Archive for September, 2016

The Glastonbury Thorn

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

2014-01-243-1One of the legends surrounding Joseph of Arimathea in Glastonbury, England, plays a role in the story of my fifth Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery, Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, set in 1397.  In the story, my heroine, the Lady Apollonia of Aust, tells her granddaughter that this well-known New Testament character, a secret disciple of Jesus, came to Glastonbury after the Crucifixion and Resurrection and planted his staff near the top of Wearyall Hill to declare the arrival of Christianity in England from the Holy Land.  From his staff grew a thorn tree which, unusually for a hawthorn, bloomed twice a year, especially at Christmas time.

Other legends also say that Joseph brought Jesus as a teenager to visit Glastonbury while another describes two vessels that Joseph brought with him, one containing the blood and the other the sweat of Jesus.

Any descendants of the thorn tree have to be grafted in order to bloom twice a year and have become known collectively as the Glastonbury Thorn.  The most recent growth of the thorn on Wearyall Hill was vandalised in 2010.  Subsequent efforts for it to grow new branches were also vandalised.

The Glastonbury Thorn of 2014 is shown in the picture above with two of my English cousins, Paul and Ann Yielding, and me surrounding it.  You can see little messages and pieces of fabric attached by contemporary pilgrims to the thorn tree that survives behind us.  In the epilogue of my book, Lady Apollonia with her recently widowed son and her granddaughter, Juliana, ascend Wearyall Hill to see the Glastonbury Thorn.2013-PP-01-2

Other descendants of the tree are found around Glastonbury.  One is at the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey and another at the medieval abbey tithe barn which now houses the Somerset Rural Life Museum.  Several examples exist in the Saint John the Baptist churchyard in Glastonbury.  Each year a blossom of one of these trees is sent to Queen Elizabeth II as a gift at Christmas.

For more information, click on

Glastonbury Tor

Saturday, September 24th, 2016


2014-01-252-3My fifth Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery, Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, is set in Glastonbury, Somerset, in the year 1397.  The major landmark in this part of England is the Glastonbury Tor, a Celtic word for a high rock or hill.  Glastonbury Tor rises 512 feet and dominates the levels of Somerset.  The picture, shown here, was taken from Wearyall Hill.  Between the hill and the Tor, you can see a corner of the modern town of Glastonbury.  In medieval times, the town and surrounding hills formed a peninsula which rose up from the ocean at high tide.  Now, much of the land in the Brue Valley has been reclaimed from the sea, so Glastonbury is some distance from the Bristol Channel which separates England from Wales.

There is much mystery surrounding Glastonbury Tor, which plays a role in my story, especially Celtic mythology concerning the Tor.  I have created two fictional Druids who come to England from Ireland in this book who climb the Tor on a mission.  Druids were the elites of ancient Celtic society and part of my druids’ mission involved an interesting phenomenon of the Tor called Tor Burrs or eggstones, hard, rounded, oval or egg-shaped boulders ranging from a fraction of an inch to a few feet in diameter.

Another feature of the ancient Tor is a series of terraces carved into its sides before one reaches the summit.  Archaeologists are not sure how the terraces originated, if they are natural or man-made.  They could have been formed by irregular erosion.  They could have been man made for agricultural use at some point.  Some scholars think they were made to form a maze or labyrinthine pattern.  Lady Apollonia and some of her affinity had this theory in mind as one of their reasons for walking up the Tor.2013-PP-01-2

The medieval Monastery of Saint Michael on the top of the Tor is involved in my story.  Only the church tower survives in modern times from Saint Michael’s Monastery which was a daughter house to Glastonbury Abbey.  You can see that tower atop the hill in the picture below.  The remainder of the buildings did not survive the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII in the 16th century.

For more information on the Glastonbury Tor, see:

Exeter’s Underground Passages

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

w1siziisinvwbg9hzhmvcgxhy2vfaw1hz2vzlzjkyjcymmu5nmjhmgyxmwqwyv83mtg1otc1ntq3xzfjywi0yte2ndvfei5qcgcixsxbinailcj0ahvtyiisingzotbcdtawm2uixsxbinailcjjb252zxj0iiwilxf1ywxpdhkgoteglwf1dg8tb3jpzw50il1dMy second Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery, Plague of a Green Man, is set in Exeter, Devon, in the year 1380.  One of the unique medieval features of Exeter which plays a small role in my story is Exeter’s Underground Passages.  These were vaulted tunnels built under the city and beyond to bring water to the inhabitants.  Lead pipes were laid in the tunnels to carry the water.  At various access points in the town, workers could enter the underground tunnels to fix leaks and make other repairs without tearing up streets.  This feature in Exeter was unlike anything else among English cities.  The first phase of tunnel building was completed in 1346 with pipes terminating in a fountain in the cathedral close.  I decided to have one of my characters use these tunnels to move about the city and escape detection.

The tunnel system was enlarged in 1492 to serve more of the city.  Because of cholera, the city improved the system in 1832, switching from lead pipes to cast iron.  By 1857, however, this water system was abandoned.  A modern picture of one of the tunnels is shown above.2013-PP-01-2

My mentor, Ken Maun, when I was a steward and tour guide at Exeter Cathedral, grew up in Exeter well before World War II, and he remembered playing in the tunnels when he was a boy.  In 1933 the tunnels were first opened to the public although no lighting was provided.  Presumably one had to bring some kind of torch.  Now, as shown above, they are a major tourist site for the public.

For more details on Exeter’s Underground Passages, click on

Lady Chapels

Friday, September 16th, 2016

2014-01-093-1A Lady Chapel, dedicated to “Our Lady”, the Virgin Mary, in honour of the mother of Jesus, is a prominent chapel in all medieval English cathedrals and major churches.  The Lady Chapel of a Christian church not only speaks to a separate sacred space for worship, in every case it contains a separate altar.  Usually, the Lady Chapel is the largest of the chapels in a church and is located on the east end of the building.

Lady Apollonia visits the Lady chapel at the east end of Exeter Cathedral in Plague of a Green Man, the 2nd of the Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries.  The story tells the reader that she noted another of Exeter’s foliate faces on a roof boss in that chapel and was curious why such a carving should be included in a holy place.

Exeter’s Lady Chapel dates to the 13th century when the Gothic rebuilding of the cathedral began.  It now houses several historic tomb effigies including that of Leofric, who was bishop when the cathedral moved from Crediton to Exeter in 1050.  On its west wall are even more curious carvings on label stops.  One displays a priest sticking out his tongue at a bishop on the opposite side of the arch.  The opposite arch is thought to show the master mason, Roger, on one side trying to call his very lazy dog scratching his ear, on the other side.

The Lady Chapel of Glastonbury Abbey also plays a role in the Lady Apollonia stories.  Legend says that Glastonbury’s was the first Lady chapel in England.  The chapel’s location is unusual because it was built on the site of the primitive church, the vetusta ecclesia in Glastonbury.  The later great Gothic church of the abbey was constructed to its east, putting the Lady chapel at the western end of the church.  After the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII, most of the monastery was destroyed, but the Norman shell of the Lady Chapel survives.  The Well of Joseph of Arimathea is in the crypt under the Lady Chapel, and it appears in my novel, Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, when the Lady Apollonia visits the well with her granddaughter, Juliana.  The entrance to the well is shown above.2013-PP-01-2

In my forthcoming novel, King Richard’s Sword, which is set in Worcester, the cathedral’s Lady Chapel altar is used by the pardoner, Brandon Landow, who is trying to sell a fake relic to the monks of the chapter.  The Lady Chapel of Worcester can be seen today as a major chapel on the eastern end of the church where it seems to be an extension of the quire.

For more details on lady chapels, click on

Posts on Facebook

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

2013-PP-01-2Every time I do a posting on this blog, two related postings are done on each of three Facebook pages.  Last Friday this did not work out.  I posted information on this blog about the Minstrel’s Gallery in Exeter Cathedral because it is mentioned in my second Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery, Plague of a Green Man.  The accompanying Facebook postings did not occur because of problems my husband and I were having with our internet access.

Yesterday we were able to post something about the Minstrel’s Gallery with pictures on the Facebook pages for author Ellen Foster, character Lady Apollonia, and the personal page of my husband, Louis Foster.  You can click on the links for Ellen Foster at , Lady Apollonia at , and Louis Foster at

Tomorrow we hope to post more information and pictures on these three sites.


The Exeter Cathedral Minstrel’s Gallery

Friday, September 9th, 2016

2011-02-174-1My second Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery, Plague of a Green Man, is set in Exeter, Devon, in the year 1380.  Exeter’s fourteenth century cathedral had been re-built in the Decorated Gothic Style by then and members of the cathedral clergy and staff play important roles in my story.  A unique feature of the great church is its medieval Minstrel’s Gallery which was viewed by the Lady Apollonia when she was given a tour of the cathedral.  There are other major churches in the West Country of England that feature carvings of angel musicians, but Exeter is the only one to present them so grandly across the face of a balcony called the Minstrel’s Gallery.  A dozen angels, the sizes of small children, stand across the front of the gallery, each playing a different medieval instrument as shown below.  They include string, wind, and percussion instruments.

The medieval string instruments which are displayed include a harp, a citole, a gittern, and a fiddle.  Harps came in various sizes but the one in Exeter is portable, carried by its angel musician.  The citole was believed to be the ancestor of the gittern, and the gittern is probably a medieval ancestor of the guitar.  The medieval fiddle is the only one of Exeter’s string instruments played with a bow but does not yet have the modern indentations that making bowing easier.

Wind instruments include a portative organ, a pipe, a shawm, bagpipes, and one and possibly two trumpets.  The musician had to carry the portative organ, play keys to determine the notes, and pump the bellows to supply the wind.  The pipe is a recorder type of instrument whereas the shawm is an ancestor of the oboe.  The bagpipes of Exeter have been damaged somewhat, as has the first of two trumpets.  Only the mouthpiece remains of the first trumpet, making its identification dubious.  The other trumpet is probably a replacement since the trumpets of the period were much longer than the one displayed.2013-PP-01-2

The timbrel and cymbals are the percussion instruments shown on the Minstrel’s Gallery.  The timbrel is like a modern tambourine.  Cymbals survived in England from Roman times and could be found in various sizes.

For more information on medieval instruments, click on


Exeter Cathedral

Monday, September 5th, 2016

1989- Q- 0A-4My second Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery, Plague of a Green Man, is set in Exeter, Devon, in the year 1380.  Exeter’s fourteenth century cathedral was largely completed before that year and plays an important role in my story because its Cathedral Church of St. Peter is dear to my heart.  In the four different years that I lived in Exeter with my husband, I served as a steward and tour guide at the cathedral.  In the picture on the left, I am shown with four other stewards and two vergers.  My experiences in Exeter served to inspire the Lady Apollonia mystery novels, so when one of these was set in Exeter, the appearance of the cathedral was inevitable.

In an earlier posting, I discussed the carvings of green men throughout Exeter Cathedral and the use of the term, “green men”, in my book title.  The story refers to the cathedral in many other ways.  Several of my fictional characters work in the cathedral precincts.  Eric Aunk is the cathedral pitmaker while Baldwin Chumleigh is a fictional canon of the secular cathedral.  However, the 1380 real-life Bishop of Exeter, Thomas Brantyngham, and Dean of Exeter, Thomas Walkyngton, are also referred to in my story.

The plot of the mystery includes a trial that takes place in the chapter house of the cathedral.  Two villains in the story seek sanctuary in the great church.  Some of the crime in the story occurs within the Cathedral Close when two men leave the church after attending a worship service there.  Even the ancient underground passages of Exeter which extend to the cathedral precincts play a role in the story.

Some highlights of visiting the cathedral are described in the book when Lady Apollonia is given a tour.  The Lady is made aware of the then partially completed image screen on the West Front before she enters the cathedral through the north porch.  Many points of interest in the interior were the same in 1380 as they are today:  the tierceron vaulting, the Becket boss, the Minstrel’s Gallery, the green man boss in the south quire aisle, and the figures in the corbels at the four corners of the crossing.2013-PP-01-2

The Tumbler’s Corbel is discussed in the book when Apollonia’s youngest son, David, comes home from the cathedral school one afternoon and tells his mother all about the carving of a tumbler doing his acrobatic tricks over a fiddler.  This corbel is opposite another across the nave of the church which portrays Mary, the mother of Jesus, holding her baby.  The tumbler and fiddler are performing in their most skilful way as a gift for the Virgin and Child.

For more information on Exeter Cathedral, click on


Thursday, September 1st, 2016

1993-GG-10-5The prologue of my second Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery, Plague of a Green Man, is set in Dartmoor in 1380.  This is a truly ancient region in Devon, England, between the medieval city of Exeter and the modern city of Plymouth.  The story begins with my character, the pardoner, Brandon Landow, sent on a mission to Grimspound who becomes engulfed in a famous Dartmoor fog.  After a terrifying struggle to emerge from the blinding fog, he finds safety at last in the medieval church, shown above, in the village of Lustleigh.

Dartmoor today covers an area of around 240 square mile inhabited rather sparsely by about 33,000 people.  It is the oldest of England’s national parks and consists of much open-range moorland in its centre.  This moorland is full of exposed granite and other types of stone, often covered with peat bogs which absorb large amounts of rainfall.  Dartmoor granite has been quarried over the centuries for buildings, and basalt from Dartmoor is used in the vault of Exeter Cathedral’

The sources of at least a half dozen rivers are found in Dartmoor including the East Dart and West Dart which merge at Dartmeet to form the Dart River from which the moor gets its name.  Many of the valleys through which these rivers descend in all directions towards the sea are heavily wooded in sharp contrast to the barren landscape atop the moor.  This known fact was used by Brandon Landow to achieve his orientation in the fog by following a stream until he could reach some sort of habitation and find rescue in Lustleigh.

The centre of Dartmoor is only ten miles from Exeter, but is so remote that it provided the setting for Arthur Conan-Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles.  My husband and I used Dartmoor to escape from civilisation during the years we lived in Exeter.  We thoroughly enjoyed hiking the desolate moor but also visiting medieval churches in the moorland villages and towns.  Dartmoor is dotted with granite outcroppings called tors.  Climbing these tors afforded wonderful views of the surrounding countryside.

Several times when we were on the moor, we experienced being engulfed in blinding fog, as Brandon Landow did in my story.  When hiking, we always carried a compass because all landmarks could be quickly obliterated.  The bogs were always a hazard as well because one’s footing could begin to sink in a bog to the point where one became fearful of being swallowed.  We carefully watched where horses and livestock walked on the open-rangeland. They seemed to know where the footing was safe and secure.2013-PP-01-2