CHRISTMAS IN YORK

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The family comes to England for Christmas!  While I had anticipated tramping through the soggy and heather-carpeted Yorkshire moors, we spent the majority of our time inside York proper, traipsing along the broad battlements of the city’s walls and among the ruins of monasteries, ducking along the overhanging straw shops of the Shambles and sipping lots and lots of tea and coffee–it turns out after four months there’s a lot to catch up on. Our small Christmas celebration included a midnight mass service which displayed a rare lapse in characteristic British organization and left us stumbling home across an icy bridge at 1a.m., evenings in a formal dining room with prim and sophisticated couples nonetheless crowned by precarious paper crowns, a marathon of Downton Abbey Season 4, and some lumpy tissue-paper-wrapped packages scattered about two leafy and distinctly non-pine-smelling poinsettias.

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St. Mary’s Abbey. Founded before 1086 with the permission of William the Conqueror, the abbey fell victim to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. Once matching the grandeur of the nearby Anglican York Minster, the abbey’s riches were confiscated and the building taken apart, then left to collapse into the crumbling edifice it is today.

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Clifford’s Tower. The original castle on this site was erected by William the Conqueror and the present building, called the Great Tower, was built between 1245 and 1262. In March 1190, some 150 Jews sought protection here from a persecuting mob while others chose to die at each others’ hands rather than renounce their faith.

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Did I mention it was cold? Almost this cold:

St. Agnes’ Eve–Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feather, was a-cold;
The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censor old,
Seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith…

–John Keats, “The Eve of St. Agnes”

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