Here Comes The Equestrian Statue

Here Comes The Equestrian Statue

Coventry is famous for two things and this is neither of them, but it’s my favorite thing in town.
Jacquard Loom
Here’s a close up of the important bit.
Punched Cards
Looky there! Punched cards. This is a Jacquard Loom (actually, a British knock off of a Jacquard Loom I think). A chain of punched cards pulled the control strings to weave intricate patterns. A new pattern could be programmed simply by changing the cards used. The punched card idea from these looms was used by Hollerith for the 1890 US census. Hollerith’s company merged with two others to form the company that became IBM. So, that loom was one of the first programmable industrial robots, and was a direct precursor of modern computing.

OK, I can tell some of you are not impressed. Here’s a statue of a naked woman riding a horse instead.
Naked Woman on Horse
This is of course Lady Godiva, one of the things that Coventry is famous for. She was the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia in the 11th Century. A very devout woman, she was forever praying and founding priories. When she heard the common people protesting that taxes were too high, she went to her husband and asked him to lower them. Instead of saying, “I can’t cut taxes, you’ve spent all our money on bloody priories,” he said, “I’ll cut taxes if you ride naked through the streets of Coventry.” So she did.

In the original story the people gathered to watch and she had two knights escorting her. Her nudity was covered by her hair, apart from very white legs. In later versions everyone went inside and closed their shutters apart from the original Peeping Tom. The event was largely ignored for seven hundred years, though. There was one mention in a chronicle written more than a hundred years later, a bad painting in the Coventry guildhall, and that was about it. Then in 1824 Tennyson wrote a poem about her, and added the bit about Peeping Tom being struck blind.

Listen, if you’re a legendary figure and you need a publicist, you can’t do better than Tennyson. Before Tennyson, the Light Brigade had officers too stupid to say, “Are you sure?” and the Lady of Shalott was just an onion girl. After Tennyson the Godiva industry exploded with more paintings, some of them actually quite good…
Lady Godiva
Lady Godiva
and of course the Lady Godiva dandruff shampoo.
Lady Godiva Dandruff Shampoo
In case you are wondering how her husband reacted, the original chronicle says

ad virum gaudens reversa

This can either mean, “She returned to her happy man,” or, “She returned to her orgasm.” Those medieval chroniclers, such jolly chaps.

Which brings up the question, Did it really happen? Paula talked to one of the museum staff who had also studied the history of costume. She pointed out that Anglo-Saxon women were almost entirely covered by clothing all the time. The only time they would even show their hair in public would be on their wedding day, let alone any skin below the chin. For a devout woman such as Godiva to go naked in public she felt was unthinkable. My take is that people will sometimes go to remarkable lengths to use religion or morality to justify their personal kinks. I don’t think it’s entirely impossible that either Leofric or Godiva (or hopefully both of them) had a public nudity fetish, and found a way to gratify it without offending general public.

We are moored in Coventry Canal Basin, right next to a Poke Stop. I am hoping to see someone staring at their phone walk straight into the canal.

Let’s look at some more of Coventry’s statues. Here’s a guy taking a selfie.
Selfie Statue
OK, probably not, but I couldn’t be bothered to walk over and see what it was really about. No, don’t tell me, there are some things in life that are better left as mysteries.

Here’s a naked guy with a foot fetish and a bad hairdo.
Foot Fetish

The other thing that Coventry is famous for I am not going to try to be funny about. It’s the bombing raid on 14th November 1940 which destroyed much of the city center, and damaged two thirds of the buildings in the city, including setting fire to the medieval cathedral. After World War II the ruins of the cathedral were dedicated to peace and reconciliation, and visiting them is a surprisingly moving experience.
Coventry Cathedral

The priests have to wear a hard hat to use this altar, but they still do.
Hard hat altar

There are two copies of this sculpture, one here, and one in Hiroshima.

The new cathedral is built alongside the ruins of the old one.
Coventry Cathedral
The new one is lovely building, modern and surprisingly beautiful, but it doesn’t have the emotional impact of the old one. Perhaps I’ll write about it tomorrow.

8 thoughts on “Here Comes The Equestrian Statue

  1. David did his product design degree in Coventry and his graduation ceremony was in the new cathedral.The city centre was rebuilt hastily after the second world war, and is due for a rebuild!

  2. gaudens is nominative: “She returned happily to her husband”. If he was the happy one it would be gaudentem. There is no Latin word for orgasm as they were too busy trying to remember the point of the perfect subjunctive.

    1. In that case Google Translate is very confused.
      Screen Shot
      Perhaps some waggish classics students have been doing some Googlebombing?

      1. Google Translate is more than capable of googlebombing itself. In fact its entire model of machine translation is essentially a gigantic googlebomb wrapped in a linguistic suicide vest detonated by the unwary remote user: there is no parsing or any kind of natural language modelling, only a statistical corpus search for lexemic matches. This works moderately (i.e., not very) well for languages with English-style rigid word order and low inflectionality, but fails hilariously when confronted with highly inflected languages with scrambling word order, among which Latin is exhibit A, which is why Google can’t tell which noun an adjective agrees with. – All of which said, “orgasm” for virum is inexplicable even by Google standards. I tried entering “arma virumque cano”, which breaks many an online parser, but it disappointingly recognised the string and refused to have the Aeneid begin “I sing of arms and an orgasm”.

          1. Ah! I was bamboozled by the fact that it also thought virum was not worth translating. I suppose the noun gaudium could be translated orgasm at a pinch, though the actual Latin for orgasm is, er , orgasmus (i.e. a straight transliteration of the Greek, since Romans didn’t have orgasms of their own and had to import them by sea, as documented in the first book of Caesar’s Phallic Wars, subtitled Carry On up the Tiber). gaudens is present participle of gaudeo, so hey, on the same page of the dictionary, which is good enough for Google.

  3. For a (fictitious) account of the bombing of Coventry, read ‘The Facts of Life’ by Graham Joyce. It’s a story of magical reality, centred on Coventry in the 1940’s and ’50’s.

    1. … and for an account of the rebuilding of the old Coventry Cathedral with the aid of the somewhat inept Department of Time Travel at Oxford University, see To Say Nothing Of The Dog, by Connie Willis, which I am off to reread.

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