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We are nearing the darkest time of the year, and I wanted to post some Gothic architecture all lit up with festive lights, but, though I searched and searched, the Gothic Revival mansions of my fantasy just weren’t out there on the internet.  There were some actual Gothic cathedrals from the middle ages which were all lit up with lasers though!  Here is a little holiday gallery.  We’ll see if we can scrape up some better content tomorrow (and let me know if you find a site with Gothic cottages all lit up for Christmas).  Oh! If it Christmas-themed Gothic architecture you need you could always go back in time and check out this Gothic gingerbread post from yesteryear’s Yuletide!

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Shandon House, Scotland (circa present)

Shandon House, Scotland (circa present)

Here is one of the most beautiful Gothic houses I could find on the internet: Shandon House, a 19th century Scottish revival manor/castle overlooking Gare Loch in Scotland.  The house was built in 1849 on 31 acres of beautiful Scottish hills.  It was owned by various grandees (shipping magnates, tobacco merchants, and such), before becoming a boys’ school, but the school then closed in the mid-eighties.

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The region where Shandon House is located is dominated by Faslane Naval Base, one of the three ports of the Royal Navy in the United Kingdom (and arguably the most important).  So Shandon House was purchased by the Ministry of Defense…but since the Ministry of Defense has no actual use for dark fairy tale castles, the house has been derelict for over a decade, and may now be beyond repair.  As far as I can tell, the MOD is incapable of finding buyers and hopes to knock the house down (although its designation as a historical landmark makes such an outcome somewhat unlikely).

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It is a shame the house is decaying away, since this is truly an elegant and imposing structure.  On the other hand, who would actually live here other than evil sorcerers, mad scientists, Dalmatian coat enthusiasts, and other suchlike Disney villain folk?

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Snake-handling

Snake week continues with a dramatic return to my native Appalachia.  Up in the mountains, devout Christianity has taken on a great many colorful forms, but arguably none are quite as exciting as the rites celebrated by the Pentecostal Snake-handlers.  Snake-handling in Appalachia is said to have a long history rooted in 19th century revivals and tent-show evangelism, but its documented history starts with an illiterate but charismatic Pentecostal minister named George Went Hensley.  Around 1910 Hensley had a religious revelation based on two specific New Testament Bible verses.  Couched in the flinty vaguely apocalyptic language of the Gospels, the two verses which obsessed Hensley read as follows:

And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.  Mark 16: 17-18

And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. (Luke 10: 18-19)

While many believers might chose to understand these lines as a general affirmation of Christ’s devotion to his flock, Hensley was very much a literalist (and a showman).  Believing that the New Testament commanded the faithful to handle venomous snakes, he set about obtaining a number of poisonous snakes and incorporating them into his ministry.  The practice quickly spread along the spine of the mountains and beyond.  Even today the Church of God with Signs Following (aka the snake handlers) numbers believers in the thousands.

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A service at the Church of God with Signs Following includes standard Pentecostal practices such as faith healing,  testimony of miracles, and speaking in tongues (along with much boisterous jumping and testifying), however what sets the ceremony apart are the live poisonous snakes which are located in a special area behind the alter located at the front of the church.  Throughout the service, worshipers can come forward and pick up the serpents and even let the snakes crawl over their bodies.  Native pit vipers such as copperheads, timber rattlers, and water moccasins are most commonly used in the ceremonies but exotic poisonous snakes like cobras are sometimes included.   The snakes act as a proxy for devils and demons.  Handling the reptiles is believed to demonstrate power over these underworld forces.  If a congregant is bitten (which has happened often), it is usually regarded as an individual or group failure of faith.  Upon being bitten devout snake-handlers generally refuse treatment, regarding this as part of their sacrament.

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Not only do snake handlers handle snakes they also sometimes drink strychnine to prove their devotion. Additionally (although less alarmingly) they adhere to a conservative dress code of ankle-length dresses, long hair, and no make-up for women, and short hair and oxford shirts for men.  Tobacco and alcohol are regarded as sinful.

Snake handling has a long and twisty relationship with state laws.  In Georgia, in 1941, state legislators passed a bill which made Pentecostal snake handling into a felony and mandated the death penalty for participants, however the law was so extreme that juries refused to enforce it and it was eventually repealed.  A number of states still have old laws clearly designed to curtail the practice of the faith (often these were instituted after particularly controversial deaths, particularly those of children).

George Went Hensley

George Went Hensley

The founder of snake handling, George Went Hensley, also had a twisty serpentine course through life.  After founding and popularizing the church during the World War I era, he strayed somewhat from the life of a minister.  During the 20’s he had substantial problems in his home life caused by drinking and moonshining.  After being arrested for the latter, Hensley was sentenced to work on a chain gang but he beguiled the guards into other duties with his likability and, on an errand to fetch water, he escaped and fled from Tennessee.   He worked various occupations including miner, moonshiner, and faith healer and married various women before returning to his ministry in the mid-thirties.   During the next decades, Hensley led a vivid life involving a multi-state ministry (which was the subject of a miniature media circus), various drunken fits and conflicts, multiple marriages, and lots of poisonous snakes.  The odds caught up to him in Altha, Florida in 1955 when he was bitten on the wrist by a venomous snake which he had removed from a lard can and rubbed on his face.  After becoming visibly ill from the bite, he refused treatment (and is said to have rebuked his congregation for their lack of faith) before dying of snakebite.  When he died he had been married 4 times and fathered 13 known children. He also had claimed to have been bitten over 400 times by various snakes.

Contemporary Snake-Handlers (photo by Lauren Pond for the Wall Street Journal)

Contemporary Snake-Handlers (photo by Lauren Pond for the Wall Street Journal)

Hensley always asserted that he was not the father of snake-handling, however he certainly popularized the movement.  Even today, Christians of a certain mindset can prove their faith by harassing toxic reptiles (although the religion’s legality is disputed in many states where it is practiced).

Woodmont Mansion outside Philadelphia (designed by William Price in 1891)

In an earlier post I wrote about exquisite tiny gothic revival cottages. There is of course a different side to the gothic home—giant gothic houses. In the continuing spirit of Halloween and haunted houses, here is a gallery of large beautiful creepy gothic residences.  Wherever possible I have tried to give their name and location, but evidently there are more big gothic mansions than can be easily kept track of.  Just imagine these beautiful houses in the moonlight with a few half-seen figures lurking behind the curtains (and maybe a shaggy shape or two looming behind the topiaries) and you will soon be in a perfect mood for October.

Margam Castle, Port Talbot, Wales, (Designed in 1830 by thomas Hopper)

Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion (1859, Germantown PA--just outside Philadelphia)

Roseland Mansion, Woodstock CT

Kingscote Mansion, Rhode Island

Oakley Court (Berkshire, England, 1859)

Gothic mansion in Middletown, Ohio

Bradwell Grove (Oxfordshire, England)

Vasalemma Manor (Hungary)

Toddington Manor (Gloucestershire, England, 1819)

Reynolds Mansion (Bellefonte, PA)

Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

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