Wandering about Camolodunum today I discovered the Orthodox Church of St Helen tucked away round the back streets. Greek Orthodox do appear in many byways in the UK, one in Bayswater was a large and wealthy church with all the top people attending, this sadly is somewhat run down today. The picture makes it look better than it is (adjusting white balance to shade does this) and I was disappointing for the people there as it must cost a bit to maintain.
I was glad of the cool rest on a muggy day and took one or two shots and sat and looked around me. As the do the place was covered with icons, something I can never comprehend. To me the book says read the book, baptism and Lords table, anything else, no matter how long it has been in vogue, is needless. Yet in Orthodox circles such abound. I wanted to take a few more shots but was disturbed by some unsmiling Mediterranean patrons who arrived, mother kissing several icons, dad another, all glaring at stranger. I attempted to exchange a few words but was not made welcome and moved elsewhere.
The church was originally built in the eighth century possibly by King Offa of Mercia (the English Midlands) who had overlordship here. The building was erected upon the foundations of a Roman theatre, this being the actors end, the ground rising behind. Just a few doors up there is a small unopen museum where some remains can be glimpsed as can this model.
After the Boudicca revolt, she was upset when the Roman governor slapped her around, raped her daughters and grabbed her land, she was irked enough to burn down Verulanium (St Albans) Londinium (London) and Camolodunum (Colchester) and all those within, so the Romans strengthened the walls of the town, butchered most of her people and settled down in their new theatre. Walls around the town were added quickly, just in case.
So the church was built on the foundations of the ruin and thin red Roman bricks can be seen in the walls. Something seen on so many churches in Essex, old Roman villas are often reused.
The Normans rebuilt what is now known as Colchester castle, although it was never really such, and around 1079 rebuilt the church which was a bit run down. The reformation removed all the needless stuff and the building served many purposes until once again restored during Victorian days. The Orthodox looking for a building now rent this from the Anglican owners and this gets used regularly after some years of standing empty or being used as a store. How can such old buildings be used this way?
Some believe St Helen, the mother of Constantine was born in King Coel's Castle, Colchester Castle, and this may be true I know not, she was probably born in Asia minor however. She dug deep under Constantine's original Church of the Holy Sepulchre and found pieces of the 'Holy Cross.' I have been down the steps leading to this area and have my doubts personally. The idea of his mum with pick and shovel digging down intrigues me however. British connection exists with this pair however as Constantine was declared Emperor while at York while his father Constantius Chlorus was governor of Britain.
The East Saxons living here by the way gave us the term 'Essex' and the present Essex County badge features three Seax's, the curved sword loved by the locals at the time. Some would love having one today if you ask my opinion.
Standing outside the 'castle' today you get a real understanding of the defensive position. High on hills on three sides once the Roman walls went up it was very strong indeed. The Romans of course never took the place by force, the locals in Kent and Essex welcomed the advantages Rome could bring and those that didn't got chopped. The town had many Romanised locals and ex-soldiers residing their in safety until the man upset Boudicca. After that a more Roman approach was adopted.
The comparison between Colchester and Chelmsford intrigued me today. Chelmsford, the County Town (now City) is boring, however it is clean for the most part and while there are a few dregs walking the streets on the whole it is quite decent. Colchester on the other hand is at first sight dingy, crowded and features many who appear either disreputable or had great social needs.
I have never seen beggars in Chelmsford but they exist in Colchester. There are a great number who at first sight would be happy to appear on the 'Jeremy Kyle' show, other painted hussies of unclear age look like they have walked out of 'Eastenders' after having received too much make up and clothes clearly too young and too small for their wrinkles. The nature of the narrow Roman like streets does not help even if it lends more attractiveness to the town than you find in Chelmsford. Here at least a wide variety of small shops exist, some prospering for a decent time, but a dreich day gives the place a dingy look.
Having said that the area on the other side of the High Street slipping steeply downhill contains many houses going back hundreds of years, or at least newer homes built in similar style, this area known as the 'Dutch Quarter' after the Fleming's and others from France and Flanders escaping Spanish or other oppression in the fifteenth century. Much of Essex gained from these immigrants, most of whom were weavers or dealers in the wool and cloth trade. We might benefit from those immigrants arriving today by the way.
Strangely I prefer the variety of shops in Colchester, many of them and a good selection, but it is a bit in need of a good clean. Chelmsford has its uses but it is boring, just a big shopping centre and little else.
On the wall of one of those houses I found this and it reminded me of those similar signs once used in days before a fire service. The householder would insure his house against fire with one company, a sign would be placed on the wall, if a fire broke out he would call the company and men would arrive to save the house. No sign, no firefighting! Edinburgh I believe was the first city to introduce a proper fire service, and I am not surprised.