Our first view of the spectacular chapel at King’s College, Cambridge was from the other side of the River Cam and through the rain.
We made our way to it through the city on Saturday afternoon.
From the doorway, I took pictures of this spectacular tree inside the gates of Clare College while Alex pulled out the treasured “Bod” card–the Bodleian Library card and student ID of Oxford. In Oxford, it’s like the key to the city. In Cambridge, the porter debated whether we ought to be allowed entry. “Hmm . . . that’s the Other Place,” she said. In the end, she gave us both the student discount. (And Alex denies being charming!)
My favorite moment when seeing these cavernous medieval churches and chapels is the moment of entry. You step from ordinary life outside in which you were just about to see yet another sight, sometimes even forgetting why you want to see it. In a second you are in a different time and a different place, both physically and mentally. The doorway is always dark but as you step through light reappears, only now it is reformed, directed in different patterns, gleaming through colored glass and enormous arches of silent stone.
You stand like an ant in the midst of its late-Gothic splendor, all at once (appropriately) insignificant. As we entered this one the tremendous organ was reverberating throughout (“Music, Mommy!”).
“It has quite the organ, if you like organs,” said my dear friend. Yes, I do.
This one was truly magnificent, topping the intricately-carved wooden rood screen dividing the antechapel from the chapel. Above it were placed two angels with golden trumpets. You can also see the fan vault ceiling, the world’s largest of its kind.
The chapel was completed during the reign of Henry VIII, though it was begun one hundred years before by earlier Henrys. It is Henry VIII whose statue famously adorns the front gate and whose initials (Henry Rex) are carved into the wooden doors throughout the chapel. I have read that royal cypher, still used today, was first used in this way by Henry VIII, so these are of historical interest.
The painting over the altar is Peter Paul Rubens’ The Adoration of the Magi. I read that this work was given by an American millionaire and that the chapel floor was redesigned and leveled to accommodate it. I would have liked half an hour alone with this one.
The paintings of Jesus Christ in various places were worth the visit. I was particularly interested in this Italian master’s version of the wan body of Jesus removed from the cross, capturing the devastation of those dark, puzzling hours between the death of the Savior and his imminent resurrection. It is sunset in the painting, but morning will come.
We emerged from the chapel to find the sun had come out to bless us in that sudden English way. (The beauty of the front court was being photographed by a group of Asian tourists who also photographed Harriet’s rule-breaking dash for the green. I am proud of her: after all, the number of people who have stepped on this turf is probably small.)
It was one of those experiences I’ll bring with me, wherever I go.