The Magnificent Art of Roman Mosaic

img_4502I’ve always loved mosaics. From jewellery set with tiny pieces of glass to sprawling floors, I’m fascinated by the alchemy of creating pictures from pieces of coloured stone. Years ago I even took several workshops on how to create my own mosaics, working in both the regular and reverse transfer processes. I ended up making my own mosaic table top, which has since been carted across the world with me in several moves. It currently sits in our shed and is in a sorry state of repair, so is a project for me this summer.

img_4503Near to where I live is the city of St Albans, once called Verulamium and one of the most important Roman towns in Britain. There was a lot of wealth in Verulamium, with many splendid villas being built there, as well as a baths, basilica and forum, all important fixtures in any decent Roman town. Now all that remains are a few fragments of the old city wall, and, beneath the parks and streets, wonderful mosaic floors, several of which have been removed and preserved in the excellent local museum.

img_4500As you can see the designs are amazingly modern, considering they were made almost two thousand years ago. I particularly like the semi-circular shell pattern – it predates Art Deco by almost two millennia, proving that really, there are no new ideas. And, if you go to the nearby park, you can see a mosaic floor still in situ.

img_1471Protected by a modern building, this beautiful floor was once part of a grand reception room. Complete with hypocaust underfloor heating, it comprises a series of panels with repeating designs. But I think the best thing about it is that it is where it has always been since it was laid, gleaming and new, all those centuries ago. I imagine how pleased the householder must have been, how proud that they had the funds to buy such a magnificent floor.

img_1473Now, perhaps, mosaic is something you have in your bathroom, or on the top of an outdoor table. But it must have been wonderful to live in a home where such beauty ran underfoot from room to room, full of stories and patterns and colour. What do you think?


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Thursday Doors – The Bishop’s Door, St Albans Cathedral

IMG_3166A little while ago I posted about a set of doors at St Albans Cathedral, which someone commented ‘were probably the oldest’ set of doors to appear in the Thursday Doors Challenge. Now, I know I have an advantage, as I live in a country where buildings can be a thousand years old. However, this week, I have an even older door.

Also in St Albans Cathedral, the Bishop’s Door is thought to have been made around 1396, and the Great West Doors I featured previously, made around 1420-40, were based on the design of this earlier door. On the top right-hand side of the doorframe is the crest of St Albans, and on the other side the crest of Richard II, king at the time the doors were made. The timber has been well maintained over the years, so is in better condition than the Great West Doors, and the quality of the carving is just beautiful.

IMG_3167And here is some more carving – two hundred year old graffiti, scratched into the wall at the left of the door, just above the stone plinth. There are even older examples to be found in the cathedral, some dating back to medieval times, proof that people always like to leave their mark.

IMG_3169This is my entry for Norm 2.0’s weekly Thursday Doors Challenge – for more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link 🙂

 

Thursday Doors – Great West Doors, St Albans Cathedral

IMG_2273

This is one of the Great West Doors at St Albans Cathedral, St Albans, England. There are two doors but my other shot was hopelessly blurry, so we’ll have to make do with this one, plus the close-up below showing more of the detail.

IMG_2274

The doors were, according to information on site, made in the early 1400s for Abbot John of Wheathampstead, during his tenure at the cathedral. They were for the now-demolished west end of the Cathedral, replaced in the 1800’s during what some would say was an unfortunate restoration program by Lord Grimthorpe.

Made of four layers of wood, each door is held together by wrought iron nails, which also form part of the decoration. They are an excellent example of early English Gothic style, and were featured in a V&A Exhibition entitled Gothic – Art for England – 1400-1547.

Considering the history of the Cathedral, and the age of the doors, it’s interesting to consider who might have passed through them when they were in use. Now they are displayed either side of an archway leading through to the cafe and gift shop, modern necessities for a place that costs £5000 per day simply to keep open.

This is my entry for this week’s Thursday doors challenge, courtesy of Norm 2.0. For more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s blog and click the link.

Wednesday Wander – St Albans Cathedral

I haven’t wandered too far today. I live close to the ancient city of St Albans, and a recent visit to the cathedral had me considering what it had once been like.

The cathedral itself is mainly Norman, but is built from the bricks of Roman Verulamiam, once one of the most important Roman cities in the UK and the place where St Alban met his martyred end. I wonder how it must have been for the Normans to wander the ruins, nearly a thousand years old at the time, and whether they looked at the ancient walls with any curiosity beyond a source of building materials.

IMG_0848

St Albans has a long history, being a tribal settlement before the Romans came, then growing into a city of such importance that it was sacked and burned by Boudicca of the Iceni, on her way to Londinium. Much of the Roman city still remains unexcavated, though there are bits and pieces to be seen, including a section of the old city wall and a wonderful mosaic floor with hypocaust heating, unearthed in the local park and left in situ.

The Norman cathedral was part of a prosperous abbey until the dissolution, after which time it fell into such disrepair that there was talk, in the eighteenth century, of having it demolished and replaced with a smaller church. It was saved, thank goodness, and eventually restored.IMG_0850

Today you can visit the cathedral grounds and walk the circuit inside, under soaring arches and painted ceilings. There is even a bit of St Alban there, enshrined, though it is a fairly recent acquisition,  and the centuries old graffiti carved into the stone pillars is well worth seeing.IMG_0852

The cathedral still holds regular services, and has an excellent gift shop and cafe. It also hosts a well-known Christmas Market every year, while the streets of St Albans bustle with shoppers just a few metres away.

IMG_0098And yet, when mist falls over the hill and the land is deserted, it is possible to just glimpse the ghosts of St Albans’ Roman past, built into the very walls.

Thank you for joining me on another Wednesday Wander – see you next week 🙂

 

Thursday Doors – Commit No Nuisance

IMG_0833

My door this week comes from St Albans. It’s the entrance to the medieval clock tower, the only remaining example of its kind in England. Built in the early 1400’s, the tower is four storeys tall and built of local flint and stone. At this time of year, fairy lights twinkle in the former ground floor shop window, while sparkling icicles dance along the castellated roofline. Yet all year round it is a meeting point – a focal point of the ancient town founded by Romans so long ago.

IMG_0853

I particularly love this door, because of both its obvious age and the writing on it. The door itself is quite small, about five feet or a metre and a half tall, and faces a pub almost equally as ancient, where the King of France was briefly held prisoner many centuries ago. I imagine the sign was written as a more modern reminder to pub patrons as they are released into the night – not sure how many of them would actually take the time to read it though 🙂

For more Thursday Doors, visit Norm 2.0 and click the links. Or add a door of your own!