Twelve minutes into the train from an absolutely empty station and we were there. Lichfield was there before we could say Brexit.
Ten days of incessant arguments and discussions of which I was a mere interested by-stander have just come to an end. Cameron made a dignified exit speech this morning that left many of us Indians wondering if our own politicians back home would ever evolve to a species that knew what that word *dignified* meant.
The Lichfield plan came up suddenly- An English friend who knows my love for local markets tells us at breakfast that Lichfield has a Friday Market. He also suggests we reach there and find out a gory but interesting fact about it’s past.
I promise to treasure hunt and not google it down.
This here is an unbeatable combine- Friday Market and Gory. Together, unmissable, even though no travel book or discussion had brought up Lichfield.
No one gets off at Lichfield station except us. In fact, for the first five minutes off the train, there seems to be no one there in that space at all.
We can see Cathedral Spires in the distance. It makes sense to follow the road leading to them.
There’s an olde-world feel to this pretty town. It’s quaintness and charm isn’t worked hard at, like that of Statord upon Avon. Perhaps being off the crazy tourist jamboree helps.
Expectedly, almost all buildings are built in red
brick Georgian style. Shops have interesting display windows and names. Antique shops in tiny corners rub shoulders with home made ice- cream parlors, barber shop with antique jewelry sellers.
The locals are welcoming and friendly, and have an accent that we know as English. Almost every fifth person has a pet dog walking them.
I could live here.
We wander about slowly through streets paved in a ladder-shaped design, not only because we’re a bit bemused by the city’s sweet charm, but also because that’s how everyone is- unhurried. It just becomes a natural rhythm.
Passing by the Garrick Theater, it’s not long before we come to what may be the Friday Market with it’s gory history I am hunting for.The Market Square is not as ‘vibrant’ as promised, but the setting is interesting- Samuel Johnson’s birthplace and museum is right on there and it is neighbors with shops with interesting fare and pubs that go back a long way in time.
I ask around but no one seems to know what my friend had referred to about the Market Square, except that this historic Market Square in Lichfield has been the home to the town’s markets since King Stephen granted the first Markets Charter in 1153.
“Yes. Would you like to try our cheese?”
I’m sure there is more. This does not sound gruesome enough.
I love cathedrals.
With over 1300 years of history, Lichfield Cathedral is the only medieval three-spired Cathedral in the UK.
Walking towards it through the small street across the canal, it’s full facade comes up suddenly- standing there in elegance, dignified and awe-inspiring.
It’s history and interiors involves Swords and Saxons and Saints. (Mostly Saint Chad, the patron saint who came here in about 634 AD)
All kinds: Mighty, Musical, Singing, Flying, Carved, Watching, Tiny . . . and an Archangel. In stone, wood, glass.
The history of it’s displays and the building itself is absolutely immersing, more so because the two gentlemen volunteers in the Chapter House take immeasurable pride in sharing it and ensure we see the Cathedral Treasures.*
Time passes quickly.
As we sit at the canal bank eating pies from a local bakery that goes back to 1893, we’re joined by a couple, visitors, like us. The man is reading out aloud from what looks like hand- written notes.
I’m all ears. There’s bound to be something in there about the Market Square.
He reads out the town’s history to her in a gravelly voice, almost as if he is on stage. Riveting. Both,the voice and the history.
It goes back beyond the middle ages:
“The early history of Lichfield is obscure. The first authentic record of Lichfield occurs in Bede’s history, where it is called Licidfelth and mentioned as the place where St Chad fixed the episcopal see of the Mercians in 669. The first Christian king of Mercia, Wulfhere, donated land at Lichfield for St Chad to build a monastery…”
And then he holds the book down and they kiss. Across a rucksack, waterbottle and a huge toy angel that lies between them.
We look straight ahead at the water.
He restarts the gravelly voice reading:
“The eighteenth century saw Lichfield become a center of great intellectual activity, being to home to many famous people including Samuel Johnson, David Garrik, Erasmus Darwin and Anna Seward; this prompted Johnson’s remark that Lichfield was “a city of philosophers…”
And again! He stops reading. They kiss.
Sweet. Somewhat less, but sweet nevertheless.
I still haven’t lost hope. I’m sure the post- snog reading will include what the Market Square is infamous for.
This time he reads out details about the Cathedral’s history:
Christmas Day 700 saw the consecration of the first cathedral in Lichfield, and, as there was a church (St Mary’s) here perhaps built in 659, and possibly others in between, Lichfield is among the earliest centers of Christian worship in the UK. After the invasion of 1066 the Normans built a new cathedral (of which only few traces remain), and a century or so later that was rebuilt in the Gothic style, and completed by c. 1340. Besieged three times in the Civil War it suffered drastic damage, more than any other of our Cathedrals…”
And then he stops.
Not sweet anymore. Not even somewhat.
People should make up their mind- Snogging or History Aloud. The man uses snogging like a book-mark in a historical book.
I’m done with the waiting for Mr Gravelly Voice to reach the part about the gory history of the pretty Market Square.
We pick up our picnic basket and start walking towards the Friary, in the footsteps of the city’s Franciscan Friars, an order of monks founded by St Francis of Assisi in 1209, who created a Friary in Lichfield in 1237, the remains of which can still be seen in a beautiful garden setting.
The rain comes down sudden and fast. We run back to the Market Square for tea before we make that short journey back home. I’m disappointed in myself for not being able to get to it’s infamous past.
The tea-room is like a picture from a hundred years ago, but doesn’t have enough tables for the crowd that the rain has brought in. We’re lucky to find one for ourselves.
Two sips into the tea, I hear a gravelly voice behind me, “Can we share your table please?”
Waiting that polite three minutes until they place a request for tea is one of the longest three minutes ever.
Will his notes have what I want?
I decide not to give him any chance for wet snoggies until he reads out some gory details. “Would you perchance know why this pretty little Market Square has an infamous past?”
There! No chance of any interruptions.
After much throat-clearing, this is what he reads out aloud:
“Three people were burned at the stake for heresy under Mary I.
The last public burning at the stake in England took place in Lichfield, when Edward Wightman from Burton upon Trent was executed by burning in the Market Place on 11 April 1612 for his activities promoting himself as the divine Paraclete and Saviour of the world.”
As we say goodbye he throws out an invitation: Come here with me on the darkest April night. You can still hear Edward Wightman shrieking as the flames claim him.
That night I read what my Fortune Cookie says: Beware The Man With Golden Voice.
The Lichfield Angel is a remarkable survival of early medieval sculpture. The carved limestone panel, which is dated to around 800 A.D., comprises three separate fragments which are thought to have formed the corner of a shrine chest, possibly that of St Chad (d.672).
The St Chad Gospels (formally known as the Lichfield Gospels, and sometimes still known as the St Teilo Gospels), is an eighth century Gospel Book housed in the Cathedral’s Chapter House.
The famous Herkenrode Glass is considered to be one of Europe’s greatest artistic treasures, and was installed in Lichfield in 1803 when it was rescued from destruction during the Napoleonic Wars.
A part of The Staffordshire Hoard, the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found.