Saturday, 11 July 2015

A Year in Pictures – 6 and 8 to 10 July 2015 – Oceans of Glass

It is impossible to talk about photography without reference to glass, unless one chooses to limit the discussion to pinhole cameras. This week I have been concentrating on certain striking examples of glass to be found in the City of London and marvelling also at the capability of modern lenses in capturing detail.

On Monday 6 July, a wonderful group called Unity Arts visited St Olave Hart Street with their cameras and I took the opportunity of using mine. Their focus was a detail in the Lady Chapel window, one of the windows designed by A.E. Buss for the post-war restoration of the church. They were making a study of Edith Cavell, the British nurse who was shot by the Germans in 1915 for treason. She had helped over 200 Allied soldiers to escape from German-occupied Belgium and fell foul of the current German military code. You can see a representation of her in the top right of the window.

The window as whole celebrates women, Cavell's companions in the top lights being Elizabeth Fry, Florence Nightingale and Josephine Butler. The lower lights represent the three parishes of the united benefice of St Olave Hart Street, All Hallows Staining and St Katherine Coleman. All Hallows collapsed in 1871 but its mediaeval tower is still visible in Mark Lane – Elizabeth I is shown with the bells of the church at her feet because it is said that the bells encouraged her while she was imprisoned at the Tower of London by her half-sider Mary. St Katherine Coleman stood on the south side of Fenchurch Street but was closed in 1925, its site now being taken up by Lloyd's Register of Shipping. St Mary the Virgin is the subsidiary dedication of St Olave's and her image appears in the middle panel.

The image for 8 July shows the northern end of Lime Street, with the iconic St Mary Axe (more commonly known as The Gherkin) in the distance. perhaps it should be called The Ant's Egg. I like this building, its coloured glass and helical window lines making a stunning display under different light conditions. Also visible is the medieval tower of St Andrew Undershaft, which in its early days would have been one of the tallest buildings around—"Undershaft" is a reference to the maypole that was placed close to the church in the 16th century and provoked rage among Puritans. On the left is the easily recognisable Lloyd's Building, while on the right is the headquarters of the insurance giant Willis. Quite soon the view of The Gherkin and (the now dwarfed) St Andrew's will be obscured by a new pointy building that will itself be taller than with Lloyd's and Willis—this will be 52 Lime Street, which has been christened "The Scalpel". Watch these spaces!

No new basic images to mark 9 and 10 July but I have instead been concentrating on the East Window at St Olave's, the central detail of which marked 7 July. First up now is a detail from the left side of the window, showing an angel and St Olave. Ólafr II Haraldsson, to give him his Old Norse name, was renowned in London for helping Aethelred the Unready defeat the Danes at London Bridge (c.1014). Returning to Norway, he was, as we might say now, "closely involved in" the conversion of Norway to Christianity, He died in battle in 1014 and it said that miracles started to occur near his grave. He was canonised and became the Patron Saint of Norway. St Olave Hart Street is the survivor of five London churches dedicated to him, and was probably founded in the late 11th century. In the window St Olave is shown with a dragon at his feet that has his own face—he is often depicted this way, as legend tells that the dragon he overcame was his own fiery nature.

Finally, the entire East Window is shown here for Friday 10 July. You can see the details already posted above and for 7 July. On the right is St George slaying the Dragon and representing Britain, while on the left is St Olave. The two saints stand on land but are connected by the waves of the sea, symbolising the links of friendship between the British and Norwegian peoples. In addition, the top lights carry the symbols of the Four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, while in the centre is the Christ symbol, the first three letters of "Jesus" in the Greek alphabet and the first and last letters of that alphabet, reminding us that Christ is referred to in Scripture as "the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End".

Not a bad time perhaps to be reminded of the hallowed place of the Greek language in world history and consciousness.

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