Wartburg Castle – Saint Elisabeth

10 03 2007

The Wartburg Castle is located on a 1230-foot cliff overlooking Eisenach, a city formerly behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany. It was founded by Duke Ludwig of Thuringia in 1067 AD and is one of the best preserved castles in Germany. In its great hall, the minstrels of the High Middle Ages held their competition. Wartburg Castle is more closely associated with German history than any other castle in Germany.

saintelisabeth.jpg

Saint Elisabeth lived and worked within its walls, and Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German here. The castle is also linked to the Battle of the Bards and the gathering of the student fraternities in 1817.

Wartburg Castle blends superbly into its forest surroundings and is in many ways ‘the ideal castle’. Although it has retained some original sections from the feudal period, the form it acquired during the 19th-century reconstitution gives a good idea of what this fortress might have been at the height of its military and seigneurial power. Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German during his exile at the Castle from May 1521 until March 1522. As Martin Luther’s hiding-place, the castle is a symbol of the Reformation.

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Saint Elizabeth was a princess and born in Sarospatak, Hungary, in 1207 as the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary and his wife Gertrude Countess of Andechs. At the age of four she was sent for education to the court of the Landgrave of Thuringia, to whose infant son she was betrothed. As she grew in age, her piety also increased by leaps and bounds. In 1221, only 14 years old, she married Ludwig IV; they had three children. The court of Thuringia was at this period famous for its magnificence. Its centre was the stately castle of the Wartburg, splendidly placed on a hill in the Thuringian Forest near Eisenach, where the Landgrave Hermann lived surrounded by poets and minnesingers, to whom he was a generous patron. Notwithstanding the turbulence and purely secular life of the court and the pomp of her surroundings, the little girl grew up a very religious child with an evident inclination to prayer and pious observances and small acts of self-mortification. These religious impulses were undoubtedly strengthened by the sorrowful experiences of her life.

Shortly after their marriage, Elizabeth and Ludwig made a journey to Hungary; Ludwig was often after this employed by the Emperor Frederick II, to whom he was much attached, in the affairs of the empire. In the spring of 1226, when floods, famine, and the pest wrought havoc in Thuringia, Ludwig was in Italy attending the Diet at Cremona on behalf of the emperor and the empire. Under these circumstances Elizabeth assumed control of affairs, distributed alms in all parts of the territory of her husband, giving even state robes and ornaments to the poor. In order to care personally for the unfortunate she built below the Wartburg a hospital with twenty-eight beds and visited the inmates daily to attend to their wants; at the same time she aided nine hundred poor daily. It is this period of her life that has preserved Elizabeth’s fame to posterity as the gentle and charitable chételaine of the Wartburg. Ludwig on his return confirmed all she had done.

So great was her diligence for the poor, that the hour for meat had drawn near before she remembered the need of her presence at the castle. Then, lest she put shame upon Ludwig by keeping his guests waiting, she entered the hall as she was, clothed in her grey gown of service. But as she crossed the threshold angels descended from heaven bearing fitting raiment for her; one, a coronet for her head, one a dress of golden tissue, and one a mantle. So that when Elizabeth took her seat beside her consort she appeared in the sight of all who beheld her as fair as the lady of Heaven herself.
And greater than these is that tale of the leper that came, crawling to the castle, seeking help from Elizabeth. Ludwig was far distant; and the leper being far gone in his foul disease and all other places filled, Elizabeth carried him in her arms and laid him in Ludwig’s own bed. When Sophie discovered this she was greatly enraged and dispatched a messenger for Ludwig; and upon his arrival at the castle at midnight, she conveyed him to his bed room, saying as they went: “A pretty wife thou hast. So little cloth she care for thee or thy love that she has placed in thy very bed a dying leper. This, that thou mayest take the scourge thyself.”

When her pious young husband died in Sicily on his way to a Crusade with the Emperor Frederick, she was cruelly driven from her palace by her brother-in-law. Those whom she had aided showed nothing but coldness for her; God was to purify His Saint by harsh tribulations. She was forced to wander through the streets with her little children, a prey to hunger and cold. The bishop of Bamberg, her maternal uncle, finally forced the cruel prince to ask pardon for his ill treatment of her, but she voluntarily renounced the grandeurs of the world, and went to live in a small house she had prepared in the city of Marburgh. There she practiced the greatest austerities. She welcomed all her sufferings, and continued to be the mother of the poor, distributing all of the heritage eventually conceded to her, and converting many by her holy life. She had few more years of life to run, but she spent them in constant prayer and practical charity, and became universally loved and revered.  

St Elizabeth is traditionally represented as dressed in rich clothes, bearing in her top skirt-which is gathered up at the front to form an apron-a profusion of red roses, while behind her back she holds a loaf of bread; these are the symbols of her life, her inherited position as Queen of Hungary, and the life she elected for herself of penance and asceticism. She died on November 19th, 1231. Shortly before her death at the age of 24, her son regained control of the government of Thuringia and summoned her back to court. Elizabeth was canonized in 1235 by Pope Gregory IX. The shrine of her remains in Marburg was a popular pilgrimage in the middle ages.
Very soon after the death of Elizabeth miracles began to be worked at her grave in the church of the hospital, especially miracles of healing. Master Conrad showed great zeal in advancing the process of canonization.





Temple of Athena – Delphi

10 03 2007

 

Pilgrimage is one of the oldest endeavors of humankind. It may very well be triggered by a mysterious urge deep within our souls to follow in the footsteps of the ancestors. This inexplicable urge is felt by only a few of us. And of those, still fewer follow this heart-felt need to adventure into the unknown, not for riches and external power, but for purity of heart and soul and to answer the ageless questions of the meaning of our existence on earth.

Since the dawn of time, seekers of these questions have made pilgrimages to sacred sites pursuing true knowledge, wisdom and power. They always brought an openness of spirit to the potentiality of being in touch with the elements and becoming one with nature and the mysteries of life. To these spiritual adventurers, the mountains, jungles and the valleys facilitated a relationship with the Otherworld. Here they discovered inspiration, transformation and healing.

Pilgrimage is one of the corner-stones of ‘awakening’ the divine spark within. Entering into the mountains, jungles and valleys, we become detached from the limitations of mundane time and space and the attachment to ordinary life. We step into the extraordinary and it is in this space that we develop and grow our ideal self.

The way to true knowledge, power and wisdom is through direct and personal experience. The more that we can separate ourselves from the mundane world, the closer that we may then come to the realm of the divine. The magical mist that surrounds this sacred world stays hidden from the human ego, but will evaporate for the pilgrim who sincerely searches for the truth. It is possible to experience this sacred environment as an immortal human being, dwelling in the divine presence of the heaven and the earth.

Our journey in 2001 can only be described as a pilgrimage and when I reached Delphi, the famed Castalian Waters and the Temple of Athena, I knew that my pilgrimage was complete. It was a sacred, transformational journey. Once I walked the Sacred Way, all but swam in the waters of Castalia, stood in the Temple of Athena, I knew that one day my children would bring my ashes, mixed with some of Darryl’s, to be spread in this exquisite mountain retreat, a place where I could join my beloved muses. I had reached centre.

 

Photographs by Darryl Blakey 2001

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After the heartbreak of Corfu, a tourist wasteland filled with cheap trinkets, I was nervous about being crushed when we finally reached Delphi. But my romantic perceptions were all affirmed and my faith is stronger than ever.

It was a glorious, windless, 30c day in Delphi. The town itself is prettier, far more affluent than I had anticipated. They do not seem to need to have temporary stalls, cluttered with cheap plastic Taiwanese wares, although there are plenty of postcards and cheap copies of museum pieces to be found.

We sat, under two vast, old, plane trees, where pilgrims would have regularly sat, eating lunch and returned to the adjacent, quiet cafe for our dinner that evening. This eating house stood apart, away from the crowded eateries catering for the busloads of one nighters that fill Delphi’s Hotels. Our hotel room, which afforded magnificent views of the sea and coastline was away from the main drag, relatively secluded and very comfortable. Indeed, it was one of the best rooms we have had in Greece.

As for the slopes of Parnassus and the sites themselves all I can say is that they stopped my breath and I felt a quickening not unlike that when Helen and Greg first stirred in my womb. Tears welled as I climbed the Sacred Way and I stopped many times to absorb my surroundings. I drank copious amounts from the legendary waters of Castalia and splashed my arms and face, purifying myself, injesting the creativity properties of this cool water.

As we drove out of Delphi towards Athens, past the Castalian waters we stopped, on Darryl’s suggestion, to fill water bottles with this holiest of waters and I prayed for a safe return. I promised to return – when I am turned to ash so that my soul can sing along with the choir of voices that echo through these pristine mountains.





We’ll Gather Lilacs

10 03 2007

Darryl England

We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again
And walk together down an English lane
Until our hearts have learned to sing again
When you come home once more
And in the evening by the firelight’s glow
You’ll hold me close and never let me go
Your eyes will tell me all I need to know
When you come home once more
We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again
And walk together down an English lane
Until our hearts have learned to sing again
When you come home once more
And in the evening by the firelight’s glow
You’ll hold me tight and never let me go
Your eyes will tell me all I want to know
When you come home once more
When you come home once more
When you come home once more

Sissinghurst Spring 2001

Photographs by Heather Blakey England 2001

Dear Mum,
I am not quite sure where to begin because we seem to have been seeing so much. Often of a day I take the time to make some notes in little notebooks I have in my bag. At the stunning Audley End, the home that had housed the King in the days when Henry VIII was King I thought I spied some Jane Austen figures scurry by. I noted that they had created Elysian gardens in a quiet corner. The word Elysian means ‘the abode of the blessed dead’ implying a place of perfect happiness. Shaded by the massive beech trees, her arms splayed out across the grass leading to the river bank, with croqus growing nearby, I believed I had found the perfect place to stop and rest awhile. But then there have been so many places like this – tranquil spots that John Constable painted.

I sought the muse in the twisted alley ways of Cambridge but only saw the famous colleges charging admittance to look at their halls and treasures. The tranquility of the river, the Backs, was shattered by chauffeupunts seeking custom. But then the bicycles whizzed by and I do declare the muse would surely have a bicycle in Cambridge.

Colchester proved to have many secrets. I was delighted to find that it was the home of Old King Cole ( who turned out to have been a mercenary), Humpty Dumpty ( a Royalist Soldier who was shot at the tower on the old Roman Wall) and the author of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Colchester is full of those medieval, Tudor cottages and buildings that we have all seen on postcards. They are a visual delight, their quaint warped shapes a mystery. The medieval Suffolk wool town of Lavenham is filled with these beauties – but then so is half of England.

Too good for those English :-).

Much Hadham, where we are staying is also a quaint village with a string of these black beamed buildings. Rudyard Kipling wrote that the motorcar was a time machine in which centuries slid by, like milestones revealing England…. a land full of stupefying marvels and mysteries.

For Kipling, a day in the English countryside was like a day in some fairy museum where all the exhibits are alive and real.This sums up exactly how I have felt coming to England, seeing the enchanting architecture, exploring the country lanes is like going in to a timecapsule and finding all the places that filled my imagination as a child. A builder’s nightmare, there is not one straight line to be found. But all the romantic dreams of the olde worlde Englishness have been realised. Before my eyes are the black beams, russet bricks, white clapboard, tall chimneys, leaded windows and swags of greenery. Huge roses trace the doorways, inviting one to enter through the arched doorway, through the heavy wooden doors. Cobbles the size of eagle’s eggs; I walk around a corner to find the loveliest of church squares.

As I have turned another corner to be confronted by a building that dates back to AD something or other I have been awed by the feet that have passed this way. Even the trees are ancient, massive, with dense green foliage that shades the living and the dead. The history is fascinating – has come alive now that I can see where it all took place – and to think that we have barely begun to scratch the surface, barely begun our adventure. These ancient places remind me that despite the vicisssitudes of tides, weather, silt and shingle the essence endures. Each day I am left with a surreal sensation that I have swallowed the contents of a bottle labelled ‘Drink Me’ and have shrunk, like Alice, to wander in miniature through the villages of England.

all my love
Heather

Apart from taking photographs and writing daily journal entries and letters to my mother during our six months away, I meticulously kept visual scrapbooks of ephemera that I picked up during my travels. Whenever I travel I do this and my books are becoming more sophisticated with time. Now I would have to include some sketches and drawings as well.





Visit Potsdam

4 03 2007

After spending four days in Berlin Darryl and I reached Potsdam by car, managing to park quite close to the Palace Sanssouci. In the 17th and 18th century it was summer residence of Prussian Kings and German Emperors. On their orders the best architects and artisan-craftsmen of their era produced outstanding pieces of art, whereas Sanssouci is the most famous one – an ensemble of baroque castles and marvellous buildings in a huge park complex.

Potsdam is an amazing, vast complex and we were staggered as we wandered from one idyllic corner to another. In truth we barely scratched the surface of this amazing haven of the muses and one day I may just find my way back to soak in some of the beauty and remember.

The lay-out of Sanssouci Park followed the same principle as the design of Sanssouci Palace. Frederick II wanted to create a place where he could spend his time ’sans souci’, in other words carefree, and dedicate himself to the Muses. In 1744, he ordered the cultivation of the ‘waste hill’ in the north east of Potsdam, building six terraces to grow wine and fruit. A year later, the foundation for his summer residence was laid. Following the terracing of the vineyard and the completion of the palace crowning the hill, Frederick also paid attention to the surroundings.

Contrary to the classical organisation of Baroque parks, the central avenue did not lead directly to the palace, but was built parallel to it, thus creating a more casual “en passant” atmosphere. A Baroque flower garden with patches of lawn, flower beds, hedges and trees was laid out at the foot of the hill, while the slopes were used for fruit and vegetable gardens. This horticultural theme can be found in all the park. Over the years, more palace buildings arose in the gentle hilly landscape. The park was expanded over the next one hundred years. Under Frederick William IV, the completion of the park proceeded. Charlottenhof Palace, the Roman Baths, the Orangery Palace and the surrounding garden areas bestowed the park with its southern air. Peter Joseph Lenné, a garden architect of genius, converted the new garden areas into an open landscape park. Broad meadows created visual avenues to the older parts of the park, thus joining old and new.

One of the nicest places in the Potsdam Sanssouci park is the Tea House.

he New Palace (German: Neues Palais) is a palace situated on the western side of the Sanssouci royal park in Potsdam. The building was begun in 1763, after the end of the Seven Years’ War, under Frederick the Great and was completed in 1769. It is considered to be the last great Prussian baroque palace.The building of the palace commenced at the end of the Seven Years’ War, to celebrate Prussia’s success. The war is also variably referred to as the Third Schleswig War, owing to the dispute over the duchy of Schleswig-Holstein. In an architectural form, Frederick the Great sought to demonstrate the power and glories of Prussia attributing it as fanfaronade, an excess of splendor in marble, stone and gilt.

For the King, the New Palace was not a principle residence, but a display for the reception of important royals and dignitaries. Of the over 200 rooms, four principal gathering rooms and a theater were available for royal functions, balls and state occasions. During his occasional stays at the palace, Frederick occupied a suite of rooms at the southern end of the building, composed of two antechambers, a study, a concert room, a dining salon and a bedroom, among others.

After the death of Frederick the Great in 1786, the New Palace fell into disuse and was rarely occupied as a residence or entertainment venue. However, starting in 1859 it became the summer residence of the German Crown Prince, Frederick William, later Emperor Frederick III. The palace was the preferred residence of Frederick and his empress, Victoria, throughout the 99 Days’ Reign. During the short reign of Frederick III, the palace was renamed Friedrichskron Palace (Schloß Friedrichskron) and a moat was dug around the palace. The ascension of William II saw renovation and restoration within the palace being carried out with the installation of steam heating, bathrooms in state apartments and electrification of the chandeliers which Frederick the Great had collected from across Europe. Until 1918, it remained the preferred residence of William II and the Empress Augusta.

 

After the November Revolution and the abdication of Emperor William, the New Palace became a museum and remained such until the Second World War. Preceding the plundering of the palace’s treasures by the Soviet Army, the palace retained much of its Frederician décor and furnishings.

 

Photographs by Darryl Blakey 2001