Visit to Vaksala church

The brief taste of almost normal life during our cycle trip has made it hard for me not to think of covid-19-related restrictions now that I’m back in my flat. I’m eager to travel, to Germany and the UK, but realise that, if I’m going to be pent up somewhere, then my flat is the most practical place to be. I am, however, finding it hard to concentrate; I’m making good progress with Guy Shrubsole’s “Who owns England?” with its fascinating exposé of land ownership in England. But my other books are less satisfactory. I’m working my way through Richard Robert’s book on the City, a few years old now but still very informative. I would like to grasp its contents but all the various institutions and organisations are whirling around in my head and I need to read it several times, once quickly and then a careful plod. And I’ve also got into David Harvey’s book on “Marx, capital and the madness of economic reason”. It looks like just the book to read if one wants an overview of Marx’s Capital as part of an attempt to understand finance capital without immediately tackling all three volumes and the two or three additional works on surplus value. But I find myself losing the thread and again realise I have to read it quickly to get an overview and then start again.

At least I am making progress with Bengali. It’s still going very slowly but I try and do a bit everyday and am recognising more and more of the letters.

To reduce the feeling of being jaded, I need to be physically active. This morning was satisfactory on that front as I got started early (woken by workfolk doing preparatory work on urbanising a strip of parkland that my flat overlooks, giving me ample opportunity for exercises in self-discipline to keep Nimby at bay).  I cycled to the old church at Vaksala, on my list for a long time with one failed visit when a funeral was taking place. This time I went early and got in (before the rush hours). It’s a fine old church, mostly Gothic but with the remains of an old window in the south wall indicating its Romanesque origins.

There are very few monuments but the interior is livened by the mediaeval wall paintings of the Arentuna school, which are now on view after being covered up. The major sight is the fifteenth century altarpiece made in Antwerp (a bit before the Walloons started to come). I couldn’t find much information in the church about how the altar piece came to Sweden but there is an excellent guide to the altarpiece itself (see my facebook page for pics). There is supposed to be a severed hand, a symbol of Antwerp, in a number of places, but I couldn’t find it, neither standing in front of the altarpiece nor at home looking at a pic with a magnifying class. There were, however, plenty of other grisly details as the centre of the altarpiece showed the crucifixion and the side panels a collection of religious figures, saints, bishops and martyrs, often with an attribute indicating the way they died (a cauldron for a saint boiled to death and various unpleasant sharp objects). The freestanding figures are exquisitely carved and there’s a lot to learn from all the associations; I was grateful for the brochure’s literature list, including a reference to a licentiate thesis from 1958 on the altarpiece, which I shall try to get hold of (covid volente…).

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