A Dog In A Cathedral

Naturally, the dog is now the toast of the South Western rail network.

He sat at the feet of the Shrewsday men on four separate trains, attracting ear tickles and admiring glances and long in depth conversations about his ancestry all the way down.

He is a little puzzled because Phil and Felix walked to the station. Thus, his walk began 24 hours ago and has still not brought him back to the house from which he began.

His final walk was from Exeter Station to the Cathedral green.

And as I sat in front of Exeter Cathedral I confess I did a double take when a small terrier tugged on his lead, urging Phil to go faster to reach our bench, on which was laid out a resplendent picnic.

A dog? In front of a cathedral? But how?

We have somehow made churches places where animals are allowed very little. But just minutes before Macaulay Shrewsday’s arrival, a nice guide had been telling me that there was a time when they were welcomed in.

Exeter Cathedral is a jewel: because it is a perfectly preserved mediaeval Cathedral.

It has the longest transept in Europe, brilliantly constructed and painted in the brightest colours. And there are faces and stories everywhere you look; one cannot quite define where pictures finish and grotesques begin; Satan, Thomas Becket, jugglers, kings, minstrels and a heavenly virgin. The cathedral still has its feet planted firmly a thousand years ago.

It was commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1066 and took about 70 years to complete. And after that, a very large part of it was thrown open to the people of Exeter; and their livestock.

Love me, love my pig. When men came to town it was often with animals in tow. Pig locks did not exist and tying your livelihood up outside was foolhardy.

It was the custom for two thirds of the cathedral to be a meeting-and-greeting place. Folks would wander in and talk and bring their animals with them. It was a very social place, this towering declaration of the church’s power amongst the little mediaeval houses.

But occasionally, the animals would get out of hand.

The church had thought of that.

The ‘dog whipper -the equivalent of Security- was given a consul with which to view the affable mayhem. Built onto the long wall of the cathedral way up high, is a room with two small viewing windows perfect for keeping an eye on the rabble below.

When things got a bit too boisterous, the dog whipper would come down from his point and calm or eject the offending creatures.

And within a short time, all would be calm.

These days the animals are gone, and everyone talks in hushed whispers. The weight of time can awe one.

But everywhere, the signs of our four legged friends remain in the stonework. The hedgehogs which stonemasons used to adorn the tomb of a knight called Sir Speke- or spike to his friends. The stone knights with their feet resting on a long-gone family dog. A chapel full of owls.

It is like a 3D stonework bestiary.

The dog sat outside, ready for the final leg of his journey, hunched at the ankles of his master, accepting the odd sausage from the picnic.

Plus ca change.

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39 thoughts on “A Dog In A Cathedral

  1. I only realised the communal use of churches since my arrival in France, We are surrounded by very ancient churches and their previous use as markets, shelter from marauders and communal meeting places is made clear. They also have plaster casts of the grotesques and statues painted in their original bright colours. Lovely post.

    1. Thanks, Roger: it came as a revelation to me that cathedrals could be rowdy places…but it makes sense. I’m sure the ecclesiastical security were well up to the job. Such stunning places they left behind them, here and throughout Europe.

  2. Well done Macaulay!

    I like Sir Spike nd his hedgehogs, seems so appropriate.

    I’m glad someone else feels the weight of history in those places. I was wondering what you lot will do in 2066, to celebrate the whatyoumacallit 1,000 year thingy? Another Thames floatilla? More exciting things? Never can tell with you lot. <Meanwhile I'm setting in stocks of good things to watch the Olympics opening ceremony on the telly.

  3. It is generally assumed that our churches were always filled with pews in the way they are today. However, it was as you say, a meeting and greeting place, a large empty area with stone derrière rests around the walls.
    Love the photo of Macaulay – where do you get your energy from? Blogging whilst on holiday.

    1. The Macaulay pic is courtesy of Felix. It is entitled, ‘Slightly uncertain dog on train’. As for holidays, I am an incorrigible exhibitionist. They are much sweeter when shared.

  4. A well-travelled hound is our Mac, perhaps it’s time to employ a ghost-writer to pen his memoirs? Or to find a publisher to put Mrs Shrewsday’s accounts down in ink?

  5. Always, always you teach and inspire, Kate. The only dogs we see in churches here are those who aid the visually impaired, and, in fact, they are usually dogs-in-training that come to our church. What a wonderful thought

  6. Had only Macaulay visited Exeter Cathedral a millennium ago he would have been granted entry! Did he leave a pee stain anywhere on the exterior to express his indignation?

    1. Would that he had, Lameadventures, would that he had. But he was a little stunned by his travel experience and was doing a creditable impression of cold turkey. Next time, I feel sure, he will christen the old place.

  7. My only exposure to pets in churches come with special services for the blessing of the animals. I am still in awe of Mac taking a train trip! There is just no equivalent here, and I can only smile thinking of it. You’ve brought all the children with you, haven’t you, Kate. Such good parents! πŸ™‚ Debra

  8. Dear Kate, like Debra (Three Well Beings) my only exposure to pets in churches comes in October when many churches bless animals on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. I’m going to Goggle Exeter Cathedral to see all I can see of what you have written about so whimsically. Peace.

  9. I loved your description of Macualay’s walk, maybe he’ll have higher expectations in the future now about the duration of such activities! He does look a very well behaved terrier in that photo although I’m sure the smell hasn’t come very clearly in it. πŸ™‚

      1. Be warned.. I always feel a bit touched when I go there – it’s amazing how peace can suddenly descend on a crowded room for a person. the closest I have ever known to a religious experience and it happens every time. A very special place πŸ™‚

  10. You should have brought a white stick and dark glasses Kate – cathedrals allow guide dogs in πŸ™‚

    I haven’t been to Exeter for a very long time – perhaps a visit is in order soon. My favourite local cathedral is St.Albans. It is a real hodge-potch of Norman building with later additions. well worth a visit if you haven’t already πŸ™‚

  11. Macaulay is a hero!
    Enjoyed the trivia about Exeter cathedral Kate. Did they really let in elephants and lions into the cathedral? πŸ™‚

    1. Alas, the elephants were just embellishments on cathedral seats, Madhu. They had never seen one when they carves, using pictures; and managed to give the elephant cow’s hooves. Classic.

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