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JUDAISM | Hanukkah

12 to 19 December

Beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev and continuing for eight days, Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. A time for Jews to reflect on their struggle for religious freedom, Hanukkah commemorates the victory of Jewish Maccabees over the Syrian Greek army in 167 to 160 BC.

In addition to their usual daily prayers, Jews light the candles of Menorah (sacred candelabra) in their homes. The Menorah has great symbolism for Jews. It represents light, wisdom, Divine inspiration, and the spread of Divine light throughout the world. The first Menorah was a seven-branched candelabra, forged from solid gold and kept as a sacred vessel in the Jewish Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Here, the seven candles were ceremoniously lit each day by the High Priest. Sadly, the Holy Temple was lost to Judaism, along with the city of Jerusalem, in 1967. Today, Jews have a nine-stemmed Menorah in their homes which they light every evening during Hanukkah. Special blessings are recited before the Menorah is lit; three blessings on the first night and two on the subsequent nights. Once the candles have been lit, the Hanerot Halalu prayer is recited and a traditional hymn sung.

Other Hanukkah traditions include playing games with the dreidel (a spinning top inscribed with Hebrew letters) and the exchange of gifts of gelt (gold). These days, instead of giving gold Jews exchange gifts of cheques, saving bonds, money, or gold, foil-wrapped, chocolate coins.

For more information about Hanukkah please click here

JUDAISM | Hanukkah 2017-09-12T10:31:33+00:00

BUDDHISM | Bodhi Day

08 December

On Bodhi Day, Buddhists celebrate the awakening and enlightenment of Siddhartha, who became Buddha in the 6th century BC, after reflecting on the meaning of life while seated under the Bodhi Tree (the tree of awakening). Celebrations take place on Rōhatsu (‘eighth day of the twelfth month’ in Japanese), when Buddhists pray and meditate on the cycle of rebirth, the Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths as Buddha once did. It is traditional for Buddhists to eat a meal of rice and milk to represent the first meal Buddha is believed to have eaten after achieving enlightenment.

Buddhists often decorate their homes with colourful decorations to symbolise the many different ways to achieve enlightenment. Enlightenment is further symbolised by the lighting of candles for thirty successive evenings. Another traditional decoration is three hanging ornaments of Buddha, Dharma and Shanga: these represent the Three Jewels of Buddhism. Bodhi is the name for the tree under which Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment; it is a type of fig tree, scientifically known as Ficus religiosa. To honour this, many Buddhists have a small Ficus at home, which they decorate with coloured lights and beads joined together with string to symbolise that all things in the world are united. An alternative to a living tree is to use a statue of a Bodhi Tree decorated with origami leaves or a small figurine of Buddha sat beneath the Bodhi Tree.

For more information about Bodhi Day please click here

BUDDHISM | Bodhi Day 2017-09-12T10:31:28+00:00

CHRISTIANITY | Advent Sunday

03 December

In Western Christianity, Advent denotes the start of the Christian year, with the Advent season beginning on the Sunday nearest to St Andrew’s Day (30 November) and continuing through to Christmas Day. The focus of the season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in his first Advent as well as the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his second Advent. It is also a time for Christians to reflect and prepare for the annual celebration of Christ’s birth, Christmas. Traditionally, this practice involved fasting or abstaining from foods such as meat and other animal products, but these restrictions have relaxed somewhat in recent years. In Eastern Christianity, a Nativity Fast takes place instead of Advent. This lasts for forty days, beginning on the day after the Feast of St Phillip the Apostle (14 November).

Advent Wreaths are used in churches and in some Christian homes. These consist of a ring of symbolic evergreen foliage and berries adorned with four red and purple candles. One candle is lit on the first Sunday of Advent, two on the second Sunday, three on the third, and all four on the fourth. Some people include a fifth candle in the centre, which they light along with the other four candles on Christmas Day.

In many churches, a Christingle service is held for children on the first Sunday in Advent. Meaning ‘Christ Light’, a Christingle is an orange wrapped with a cross of red ribbon, studded with cloves and topped with a candle. Each part of the Christingle has special symbolism to help Christian children to understand the importance of Jesus and the Gospel. The orange represents the world, the red ribbon symbolises the love and blood of Christ, the dried cloves represent all of God’s creations, and the lit candle symbolises Christ’s light in the world, bringing hope to people living in darkness. During the evening Christingle service, the lights in the church are turned out and one candle lit. Symbolising the Light of Christ, this flame is then passed from candle to candle around the church congregation, who then process around the church with their illuminated Christingles.

For more information about Advent please click here

CHRISTIANITY | Advent Sunday 2017-09-12T10:31:40+00:00

Happy 174th Birthday to Gertrude Jekyll

Today is the 174th birthday of Gertrude Jekyll, one of Britain’s best known and best loved figures in British garden history. As Jekyll in the ancestor of the REEP Director’s husband, Richard McLaren, she has a special place in the hearts of REEP who dedicated this year’s international ‘Growing Gardeners’ conference to her.

In honour of Gertrude Jekyll’s birthday, here is a poster we produced about her for the ‘Growing Gardeners’ conference.

Gertrude Jekyll Poster 2017

Happy 174th Birthday to Gertrude Jekyll 2017-11-29T09:21:36+00:00

SIKHISM | Guru Tegh Bahadur’s Martyrdom Day

24 November

The ninth of the ten Gurus of the Sikh religion, Guru Tegh Bahadur was a martyr for religious freedom. On his Martyrdom Day, memorials are held in honour of the supreme sacrifice Guru Tegh Bahadur made to protect the right of all people to practice their beliefs without fear of persecution from other faiths. Guru Tegh Bahadur’s sacrifice is all the more significant because he was not protecting those of his own faith – he was protecting the rights of millions of Hindus.

Under pain of death, the peace-loving people of Kashmir were being ordered to convert to Islam by the Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb, who eschewed the religious tolerance of his predecessors in favour of a policy of religious persecution against non-Muslims. In 1675, in answer to an appeal by a large group of Kashmiri scholars, the Guru told them to “tell Aurangzeb that if he can convert Guru Tegh Bahadar to Islam, they will all convert. Otherwise he should leave them alone.” Excited at the prospect of converting so many people through just one man, Aurangzeb had the Guru and a number of his companions arrested. They were then taken to Delhi and instructed to convert to Islam under penalty of death.

Guru Tegh Bahadur declared that he would rather sacrifice his life than give up his faith or freedom. In an attempt to terrorise them into submission, Aurangzeb had the Guru tortured for five days. His companions were brutally murdered in front of him. Guru Tegh Bahadur was finally beheaded in the middle of a public square in Chandni Chowk, Delhi – the most prominent public place in India.

In commemoration of Guru Tegh Bahadar’s sacrifice, memorials are held every year on his Martyrdom Day. Although a Sikh holiday, Hindus and people of other faiths also take part in the festival, uniting with the Sikhs in veneration of religious freedom and the right to practice one’s own beliefs without fear of prosecution.

For more information about Guru Tech Bahadar’s Martyrdom Day please click here

SIKHISM | Guru Tegh Bahadur’s Martyrdom Day 2017-09-12T10:31:52+00:00

Museo Bellas Artes de Sevilla

Founded in 1839, Seville’s Museum of Fine Arts is home to a collection of works from medieval times through the early 20th century, notably a choice selection of works by Spanish artists from Seville’s Golden Age of painting, the 17th century. The buildings and beautiful cloister gardens within date back to the late 16th to early 17th centuries when they were built as a convent for the Order of the Merced Calzada de la Asunción. We hope to take our Scholars here to see the cloister gardens next year during the REEP McLaren Scholarship in Spain. 

For more information about Museo Bellas Artes visit http://www.juntadeandalucia.es/cultura/museos/MBASE/?lng=en

To see photos of my visit here, visit the rhiannon@reep Facebook page

Museo Bellas Artes de Sevilla 2017-11-27T18:22:30+00:00

Centro Cerámica Triana

Converted from the old Santa Ana Ceramic Factory, Seville’s Ceramics Centre is designed to educate people about the long history of ceramic tile production in the Triana district. Visitors can see the old kilns and production materials of the Santa Ana Factory, as well as examples of ceramic tiles from Moorish times to the present day. We hope to take our Scholars here next year during the REEP McLaren Scholarship in Spain – maybe they’ll even get to try their hand at decorating ceramic tiles!

For more information about Centro Ceramica de Triana visit http://patrimoniumhispalense.com/es/espacio/centro-ceramica-triana

Photos of my visit here can be found on the rhiannon@reep Facebook page

Centro Cerámica Triana 2017-11-27T18:18:36+00:00

SHINTOISM | Kinrō Kansha No Hi

23 November

A public holiday in Japan since 1948 but celebrated for centuries before, Kinrō Kansha No Hi is the Labour Thanksgiving Day. In its earliest form, it was known as Niinamesai (Imperial Harvest Festival) – a day for the Imperial family to pay tribute and express gratitude for a generous harvest. Those who worked hard on the land to bring crops, especially rice, to fruition received special thanks from their communities. As the Japan of today is less dependent on agriculture, the festival has evolved to include an appreciation for all those who work hard, regardless of industry.

An alternative name for the festival is Hōnen Matsuri, with Hōnen meaning ‘rich harvest’ and Matsuri meaning ‘festival’. Many Japanese people visit a shrine on this day to give thanks for the successful harvest received that year and to pray to Kami (spirits) for a plentiful harvest next year. The harvest festival has a strong association with fertility and renewal. This is epitomised by the spring Hōnen Matsuri celebration at Tagata Shrine in Aichi prefecture, which includes a procession with a giant wooden phallus freshly carved from hinoki (cypress).

For more information about Kinrō Kansha No Hi please click here

SHINTOISM | Kinrō Kansha No Hi 2017-09-12T10:32:00+00:00

Monasterio de nuestra Señora Santa Maria de las Cuevas

On Inés’ recommendation, I visited another potential site for the 2018 REEP McLAREN Scholarship – Monasterio de nuestra Señora Santa Maria de las Cuevas. Better known as ‘la Cartuja’, this fascinating monastery began its life in Moorish times, when caves were dug in the area to extract clay to make pots. When an image of the Virgin was discovered here in 1248, a shrine was erected and named Virgen de la Cuevas (Virgin of the Caves). Rebuilt as a monastery in the 15th century, it was here that Christopher Columbus stayed to worship and plan his second voyage to the new world. During Spain’s Napoleonic invasion the monastery was abandoned, remaining so until the English merchant, Charles Pickman bought it and converted it into a ceramic-tile and porcelain factory. Pickman won many international prizes for his ceramics in the 19th-20th centuries and his designs are still held in great esteem today. Today, the monastery is home to Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo (CAAC).

What a fascinating history and what a clever use of space too! Who would have thought that a tile factory could sit so attractively inside the buildings and patios of an old monastery!

For more information about the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo visit http://www.caac.es/english/frame.htm

For more on the history of the monastery visit http://www.andalucia.com/cities/seville/monasterio-la-cartuja.htm

Photos of my visit here can be found on the rhiannon@reep Facebook page

Monasterio de nuestra Señora Santa Maria de las Cuevas 2017-11-27T18:13:25+00:00

Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede, Seville

Did you know that as well as being the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world, Seville’s Cathedral de Santa Maria De La Sede started life as a Mosque? How wonderful to see Islamic and Christian styles together in one beautiful building – no wonder UNESCO have named it a World Heritage Site. Anyone familiar with Marrakech may find the Cathedral’s Giralda tower familiar – it was once a minaret identical to that of La Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech. As if that wasn’t enough, inside Seville’s Cathedral is the tomb of the great explorer, Christopher Columbus. His tomb is held aloft by four figures representing the four kingdoms of Spain during his lifetime. We hope to take our Scholars here next year during the REEP McLaren Scholarship in Spain.

For more information about Seville’s Cathedral visit www.catedraldesevilla.es

You can find photos of my visit here on the rhiannon@reep Facebook page

Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede, Seville 2017-11-27T18:04:48+00:00

Plaza d’España and Parque Maria Luisa

Our 2018 REEP McLAREN Scholars will be delighted to visit Plaza d’España and Parque Maria Luisa when they are in Seville next year. Built for the Ibero-American Expo in 1929, the gorgeous plaza seamlessly mixes Renaissance, Mudéjar and Gothic styles of Sevillian architecture – the neighbouring Parque Maria Luisa is equally lovely.

For more information about Plaza d’España and Parque Maria Luisa visit http://www.andalucia.com/cities/ seville/marialuisapark.htm 

You can find photos of my visit here on the rhiannon@reep Facebook page

Plaza d’España and Parque Maria Luisa 2017-11-27T18:24:32+00:00

Palacio de Las Dueñas

This morning I visited another garden that we would like to take our REEP McLAREN Scholars to visit next year during the Scholarship in Spain – Palacio de Las Dueñas.

A Renaissance-style palace with Moorish and Gothic flourishes, the palace of Las Dueñas features Islamic-style ‘patios’ (courtyard gardens), divided into four with decorative tiled paths and fountains at their centre. The palace was built in the 15th-16th centuries, as the home of the Dukes of Alba. It became a popular meeting point for European royals and international personalities in the 20th century, including Queen Victoria Eugenia and Jackie Kennedy!

For more information about Palacio de Las Duenas visit http://www.lasduenas.es/

You can see photos of my visit to Las Dueñas on the rhiannon@reep Facebook page

Palacio de Las Dueñas 2017-11-27T17:51:27+00:00

Alcázar, Seville

As our 2018 REEP McLAREN Scholars will be studying faith gardens during their Scholarship in Spain, we simply have to include a visit to the Alcázar in Seville. I visited here for the first time today during my research trip to Spain.

Mudéjar and Christian architectural styles are united in this magnificent UNESCO World Heritage-listed Alcázar palace. Originally a 10th century fort, the Alcázar was enlarged and redesigned over the centuries. The palace complex features several beautiful patios (courtyards) and gardens laid out in the Islamic char bagh style.

For more information about the Alcázar of Seville visit http://www.alcazarsevilla.org/english-version/

You can find photos of my visit to the Alcázar on the rhiannon@reep Facebook page

Alcázar, Seville 2017-11-27T17:42:28+00:00

El Real Sitio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial

In addition to exploring gardens in the time of Cervantes, our 2018 REEP McLAREN Scholars will be studying faith gardens. Spain is a wonderful place to explore this theme, especially because of its Moorish and Catholic history. Inés and I visited Escorial this afternoon to see one of the most famous monastery gardens in Spain – that of Real Sitio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial. We hope to take our Scholars here next year.

Better known simply as ‘El Escorial’, this incredible Royal Monastery was built by Phillip II in the late 16th century as a place to see out his final years. Today the site is managed by Patrimonial Nacional – the Spanish ‘National Trust’ – and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For more information about Real Sitio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial visit https://www.patrimonionacional.es/real-sitio/palacios/6172  

You can see photos of our visit to El Escorial on the rhiannon@reep Facebook page

El Real Sitio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial 2017-11-27T17:29:44+00:00

Alcála de Henares

The first is the Botanical garden of the University of Alcála, the second is the Cervantes Birthplace Museum. As the theme of Round One of the Scholarship (Britain, 2016) was gardens in the time of William Shakespeare, we would like to expand on this is Round Two by exploring gardens in Spain during the time of Shakespeare’s literary contemporary, Miguel de Cervantes. So, this morning Inés and I visited Cervantes’ hometown, Alcála de Henares, to explore two sites we would like to include in the 2018 REEP McLAREN Scholarship programme.


Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes, Alcála de Henares

Courtyard inside Cervantes Birthplace Museum in Alcála de Henares

Real Jardin Botanico Juan Carlos I, Alcála de Henares

Rose garden at the Real Jardin Botanico Juan Carlos I, Alcála de Henares. Spain is currently struggling with extreme droughts, which is causing difficulties for gardens.

Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes Web Address
Real Jardin Botanico Juan Carlos I Web Address

Alcála de Henares 2017-11-28T08:21:18+00:00

Real Jardín Botanico, Madrid (Scholarship 2018)

Today I visited Real Jardín Botanico, Madrid – one of the gardens we hope for our REEP McLAREN Scholars to visit next Spring. These lovely botanical gardens were opened by King Carlos III in 1781, with the aim of creating a garden in which to grow and display plant species from every corner of the Spanish Empire. They were also intended to be used to grow medicinal plants to supply Madrid’s hospitals. Today, over 30,000 plant species are grown in the botanical gardens, with the most notable collection being of Mediterranean flora.

You can see photos of my visit to the botanical gardens on the rhiannon@reep Facebook Page

For more about Real Jardín Botanico, Madrid visit http://www.rjb.csic.es/jardinbotanico/jardin/

Real Jardín Botanico, Madrid (Scholarship 2018) 2017-11-17T08:57:04+00:00

Casa de Pilatos (Scholarship 2018)

I am in here in Seville with Inés to plan Round 2 of the REEP McLAREN Scholarship, which will take place in Spain next year. This afternoon we visited Casa de Pilatos to see the beautiful patios and gardens of this Renaissance/Mudéjar-Gothic palace. We hope to take our 2018 Scholars to visit here.

Casa de Pilatos is a gorgeous Andalucían palace which was built in the 15th-16th centuries by the Enríquez de Ribera family. Influenced by 16th century Italian design, the ducal owners gradually added flourishes of the Italian Renaissance to the Palace, seamlessly fusing it with the the traditional Andalucían Mudéjar-Gothic style. Sadly, the family lost it’s titles during the 17th century and the architectural importance of the palace was largely forgotten until the 19th century Neo-Mudéjar craze, when the Moorish style became popular in Andalucía once more. Further Mudéjar features were then added to the palace and it is today celebrated for its harmonious blend of mudejar-Gothic, Renaissance and romantic styles, and for its beautiful patios and gardens.

* Mudéjar is the name given to individual Moors or Muslims of Al-Andalus in Spain. Mudéjar-Gothic is a term used to refer to the incipient Gothic style and the Muslim influences that were integrated with it.

You can find photos of my visit here on the rhiannon@reep Facebook page 

For more information visit http://en.fundacionmedinaceli.org/monumentos/pilatos/descubra_historia.aspx

Casa de Pilatos (Scholarship 2018) 2017-11-27T15:55:06+00:00

SHINTOISM | Shichi Go San

15 November

Meaning literally seven-five-three, Shichi-Go-San is the festival at which families pay their respects to Kami (spirits) for the good health, success and prosperity of their children. Families visit a shrine where special Shinto blessings are bestowed upon girls (aged three) and boys (aged five) to welcome them into the community. For seven-year-old girls, it is a time to be welcomed into womanhood and to wear the obi (a broad sash worn round the waist of kimono) for the very first time. As the day is one for families, Shichi Go San usually takes place on the Sunday closest to 15 November when most parents do not have work obligations.

For more information about Shichi Go San please click here

SHINTOISM | Shichi Go San 2017-09-12T10:32:07+00:00