A Masterpiece in a Masterpiece


Rose Schwietz
Mendota Heights '13

To continue a response to Courtney's opening question of "why are we here?" I would say that not only are we here to grow and to learn, but also we are here to experience. Our evening excursion for today brought us back to the grandiose York Minster for an orchestral and choral performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 8, "Symphony of a Thousand." Sitting under the Gothic stone arches of the church, waiting in silence for the concert to begin, we were surrounded by vocalists, instrumentalists, music enthusiasts, gargoyles, and a thousand years of history. And with that in mind, the organ and the voices of the choir and strings exploded into the sanctuary--I was sincerely momentarily breathless. Attempting to explain the music itself in words would be both presumptuous of me and quite in vain, but I will try to give a sense of the overwhelming power of such a masterpiece performed within another masterpiece.
The Minster is, unfortunately, not designed for sounds of this genre; this caused some of the more complex sections of the symphony to be muddied by building too heavily on one another. However, any temporary distortion of the sound could be completely overlooked in hearing the four- to six-second ring following the conclusions of Parts 1 and 2 of the symphony. It was as if the masons' original intentions--that the Minster would direct all thought and prayer to the heavens--was embodied in the final chords being lifted from ground level up to the pointed arches of the gilded ceiling and out the stained glass windows to the skies above.
Being able to witness such an extraordinary and infrequently performed symphony within arguably one of the most impressive buildings in the United Kingdom was a noteworthy experience, to say the least. Simply hearing the music and watching the performers while surrounded by hundreds of hearts and eyes all focused on the same complex piece of beauty--there are truly no words to fully depict the sensation. We are here to learn, and to grow, and to experience, and hopefully to share all of this with one another.

Sharing is Caring


Rose Schwietz
Mendota Heights '13

Yet another reason we are here--and perhaps the one that can encompass all the others--is to share. Over here in York we are novelties, just as everything we encounter is in some way a novelty for us. And because of that it's important and hugely beneficial to share who we are and what we've learned with the people we meet, and hopefully they will share something of themselves in return.
A few of us students have become particular friends with one of the vendors at the open air market in the center of the walled part of the city. Originally from Pakistan, this man and his wife sell clothing as regulars at the market, but they also travel around the United Kingdom to different fairs. Over the past week we have run into them several times, and he is always ready for a friendly chat. I personally have had exchanges with him regarding American history (specifically the Civil War), weather differences (or similarities--it's unbelievably windy here), and his own past as a vendor. He is the kind of man who is genuinely curious about unfamiliar topics and just interested in what one has to say--a friendly man looking to make connections.
In less regularly occurring cases, we have still been able to share bits of ourselves with the people we meet. Shopkeepers, waiters, and passersby stop to ask where we're from, what we're doing here, what we're learning, and the like. Being able to tell the locals we've come to their city to study literature from the time when York was the academic center of England; telling people on the train where we're from and where we're going to next; meeting other American tourists and making home connections away from home; sharing stories with one another as students to gain perspective in that manner--all of these opportunities are invaluable ones that we could not get just from reading our textbooks.

Connecting with the Past


Sara Butterfass
Howard Lake, MN '12

"Wondrous is this stone wall, wrecked by fate; / the city-buildings crumble, the works of the giants decay. / Roofs have caved in, towers collapsed, / barred gates are broken, hoar frost clings to mortar, / houses are gaping, tottering and fallen, / undermined by age. The earth's embrace, / its fierce grip, holds the mighty craftsmen; / they are perished and gone."

These are the opening lines of the Anglo-Saxon poem titled by modern scholars "The Ruin." This version is a translation of the Old English in which it would have originally been composed. In York today I can see many of the same things that this 8th century poet saw in the city about which he was writing. He was writing about the Roman city of Bath in southwest England and felt dwarfed by the grandeur even of the ruins of their stone structures. As a wood-working culture, the Anglo-Saxons had no reference for stone works such as to be seen in Bath.
Today in York I can see the stone remains of the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Normans, and the successive generations residing in York. There are the city walls that served as a defense against invaders, now outdated and crumbling in places, the York Minster continually under repair yet still an astounding stone structure despite its weathered and cracked facade, and other stone ruins like St. Mary's Abbey. And just like this Anglo-Saxon poet felt, it seems that these works were constructed by giants. I know that this is not true - it was skilled architects who built these structures, yet when you stand inside or outside of any of these buildings a feeling of being small and unimposing washes over you. The amount of time devoted to the craftsmanship still visible even in the decaying and crumbling remains is impressive.
Many of the buildings in York show some sign of their age, and this poet's sentiment that earthly things fall into decay and return to the earth where they are built can be felt over 1000 years later. Walking through a city where so many feet have trod and so much history has been made, whether or not it has been recorded, puts into perspective that as an individual, whatever mark I may make on this world may be insignificant in the course of time. However, this does not mean that I should not strive to make a mark. The men who built the stone structures in York and Bath were not giants, and did not intend to be remembered as such; yet, their work impacted a viewer even after it had become outdated enough for him to compose a poem about its beauty. And I think in the grand scheme of things, to impact the next generation in a positive manner is not such a bad way to be remembered.

A first time traveling student's deep thoughts


Jonathan Anderson, 2012, Saint Paul MN

So, here I am in York, England, living more comfortable and care free than I ever thought possible on a school sponsored function. I've never studied abroad before, and for that matter, never traveled internationally before. But I don't think I could have picked a better time to do it, or a better group of people to have traveled with.
I decided to do study abroad because I felt that I would like to spend some time studying somewhere other than Morris, Minnesota. Not that I don't love Morris, but I felt as though I would like to experience a culture that I was not used to. In the last week I have done that over and over again. The most exciting thing about my trip is that everywhere I walk, I can see things that are older than America. History is interspersed with modernity. One can see a medieval church next to a nineteenth century pub, next to a modern supermarket. I hear that over here any time someone digs a hole to build something, there are ancient artifacts that turn up. Thinking that there is so much history just beneath my feet is very exciting.
My biggest joy here in the UK is that even though most of the same things are sold in stores here, there is an absence of cheap junk to fill in all the spaces. Meaning that the products available are better, and that there are less of them. Food included. Eating here is cheap, delicious, and healthy. I can't remember the last time I paid for something to eat with coins, and felt reasonably satisfied. Probably because I never have.
People that live here tend to let you go about your business. I'm used to the big Minnesota smile and hello, but it's refreshing to simply walk past someone on the street without having to feel obligated to tell your life's story on a morning walk. There is no malice in it, but rather just a blissful indifference:)
I am also glad that I chose to go with a relatively small group of about twenty people, and for the span of about three weeks in the summer. All the excitement is only compounded by the fact that I share it with some super people.
So, My lessons from the UK: A bar is a gate, a gate is the word for a road. But a Pub is a Bar. And trousers are pants, but pants are underwear. A truck is a Lorry, and black pudding is blood sausage, but Yorkshire pudding is bread. Pennies are pence, and longbow sounds like Strongbow. Cheers! Jonny

Science and English?


Katie Blais
St. Paul '12

I am a biology major and the may term course to York, England is a 3000 level English course. My only prior experience with an English course was an introduction level course: college writing. Why would I, a science major, go on a trip to read literature? My answer to this question is simple, it is because I am a science major and I learn from concrete facts. Is there a better way to learn about a culture than to live in it? I argue no; and so this was my driving force to take this class. I would be able to actually see the sights that I was reading about and not in some classroom in Morris reading about something that is not connected to my present world.

The course itself can sometimes be a challenge. The most difficult aspect of the class is learning to use the analytical side of my brain. Sometimes it is difficult to keep up in class discussion because most of the other students are English majors and so they understand other literary references that I simply have not been exposed to. Our professor, Janet Ericksen, does a wonderful job of explaining the literature to us non-majors. Even though it can be a challenge I find it very rewarding to overcome this challenge.

The trip has been everything I imagined it to be and so much more. The readings we have to do for the class connect so much to our surroundings. This connection between what we are studying and our physical surroundings allows the literature to really sink in.



Courtney Driessen
Blooming Prairie, MN '12

We have nearly reached the halfway point in our trip. We have seen two or maybe even three cathedrals, visited four museums, toured multiple historic sites, walked the city walls, become acquainted with the train system, and sat through 18 hours of class. This weekend we will be traveling to three cities for the chance to experience even more important medieval sites.

We have made unexpected friends and have come to know fellow students in a way that we may never have had the chance to do without this trip. We have tried strange sounding foods and mixed with the locals. At times we have struggled to interpret accents, but have the joy of talking with people that most intimately know what is foreign to us.

We have read centuries old poems, discovered the lifestyles and customs of those long passed, and learned how to evaluate their lives in comparison to our own.

Sadly we have only two weeks left of this trip and we are beginning to see the end, but this drives us to make these last two weeks worth every moment. Our relationships will continue to grow as will our knowledge. And as corny or cliché as all of this may sound, we truly are amazed and grateful for the opportunity that we have been given to be in this country learning at a level that is incomparable to any classroom experience.

(Just a note: Due to the trip to Lindisfarne over the weekend, no blog entries will be made until after we return. Look for a new entry either Monday or Tuesday night.)

The Holy Island


Trevor Ludden, Vadnais Heights,MN, '12

On the second weekend of our most fantastic stay in England, I found myself on the rocky shore of Lindisfarne: a sandy, windy, and lonely spit of land off the coast of England. As I stood watching the sunset dance over the waves of the North Sea, wind almost blowing me off my feet, I swiftly lost myself in thought. We had arrived on the island the day before, the coach bus striving to beat the tide that would inevitably swallow the narrow causeway that was the only access to Lindisfarne. Our hotel lay on the outskirts of the quaint, touristy village that sat on the southernmost point of the island. Though we arrived late in the afternoon after a full day of travel, I did what any good student studying abroad would do: I explored. A group of us wandered the streets of the village, looking in shop windows and delighting in what lay around the next corner. Soon, we worked our way past the ruins of the priory, an institution that had been a presence on the island since the 600's. It overlooked the coast, and as I stood in the sea winds, I could begin to understand what drew St. Cuthbert to seek a life of solitude on these islands. We were able to make our way to the rock where he held his first hermitage, marked now with the shadow of a small foundation and a giant cross planted in the coarse soil. There was something about that place, something calming about hearing nothing but the crash of the surf, the call of the birds, and the howl of the ever present winds.
I began to understand the allure of being so completely alone, and after a week of essay writing and almost nonstop classes, the seeming solitude was a welcome change. It truly allowed me to unwind, and see the beauty in a landscape so far from that I have known. The solitude, the momentary peace in a trip so hectic, was fantastic. Though it refreshed me, I do not know if I would be able to be alone for years as was the hermit Cuthbert. Actually being in his place, it allowed me an insight to what his life may have been like. It gave me an understanding of the material much deeper than I would have otherwise had. That is what is truly fantastic about going abroad-- that ability to actually be there and experience what you are learning firsthand. That is what study abroad is for me, and standing there on the island, I was glad that our class was only half over. We have experienced so much, and yet there is just as much to come. And that, was a great feeling.

Clifford's Tower


John Bliss
Minneapolis, MN '13

Being an upper-middle class white kid from Southwest Minneapolis, I've never really encountered a lot of prejudice in my own neighborhood. Even when I travel abroad, I find that people tend to look on Americans with a certain amount of pity, rather than outright disgust. This doesn't mean that I'm incapable of sympathy towards those who have suffered at the hands of others. Like most, hopefully all, of you reading this, learning of the persecution of a select group of people, any group of people, fills me with a certain loathing for those who carry out these hate-based actions.
While here in York, we scheduled in a visit to Clifford's Tower, a fortification that sits at the top of a large hill just inside the walls of the ancient city. I had passed the structure a few days before we learned of its history and commented to a friend that placing the tower on hill wasn't that great of a defensible decision; were the rest of the area around the tower to be captured, those inside would basically be trapped and left to starve. Of course, this would necessitate an enemy force occupying the whole of the city of York to be true, so it wasn't all bad.
After reading The Prioress' Tale, an installment in Geoffrey Chaucer's massive work The Canterbury Tales, we discussed how many Christians felt threatened by an all-too familiar cultural scapegoat: the Jews. The Jews, long portrayed as corrupt and manipulative due to their connection with the business of money-lending, found themselves in a difficult situation in the latter half of the 12th century. Anti-Jewish riots rocked the country, many headed by those who were ineligible to go on the Crusades and so decided to "help out the cause" at home. The new bishop of York had yet to take his seat of power in the town, and the King had moved back to London. All power in York rested in the hands of the local sheriff, whom many of the local Jews did not trust. In order to protect themselves, the Jews fled to a place of sanctuary: the castle at York, specifically Clifford's Tower.
The sheriff then began to siege the tower, and it was not long before the rioting crowds saw the siege engines as official approval for their actions, and joined the assault. Finally, over 150 Jews decided that they would rather commit suicide than let themselves be overrun by the angry Christians just outside their walls. The few that chose to live agreed to be baptized if they would be allowed to walk away freely. The townspeople agreed, but the moment the doors opened, the mob flooded in and killed all who were left.
And there we were, walking along the ruined outcropping, looking out on what was now green grass and happy families enjoying ice cream next to a strange man in a chicken suit. I barely noticed the breeze as I was too busy looking at the grounds below, imagining floods of angry villagers calling for blood. This time the thought experiment had become reality; an enemy force occupied the whole of York, and those in Clifford's Tower were beset on all sides by a brutal siege. As I trekked back down the winding spiral staircase (which I wryly noted turned the wrong way, another defensive blunder), I couldn't help but wonder if such an event were impossible in our time. I would certainly like to believe so, but the historical evidence keeps piling up, and the story is always the same: group is seen as different, group is persecuted, group dies. Hopefully, with burgeoning support for anti-hate groups all across the globe, we can arrive in a state of happy co-existence. Then we can work on actually accepting one another.

Fountains Abbey


Sara Butterfass
Howard Lake, MN '12

We are nearing the end of our time here in York and our studies have taken us from the beginnings of recorded history about and within England as control of the country passed through many hands. Now we are near the end of the medieval period at a time when Christianity was firmly in place as a dominant force in York and England as a whole. However with that power and authority came an increase in wealth and with that increase came a corruption of many of the religious leaders and members of the monastic orders. This moral corruption is something Chaucer critiques brilliantly in his Canterbury Tales. It is the wealth these churches possessed that produced the grandiose buildings we have visited, including the York Minster, Durham Cathedral, and today Ripon Cathedral and Fountains Abbey.

Fountains Abbey was the highlight of the day. Founded in 1132 by a group of monks from the Benedictine St. Mary's Abbey in York who were displeased with the increasing laxity of monastic life, Fountains Abbey and the Cistercian monks who populated it became a highly influential place in Medieval England. I have visited the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey in York, the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey in Whitby, and the ruins of St. Mary's in Lindisfarne but the sheer size of the grounds and ruins of Fountains Abbey in Ripon makes all these others seem small. Fountains Abbey was meant to be a return to the simplicity of monastic life that the Benedictine order had started as, but the popularity of its principles turned it into a massive estate with hundreds of residents.

Wandering around the ruins of Fountains Abbey and the outlying lands the abbey possessed, one better understands why Chaucer and others in Medieval England were so critical of the monasteries. With acres upon acres of land at their disposal and wealthy benefactors, life in Fountains Abbey would have been pretty cushy as the laity struggled to survive the constant warring among royalty and the plague. Even so, the peacefulness of an abbey placed on the bank of a river and surrounded by forests demonstrates the appeal of the location. The abbey ruins, not just at Fountains but at all the other abbeys I have seen, are truly incredible. The amount of time spent constructing these massive stone buildings, stone arches, and intricate carvings show the deep significance an abbey or cathedral had. That type of dedication is almost impossible to find on a building today. The opportunity to visit these historic sites with their hulking masterpieces of masonry is one that I am extremely glad I chose to take. Not only does it deepen my knowledge of English history and culture, it gives me a sincere appreciation for the people who came before us, who lacked our modern technologies and managed to create again and again imposing and impressive structures that people still marvel at centuries later.

The End


Courtney Driessen
Blooming Prairie, MN '12

Tonight marks our last night in this beautiful city. We will begin our journey home bright early with our 6:30 train to the airport.

So what exactly did I take away from this trip? Did I achieve everything I had hoped when I posted my first entry into this blog? With certainty I can say I did that and more.

Things I have learned:
The Middle Ages were more than just the plague.
The Vikings were not just big, scary hairy men in boats.
Old English and Middle English are in fact English.
Literacy was not nearly as rare as I had once believed.
The Anglo-Saxons arrived to find the ruins the Romans, which seemed to them ancient.
Religion was an integral part of medieval society.
Women had rights (although limited rights by today's standards).
Privacy was for the rich.

What made this different than just sitting in a classroom, though, was that each of these tidbits of information helped create an image of medieval life in England, which was supported by the physical and ever present history that covers this country.

I didn't look at pictures to get an idea of the little amount of space a family had for a home, because I stood in a medieval house and saw for myself.
I didn't look at a map of a 9th century monastery and compare it to a 14th century monastery to understand how the lives of monks changed because I stood the in the ruins or replicas of them to experience the grandeur or poverty they knew.
It wasn't necessary to read about the unpredictable weather and towering cliffs on the coast to know what it might have felt like to be attacked by Vikings, because I stood on those cliffs in the rain and sunshine.

I gained lasting knowledge in greater way than any classroom experience could provide. Studying abroad gave me the chance to do more than read words on page or look at pictures in a book. I experienced what I learned.

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