Tag Archives: gothic architecture

Charles Island: Haunting and Serene

The ground may be covered with snow right now, but it wasn’t so long ago that Yang and I had an autumn day at the beach.  Of course, it was kind of a gothic day at the beach because we were visiting one of the famous Five Ruins of Connecticut, The Aquinas Retreat at Charles Island.
We hadn’t planned on starting the grand tour, but our love of ruins has already taken us to two of the locations in the set. I  posted our earlier visit to Hearthstone Castle in Danbury, CT. So, that Sunday afternoon, we trekked down to Milford, CT to finally get the chance to travel the tombolo out across the bay to

the island.  This trip had been on our agenda for years, but getting to the island is no easy feat – not because of  reefs, pirates, or sea monsters, though.  The ocean only subsides from the tombolo  during low tide and this land path  is only dry and clear enough when the moon and sun exert their strongest gravitational pull.  On top of that, colonies of egrets and cranes nest on the island from April until September, so the Wildlife Service has deemed Charles Island off limits during that time.
There’s a legend about the island holding  Captain Kidd’s hidden treasure, but the treasure we found were beautiful ocean scenes and fun walking and exploring the edges of the island that has a circumference of a bout a mile.  The going could be a bit rocky and uneven when you start out counterclockwise, but you get to enjoy the gorgeous ocean bay as much as do the lounging cormorants.

 

Then there are the ruins of the Aquinas Retreat Center.  Not many extensive ruins  to find.  Built in 1929 by the Dominican Fathers as a lay retreat, it was abandoned by 1938.  Perhaps storms or difficult access for supplies undermined its success. At this point, there are barely the scraps of stone and mortar outlines left to some out buildings and small towers.

There was also one lovely archway. I wonder if this structure could be the remains of an entrance to a chapel or shrine.

 

This space must have been a wonderful location for contemplation and communing with God through nature amidst the calls of wild birds, the surge of waves, and the rush of wind.

We also saw some nice smaller birds on the island.  Yang got a great shot of an Eastern Kingbird.

And while I was watching birds, Yang was watching me!

It was such a lovely, warm and sunny fall afternoon.  There were families and young and old couples, also making the circuit of the island, but never so many you’d feel crowded – and the cormorants didn’t seem to mind.

Say, what do you think of this place for setting a mystery novel?  In the 1860s, there was resort here.  Maybe Jessica and James need a vacation, or Liz needs a retreat – Naagh, no shopping!

Tarrying Awhile at Hearthstone Castle

I’m heading back to school this week. So before work gets too hot and heavy, I want to post a blog on one of the wonderful short trips Yang and I took when  we went away for two days.  The first day was a visit to NYC to explore Central Park and have a yummy tea at Alice’s Teacup – another blog on that later!  The second day, as we made our way back from where we’d stayed  in Milford, brought us to Danbury’s Tarrywile Park and the Hearthstone Castle.  If you click here, there’s a wonderful history on this link about the castle.

We walked up a fairly short, but decidedly steep, wooded path to be greeted with this sight.  What a pity that the castle has been defaced and let go into such disrepair.  Still, it was deliciously eerie, with the afternoon sunlight rising in a clearing amidst the trees.  Note the turrets with sharp field stones acting as the crenellation.  There in front was the portico where the wealthy would arrive in their carriages to be dropped off at the door for a summer weekend in the country or a formal dinner or ball.  They must have had a ballroom! And here I am walking quite determinedly up to get a closer view, braving  assault from ticks and poison ivy.

 

 

 

We took some neat shots of the ruins, so you could see the sky pouring blue through a window in the back wall out to you from a smashed window or a broken wall  in front of you.  Unfortunately, the sun was so bright  that it washed the blue right out of most of these shots.   I love the gorgeous turret here and wonder what kind of round rooms were inside on each floor.  The view must have been a delight. A great place to sit with your tea and a good book.  Perhaps a Scarlet Tanager or Rosebreasted Grosbeak might fly by, even perch on the ledge?  Looking through the smashed windows, where the boards had been pried away, you could also see the brick that lined or insulated the interior where the material covering the interior walls had been stripped away.  I couldn’t help recalling the marvelous ruined abbeys I’d seen on my trip to England – sky gleaming blue through soaring arches and graceful architecture.  Of course, this ruin is on a much smaller scale – and more jagged than the medieval constructions.  Still, doesn’t the setting lend itself to a novel?  Hmm, maybe that’s what I’m working out in my mind here.

 

 

 

Here’s a neat farewell shot of the ruin.  I’m not sure if Yang or I took it.  I would love to go back in the fall, when the leaves turn gorgeous!  You should make a visit, too.  And remember that the park has lots of inviting hiking trails.  Yeah, I think this place has to make it into a novel.  It’s just so Thornfield or Manderly!

P.S.  A tip of one of my many hats to Robert Johnson for putting me wise to this site.

 

Carven not Craven Images: Providence

The same day that we visited Battleship Cove, we also gave ourselves a walking tour of the older architecture in the downtown section of Providence.  Yang and I had come here for a walk once before in the winter and marveled at the beautiful buildings with their ornate decorations.  We’ll start with the Shepherd Department Store Building.

 

 

 

The Shepherd Department store was once the largest department store in the country, covering an entire block and consuming three buildings.  First built in 1880, the store continued to grow and became a mainstay for about 100 years.  Unfortunately, like many of the other big department stores (Bon Marche, Filenes, G. Fox) it was undone by the viral spread of malls.  Check out the interesting background info on this store and on it and  similar ones.  Fortunately, Shepherd’s facade has been preserved, with a major portion of the building serving as  campuses for URI and CCRI, as well as offices for the RI Department of Education, making the relief of the owl pictured above both prescient and appropriate!

 

 

The archways on each of these street-corner main entrances are extraordinary to to view.

And of course, you can’t help but admire this fierce lion head  decorating the building.

 

 

He isn’t the only lion.  This building, now a dance club, is  protected by a line of threatening Panthera Leo – so you’d darn well better heed the sign warning that the rest rooms are only for patrons!

 

 

There are also far less threatening carvings or reliefs.  With this building that was once a nineteenth-century performance center, we have musical instruments:  mandolin and horn on one side and lyre on the other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On another building, I found these reliefs:  a pilgrim-looking guy and the female head from the old dimes.  How wise to pick a relief that has rays coming from her head that can also double as pigeon repellers. Note that anchor relief just around the corner.

 

Between them was a medallion with this cherub.

 

I was  struck by the Providence Performing Arts Center.  This gorgeously ornate building covers an enormous amount of territory.  It seems like an entire block.  The front is impressive, predominating the view at this end of Weybosset Street.  The sides are no less impressive. Originally built as Loewe’s Movie Palace  in 1928, the theatre opened to an audience of 14,000. Loewe’s went through some tough times in the latter half of the twentieth century before its redesign as a  successful  multipurpose performance venue.  Click here for  background on this magnificent building.

 

Here, Yang caught me giving the side view of the theatre a once over. Yes, I do have a hat! There are plenty more shots that we took that day – the photographic not the liquid kind.  However, I don’t want to make this post too long.  Looks as if I’ll have to do a Providence,  part II!

Adventures in the Lowell Cemetery, Part 1

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The weekend before Halloween, Yang and paid a visit to the Lowell Cemetery.  It isn’t the oldest burial ground in the city, but it’s probably the most Gothic, designed in the Romantic style, after Mt. Auburn in Cambridge, MA.  The fall colors were uneven in Lowell, as in most of central Mass.  However, we were able to get some lovely background shots, as you can see here.  Yang took this photo of the gate and a beautiful sugar maple next to it, from the inside of the cemetery.

 

The combination of fall colors and crypts and monuments made some wonderfully seasonable shots, especially since the cemetery has some unique and beautifully crafted monuments.  I love the  highlight the orange-flame gives to this crypt.

 

 

 

 

I was especially taken by this pillar topped with a kind of medieval church spire.   The burnt oranges and reds of the scenery create beautiful surroundings in the amber autumn sunset.    I was so impressed with the top of this monument, that I had to get a close up of it.  Definitely reminiscent of something out of the High Middle Ages.
Of course there were also some shots of the trees that were absolutely enthralling, too!

 

 

I was particularly taken with this relief carving of an angel ministering to penitent soul, on a stone nestled by a green pine against a background of soft  orange and golden foliage.

 

 

 

The relief carvings were some of the most striking and beautiful monuments that we viewed in the Lowell Cemetery.  One of the first ones that I noticed was of this angel presiding over the tomb with a cross.  Like many of the statues and monuments, it revealed its antiquity by the way mold, lichen, and moss had blurred its features. I love the way the sinking sun lends an gleam of divinity over the guardian angel.

 

 

The Parker crypt is guarded by two figures carved on either side of the entrance.  I’m not sure who or what the two figures represent beyond sorrow at death. Since we have a major thoroughfare in Lowell called Parker Street, and this tomb is on the elaborates side, the family must have been quite a powerful one in Lowell. No one named Ben, May, or Peter was listed on the site.

 

 

This stone combines media, stone and bronze.  Does the figure represent Death or Fate, quieting our questions and fears about what comes next with a finger to the lips.  I’m not sure if the form is male or female.  It’s more solemn than reassuring – a sober warning to the living that no secrets, hopes, or words escape from those who’ve passed beyond this vale of tears – or vale of soul-making if you’re into Keats.  Or maybe even this is a warning to give up asking questions when you enter into a realm beyond thought and languages as we know them.  Perhaps a close up will help us better read the warning of this eerie being, shroud ethereally encircling it.

 

 

Arguably my favorite monument is the verdigris-bronze piece on the front of this stone monument arching up from the hillside.  Who is buried here?  What is the person’s past?  Beliefs? to inspire such a powerful and eerie figure.  She seems like a sybil spreading her capes in warning – or is she an embodiment of Death come to sweep down on us and enfold us in her flowing, boundless cape?  I really need to do some research on the history of these wonderful works.  Are there any sculptures by famous or venerated artists in this cemetery?  At any rate, she definitely deserves a close up.

 

I have lots more photos to share, however, I don’t want you to succumb to cemetery overload.  This is enough delicious melancholy for now.  But don’t you think this place is so perfect a setting for parts of a Gothic novel?  I already have some ideas “haunting” my brain.  Anyway, I promise you another blog with more pictures soon.

Swan Point Twilight – Don’t Blink!

Last weekend, Yang and I paid a twilight visit to the Swan Point Cemetery in Providence.  It’s a beautiful cemetery on the bay, encircled and populated by graceful old trees.  The graveyard is designed in the Romantic style initiated by the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and emulated by others, such as Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain, the Lowell Cemetery (guess where), and Sleepy Hollow in Concord – Tarrytown, too!

This style is characterized by sloping greens; stately, shady trees; ponds; and monuments created to reflect both the sadness of loss and the serenity of eternal peace.  Keats and Shelley would just die, so to speak, for a sojourn here.

This cemetery is surrounded on the street side by a stone wall of large rocks.  So, it captures the New England tradition of dry stone walls, but adds solemn majesty by using boulders as its dry stones.  I love this configuration near the entrance.  We came here close to dusk because Rosie and ‘Tasha kept us out later than usual walking in the yard.  So, we had to hurry  a bit and were unable to stroll and take photographs at our leisure.

 

 

 

The posture and positioning of many of these statues seem to tell a moral about death.  Perhaps women were usually chosen to immortalize in keeping with Poe’s dictum that the saddest thing in the world is the death of a beautiful woman.  Each of these beautiful figures seems to convey a message back to the living.   This woman looks down on our world, bearing a veiled gift.  The broken column signifies a life cut off.  I’m not sure where I learned about the column, but I do remember it was a legitimate source.

 

 

 

 

 

Here, a woman peers off into the beyond, urging us to look upward and outward, past this vale of tears – or is that veil of tears?  Either makes sense in this context.  She also holds an anchor on her far side.  Does it symbolize that she is anchored to us, though she is looking to attain something beyond the earthly realm – or is she from a seafaring family?

 

 

I’m particularly interested in this figure, looking down at us from the heights of a pillar, perhaps symbolizing she is no longer anchored to this earth but soars above us toward the empyrean.  Still, her gaze of concern is fixed on us suffering mortals below.

I found this stylized monument of an angel  particularly intriguing.  Yang thought it had an Egyptian look, but I find it much more art deco.  It seems to flow down into the ground – or does it shoot upward?I didn’t have a chance to check the date on it to see if it fit into the deco period.  I’m so impressed by its soft but still clean lines.

 

 

The weathering of this limestone angel blurs and softens it’s features so that it seems ethereal – and more than a little eerie.  What do you think?  What does she perceive hovering above even her?  Don’t blink!

 

 

 

 

 

The cemetery has other lovely qualities. There is a pond surrounded by hedges, but I didn’t get any pictures this time.  We had to rush.  However, I did get a shot of this gazebo.  What a wonderful place to sit and read.  Yang graded papers here, while I attended a Renaissance Conference in town one time.

 

 

I have to add that there are some impressive selections of Celtic crosses.    Some in family groupings.

 

 

 

 

 

Others even in pairs.

 

 

I especially loved the balustrades or curved stone work surrounding or leading up to family burial plots.  The first of these pictures shows a lovely plaza surrounded by a bowed stone rail.  I remember when there were actually a barrier of tall yews forming a second circle inside the balustrade.  You couldn’t see within the green cavern it created.  One of the grounds-people told me they had to cut  down the yews because weird stuff went on in there at times.  This was some time ago that I heard this tale.  I hadn’t heard any tales about these gently curving steps and barrier, leading to this prominent family’s plot.  I do love the graceful shape.

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, here are the pictures that all you faithful Lovecraftians are waiting for:  Mr. Lovecraft’s family plot and monuments.  We actually had some shots of me next to the monuments, but I looked awful enough to give a Shuggoth the willies.  So, vanity prevailed and I ditched them.  You may notice that there were deposits of presents by Mr. H.P.’s grave.  If you look carefully on the gravestone, you can see that his birthday had been just a few days before.

 

 

 

 

 

There are lots of beautiful scenes that I hadn’t time to photograph that twilight, but seeing that I couldn’t fit in all the wonderful images that I took this trip, I don’t feel too bad now about not getting them.  There should be another trip, maybe when the fall colors are aflame.  Won’t that be a treat to see?  So, with this proud, victorious angel, I will bid you adieu and slip away into the gloaming – whatever the heck a gloaming is!

Carven (not craven) Creatures of the Big Apple

 On one of our several peregrinations to NYC, Yang and I were strolling around the upper Westside, near Central Park, where we were taken by the marvelous reliefs and carvings on the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century buildings.  Here’s a record of that intriguing stroll.

 I’m not sure if this is the head of a cupid or a Roman youth.  It looks like wood lacquered over  black paint.  Or it could be masonry painted over.  What do you think?  I love the sheaf of what look like cattails surrounded by scrollwork.

 

The whole side of this building was alternating Classical mythological figures and Green Men – sort of like the melange of classical and native mythos in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I decided to include only this detail of what looks like Athena flanked by two Green Men.  I’m fascinated by the thought of who decided on this design.  Was it the architect’s idea or did the original owner order the magical artwork?  Was it a signal of the owner’s or the architect’s learning and sophistication?

 

Here, you can see swans above gryphons holding escutcheons, but with no motto or symbol on the shield.  The wider shot below illustrates the art deco design over the entranceway.  Would this building have been constructed in the 1920s or ’30s?

We photographed these reliefs of mythical beasts on one building.  I can definitely identify the creature over the entrance as a dragon.  The others I’m not so sure about at all.

 

I think this might be a form of a gryphon.  It has a lionlike head and paws in front. It is a winged critter,  Yet, are its hindquarters too reptilian?

 

 

 

These next ones have me really scratching my head.  I seem to have heard of some mythic beast with the tail of a snake, but I can’t quite remember what it was.  I definitely see a bird’s wings and claws.  However, what is the head?  A dog?  A donkey? El chupacabra?

This one completely knocks me for a loop.  The head is clearly reminiscent of what all MST3K fans will recognize as Trumpie from The Pod People.  So, is it proof of earlier alien invasions?  Interestingly, the creature doesn’t seem to have both arms and legs, but one pair of limbs that could serve both purposes – unless the wings count as arms/hands – as with bats.

 

I’m not sure if these chaps are supposed to be gods or Green Men, but the fellow in the other picture certainly looks as if he could be Bacchus.  I love the contrast of the red brick with the cream-colored carvings.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, this shot is particularly interesting for more than one reason.  First, of course, is the graceful carving of the British lions above the entrance.  Especially interesting is the cat in the window perfectly situated above the lions.  However, if you take a closer look at the cat you may exclaim, “Say what!”

That sweep of black fur across the forehead, that little smutch of black fur under the nose.  Good Gravy Train!  The cat looks like Hitler! How embarrassing in front of the other cats.

Mont Saint Michel

When I was a little girl, perusing my geography book in a grade I can’t quite remember, I came across a photograph of and sidebar on the island castle/monastery Mont Saint Michel. Its inaccessibility, magnificence, and antiquity fascinated me.  I remember reflecting that never in a million years would I get the chance to visit such a cool place. It was a place to dream on, though.  1Stmicehl1Well, a million years rolls around sooner than you would ever expect. Last month, I found myself journeying to the mysterious isle, and not being disappointed.

The tide was out when we arrived––otherwise, we never could have crossed to the towering rock island, which would have been surrounded by tide-ripped ocean. Still, no one ought to feel all that much at ease, even with the tide out, for the sands hide quicksand, 2St.Michel2waiting to suck you down. So, stay on that boardwalk!  Then, when the tide comes back in, it’s with a rush that’s earned the nick-name “galloping horses.”

 

 

 

 

The monastery/cathedral that tops the island seems like an organic outgrowth, built into the 3Village1rock, as is the village, circled by city walls, that spirals up narrow, cobbled streets and ancient stone stairs to the  magnificent edifice melded into the summit.

 

 

 

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Fortunately, the collapsible stool Yang got me, enabled me to climb almost ad infinitum, with moments of rest to forestall the onslaught of my plantar fasciitis pain.7steps4

 

 

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It’s a long drop below.

 

 

 

 

9gargoyles2What would a castle/cathedral be without presiding gargoyles?

 

 

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The church where mass was said had beautiful Gothic architecture

 

 

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Outside at the top were gardens, which reminded me of the Cloisters in New York, near Fort Tryon State Park.  The Cloisters is clearly inspired by this wonderful aspect of some monasteries.  But how do 15cloiser1these flowers grow so beautifully on an island smack dab in the ocean?  How do the salt air and the harsh winter cold affect them?

 

 

 

Inside, within the monastery that contains that cathedral space is the refectory that fed a 21refectorypassel of monks and their royal guests in ages long ago.  They must have seen me coming and hidden all the food.

 

 

 

 

Crypt:  here, the crypt refers to the original meaning, a hidden place as opposed to a burial 19inside1place.  This was one of the vast chambers in the monastery.  The lack of light in these rooms made taking photographs extremely difficult, so I can’t share the dark, dreamy quality of the chambers that twisted around each other. That’s why the image of the Black Madonna here (a much later installation) isn’t the best.   I could definitely understand why in “The Horla” Guy deMaupassant characterized Mont Saint Michel as a setting that left one susceptible to possibilities of the fantastic and eerie.18Blackmadonna

 

 

 

 

 

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Going down showed us the beauty and magnificence of the curving stone walls, seeming to be an organic extension of the mountain rock.  22comingdown1

 

 

 

And gorgeous flowers and other plants revealed Nature’s tenacity, growing from the slightest cracks in man-made and Nature-made walls.

 

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Back in the village, we wound down the narrow streets, toward St. Michael’s Church, with the 27downvillage5warrior angel, himself, on guard in statue form by the door.  We visited inside and felt the joy of painting, stained glass, and statuary celebrating wonder at the Divinity (Take that Protestant Reformation!).  We also visited a tiny cemetery of tall gravestones with plots of flowers or colored broken stones enclosed by stone borders.  Finally, we made it to a little cafe for lunch, where I managed to order in French without embarrassing us!  Mmm, savory galettes of jambon, champignons, and fromage, complemented by cafe au lait.  What a wonderful day.28downvillage