London’s Courtauld Gallery Shows Off German Miniature Bibles

The Courtauld Gallery in London has opened a new exhibition of two of the smallest Bibles you’ll ever see.

“Dess Alten Testaments Mittler” and “Dess Neuen Testaments Mittler” are tiny illustrated Bibles produced by two sisters from Augsburg, Germany, in the late 17th century. It was a time of increased private devotion, when people looked for more from religion than the rituals in the church. Personal Bibles and images hung in the home became popular for those who could afford them and were used as the individual’s way to reach the Divine.

Tiny Bibles like these were generally for children, but the fine quality of the engravings on these examples hint that they were for adults. If you won’t make it to London this summer, you can turn the pages of one of the Bibles and admire the detailed yet miniscule artwork at this webpage.

The exhibit is part of the “Illuminating Objects” series, prepared by postgraduate students on their area of study. “Dess Alten Testaments Mittler: Dess Neuen Testaments Mittler” runs from May 1 to July 22.

Overlooked London: The HMS Belfast

The United Kingdom used to have the largest navy in the world and it still packs a major punch today. One ship from the glory days is the HMS Belfast, docked on London’s South Bank near London Bridge. This World War Two light cruiser also saw service in Korea and is now open to the public under the auspices of the Imperial War Museum, one of the best war museums anywhere.

Clambering up and down the nine decks and into turrets and engine rooms is lots of fun, and the video displays and signs tell you all about the history of the ship and life on board. One interactive display, the Gun Turret Experience, puts you in the middle of a WWII battle. In the Operations Room you can control an entire fleet at sea.

If you go in the winter, visit in the afternoon and catch the early sunset over the Thames, its bridges, and both its busy banks. Watching nightfall from the prow of this historic ship is a memorable experience.

The HMS Belfast is undergoing remodeling and will be even better when it reopens on May 18.

Check out more London attractions most tourists miss in our Overlooked London series!

Top photo, courtesy Steve Parker, shows the HMS Belfast as it appears today. The bottom photo, courtesy the Imperial War Museum, shows the ship bombarding the coast of Normandy in support of the D-Day invasion.

Visiting The Royal Geographical Society, London

While London isn’t exactly known as an adventure travel destination, unless you’re crossing Elephant and Castle late at night, it is a place where adventure travelers gather. The British are some of the best explorers in the world and their Royal Geographical Society is a meeting place and resource for those who want more out of travel than a cruise to the Bahamas.

The society was founded in 1830 to further knowledge of the world and its cultures. It has sponsored numerous expeditions, including famous ones led by heroes such as Sir Ernest Shackleton and Sir Edmund Hillary. This work continues today.

I popped in there for the first time earlier this week to use their archives. I’m planning a trip to a remote castle in northern Ethiopia that hasn’t been properly explored since 1868, and of course the folks at the Royal Geographical Society had the original maps! Thanks to them, now I won’t get lost when I head into the Ethiopian highlands – well, hopefully not.

The archives are a great resource for travelers planning their next adventure. There’s also an excellent series of lectures and exhibitions. Currently there’s an exhibition on the castles and monasteries of medieval Serbia.

So if you’re in London but pining to ride an elephant through Borneo or climb the mountains of Antarctica, check out the Royal Geographical Society.

Five overlooked attractions in London

London is full of great places to see. No matter what your interests are, this city has something for you. In fact it has so much there are some incredible attractions that are overlooked by the majority of visitors. Here are five you might want to visit.

Kew Bridge Steam Museum
The Kew Bridge Pumping Station, built in 1838, once supplied water and power to London through massive steam engines. The British were early masters of turning water into power by heating it into steam. This unusual museum shows how it was done, as well as the immense variety of machines built to power the Industrial Revolution. Only selected machines still work, and only on weekends, when they puff away as if they’re still powering the Empire. There are special days when additional machines are started up. They’re all quite loud with massive moving parts, making them popular with kids. Check out the schedule here.

The Wapping Project
This is a unique art space in London and a personal favorite. Set in a converted power station like the Tate Modern, it differs from that more famous art space in that the curators left most of the machinery intact. This lends the building a ghostly atmosphere and a postindustrial charm. A succession of top artists have done a great job adapting their work to the surroundings. There’s also a good restaurant onsite. Check out their webpage here.

Jewel Tower
This stone tower is one of the few surviving parts of the medieval palace of Westminster and dates to around 1365. Outside you can still see part of the original moat. The ground floor is the best preserved, with an original vaulted ceiling and sculpted bosses. Originally the clerk’s office, it’s now a cafe and gift shop. The first floor contains an informative history of Parliament that’s helpful to read before visiting the Houses of Parliament across the street. The second floor covers the history of Jewel Tower, beginning with its construction by Edward II to hold his personal wealth. The Crown Jewels were, and still are, held in the Tower of London since they’re the property of the kingdom. The website is here.

Richmond Park
Get away from the city without leaving it! This park has 2,500 acres of hills, meadows, woodland gardens, and ponds. Swans, mallards, 650 roaming deer, cycle and jogging paths, and ancient oaks all combine to make it my favorite park in London. It has been a reserved area since medieval times and is now an official National Nature Reserve. It’s not all countryside–you’ll also find cafes, playgrounds, and a golf course. Check out the website here. Also check out our article on other quiet spots in London.

The British Dental Association Dental Museum
Ah yes, the good old days. . .when cavities meant a trip to the marketplace where a guy with a grimy pair of pliers who hadn’t washed his hands in three months yanked out the rotting stump with nothing but brute force and a good swig of rum (usually for him, victims had to supply their own). Displays show early drills, toothbrushes, and the dentures of royalty. You can learn more at their website. Want some more pain? Check out our article on London’s surgery museums.

Do you have a favorite overlooked attraction in London? Tell us about it in the comments section!

Early human ancestor on display at London’s Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum in London has put an important fossil of one of our species’ early ancestors on display.

Australopithecus sediba lived 1.98 million years ago in what is now South Africa. It’s thought by some scientists to be a transition species between the more ape-like Australopithecines and the later, more human-like genus Homo. While it has the small brain size of the Australopithecines (although larger than most), its jaw and body look more like the Homo species. The hands are especially well-formed and it may have used tools.

Two exact replicas of the most complete Australopithecus sediba skeletons were recently donated to the museum by the University of the Witwatersrand and the Government of the Republic of South Africa. At the moment only one skull is on public view. Hopefully the full skeletons will go on display soon. It’s the first public exhibition of this species in the UK.

These are exciting times in paleontology. New human ancestors are unearthed almost yearly, and more and more of our family tree is being pieced together. At the same time, scientists are being forced to defend and explain their field of study to Creationists, who have already made up their minds that science and religion are automatically enemies.

The most impressive display of human evolution I’ve ever seen was at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa. It has a huge collection of fossil hominids, including Lucy, an Australopithecus afarensis who lived in Ethiopia 3.2 million years ago. One room shows the precursors to modern humans arranged in chronological order to show how primate-like traits gradually gave way to a more human appearance. This is also done with other animals like the horse and hippo. Anyone looking, really looking, at these displays will have a hard time dismissing evolution as some sort of conspiracy on the part of Godless scientists, many of whom are actually devout Christians.

Photo courtesy Brett Eloff.