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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