Photo: Travel: England: St Albans
Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban
On December 8, 2007 Tini picked me up at Gatwick and we drove straight to St Alban despite the sullen skies that promised no end to my consternation about taking exterior photographs. The abbey church (which became a cathedral relatively recently in 1877) is among the most interesting buildings of this type because one can easily trace the development of this structure from around the 11th century basically to the present by looking at alterations to its various parts. From Norman arches in the nave (with some Saxon baluster shafts), to Early English Gothic arches in the same nave, to Decorated window tracery, Perpendicular chantry chapels, and even Gothic revival exterior, everything is there for all to see. Unfortunately, it's not very pretty. The structure, although restored in parts has a feeling of ruination and Lord Grimthorpe's enthusiasm for rebuilding leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to taste. Notable things not to miss include the Norman crossing tower made of brick scavenged from the nearby Roman town of Verulamium, the 13th century paintings in the nave that were plastered over during the Reformation and were uncovered in the 19th century, the restored Great Reredos by Abbot Wallingford in the presbytery, the shrine of St Alban (meticulously restored from the tiny fragments it was smashed into by the Puritans), and the Lady Chapel that survived as a school. The staff is extremely helpful although there is no decent photo book yet. Photography is permitted but the lighting is very poor, and some parts are nearly totally dark. The exterior is also unexceptional.