General Gordon's piano -- and Byzantium in Khartoum
One of the occupational hazards (or pleasures, depending on how you see it) of being married to a Byzantinist is that you spend many hours, almost wherever you are, visiting and photographing Byzantine churches. I thought I would escape that in Khartoum. But no, Byzantium reaches even this far.
The husband is here on the search of the architecture of Robert Weir Schultz (1860-1951), a devoted recorder of Byzantine monuments, and an architect in a style best described as 'Byzantine meets Arts and Crafts'. In particular, he was the architect of the (colonial) Anglican cathedral in Khartoum, opened in 1912. It was based, loosely, on the architecture of the church of St Demetrios in Thessaloniki.
It isn't any longer in operation as a church. It was taken over by the government in the early 1970s, because -- or so it was said - there is a tunnel directly linking the church with the nearby presidential palace (the erstwhile home of the British governor). Useful, perhaps, for Lord Kitchener to get quickly to morning prayers. It was replaced by what you see at the start of this post.
The old cathedral -- which you can just about make out in the image on the right -- has been turned into the Palace museum, which displays the history of modern Sudan (plus a collection of presidential motor vehicles). It is about five minutes walk from our hotel and was supposed to be open on the morning we arrived. It fact it wasn't, but the husband saw enough to confirm the general resemblance with St Demetrios (on the left). Frankly it's not very clear on these pictures, but I promise you it's ok!
The plan is to go back to the Palace Museum before we leave. But, not to be foiled, we decided to make for the new Cathedral, some distance away in Amarat, where we believed some of the original furniture designed for the old cathedral was sill in use.
Sure enough it was. The chairs at the east end for the clergy and some of the other ceremonial furniture was instantly recognisable as Arts and Crafts Byzantine -- and this was confimed by the priest whom we met as we left.
There was something rather charmingly 'global' about discovering the Byzantine revival of the British empire, mixed in with a touch of Arts and Crafts, still in use by a modern congregation in a not particularly inspiring 1970s concrete box.
Post Script: We have now got into the old cathedral, a beautifuly kept and free Museum. In addition to the presidential motors, part of it contains a good photo display of Sudan's path to independence and caseloads of the gifts presented to President Bashir and other Sudanese presidents (a piece of moon rock from President Nixon, a bejewelled koran from Yasser Arafat). Before you scoff at this as a third-world kind of thing, I should say that it reminded me strongly of the display of gifts to US president LBJ in the LBJ Memorial Library in Austin Texas. The same rule of thumb seemed to apply here as in Austin: there is an inverse ratio between the size/vulgarity of the gift and the political power of the donor.
Meanwhile at the east end, there is a display of some material from the colonial period, also well kept and displayed: portraits of 'Kitchener Pasha' (plus a bronze sculpture of his funeral), of King George and Queen Mary, some crockery from the governor's residence, and (most of) the bronze inscription honouring 'Gordon of Khartoum'. There's even Gordon's own upright piano. What is more, to the husband's delight, quite a lot of the church fittings survived, including a nice Arts and Crafts organ case. Another rather moving mixture of colonial and post-colonial.