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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

Hotel Las Casas de Judaría (Scholarship Round 2)

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 evening we visited Hotel Las Casas de Judaría to see the famous patios within. We hope to take our Scholars there during the Scholarship next year.

At the heart of the hotel is a labyrinth of 27 small, traditional Andalucían houses, each with its own plant-filled patio. Every patio is unique in style, with lush planting, fountains and decorative tiles, and balconies bursting with hanging potted plants. The patios are connected by a network of underground tunnels, so wandering around the hotel is like wandering around a little Spanish village. The hotel’s history began when a Spanish Duke bought a small house in Seville’s Jewish Quarter – it expanded as he gradually added more and more of the neighbouring houses to his collection.

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

For more about Hotel Las Casas de Judaría visit http://www.lascasasdelajuderiasevilla.com/en/

Hotel Las Casas de Judaría (Scholarship Round 2) 2017-11-16T13:12:59+00:00

2018 REEP McLAREN Scholarship in Spain

This week I’ve joined Inés in Spain to plan the 2018 REEP McLAREN International Gardening Scholarship which is due to take place in Andalucía and Madrid next Spring. Keep an eye on the news page as I’ll be posting about some of the gardens our Scholars may be working and gardening in.

For more information about the REEP McLAREN Scholarship please visit the Scholarship section of the website

2018 REEP McLAREN Scholarship in Spain 2017-11-15T13:38:46+00:00

British Moroccan Society Gala 2017

On Wednesday, Diana and the REEP team joined the British Moroccan Society (BMS) in London for their Annual Gala Dinner, charity raffle and auction. A very enjoyable evening was had by all and it was wonderful to help the British Moroccan Society fund their excellent charitable projects.

British Moroccan Society Gala 2017

BMS Chairman, Graham McCulloch OBE, gives a speech at the Gala Dinner

British Moroccan Society Gala 2017

British Moroccan Society Gala 2017

REEP Director and Honorary Secretary of the British Moroccan Society, Diana Lazenby McLaren, with her husband, Richard McLaren, and friends


British Moroccan Society Gala 2017 2017-11-28T08:27:40+00:00

SIKHISM | Guru Nanak Prakash Utsav

04 November

Also known as ‘Gurpurab’ or ‘Guru Nanak Jayanti’, this festival celebrates the birth of the first Sikh Guru and founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak Jayanti. Born in 1469 near Lahore, in modern-day Pakistan, Guru Nanak Jayanti received enlightenment in 1496 and began preaching to the world about peace and religious harmony.

Celebrations begin two days in advance, with the commencement of the Arambh Path – an unbroken recitation of the Holy Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib, which takes forty-eight hours to complete. On the day before Guru Nanak’s Prakash Utsav, naga kirtan (processions) take place in the streets, with singing and dancing to spread the message of Guru Nanak Jayanti. Processing barefoot, the procession each carry a Nishan Sahib (Sikh flag), following behind the palanquin (ornate float) on which the Guru Granth Sahib is ceremoniously carried. Gatka (Sikh Martial Arts) often take place as part of the procession too.

On the day of Guru Nanak’s Prakash Utsav itself, observances last all day, beginning in the gurdwara (Sikh temple) with Prabhat Pheris (early morning processions) and Asa-di-Var (devotional hymns). These are followed by a Katha* session, where the teachings of Guru Nanek Jayanti are read from the Guru Granth Sahib. Kirtan (devotional songs) are also sung in praise of the Guru, and Langar (sacred free food) is provided at community lunches.

* Katha is the verbal explanation/discourse of Gurbani (the utterings of the Guru’s) and our great history. Katha has been an integral part of Sikh practice since the revealed inception of Sikhism by Sri Guru Nanak Dev. Many Sikhs believe that through Katha they will gain knowledge about Sikhism and become enlightened. Katha is both a spiritual and historical discourse, endowing the listener with spiritual and worldly knowledge.

For more information about Guru Nanak’s Prakash Utsav please click here

SIKHISM | Guru Nanak Prakash Utsav 2017-09-12T10:32:14+00:00


02 November

Taking place the day after All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day is a time for Christians to remember and pray for the souls of departed friends and family. Many Christians attend church services and pay their respects at the graves of family and friends. All Souls’ Day is closely associated with All Saints’ Day; the two days are collectively known as Hallowtide.

All Souls’ Day was initiated in the late 10th century by (Saint) Odilo, Abbot of Cluny in France. Saint Odilo proposed that the day following All Saints’ Day be dedicated to the remembrance of the deceased, particularly those whose souls were still in purgatory. The tradition soon spread throughout the Christian World, where it became custom for poor Christians to offer prayers for the souls of the dead in exchange for charity, in the form of money or food, from the wealthy. In 19th and 20th century Britain, children would go ‘souling’ – singing from door to door in return for alms or soul cakes. As many people held the belief that the dead would revisit their homes on All Souls’ night, they would light candles outside their homes to help guide the deceased souls.

Today, one of the most famous observances of All Souls’ Day takes places in Mexico where Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a national holiday. As many Mexicans believe that the souls of the dead visit friends and family on this day, people visit cemeteries with gifts of candles, flowers and food. Mexican children eat tiny chocolate hearse, sugar funeral wreaths, and candy skulls and coffins. There are often festive parades in the streets and it is traditional for performances of José Zorrilla’s 1844 Spanish drama, Don Juan Tenorio, to be staged.

For more information about All Souls’ Day please click here

CHRISTIANITY | All Souls’ Day 2017-09-12T10:32:23+00:00

CHRISTIANITY | All Saints’ Day

01 November

On All Saints’ Day, Christians honour all of the saints in Christian history, especially those saints who do not have their own dedicated feast day in the Christian calendar. It is a time for both Catholic and Anglican Christians to remember the saints and martyrs who dedicated or sacrificed their lives to Christianity. Special services are held in churches, while many Christian schools organise activities to educate students about the role of saints in the history of Christianity.

All Saints’ Day was made an authorised holiday on the fixed date of 01 November by Pope Gregory IV in 837. However, celebrations began long before this date, possibly as early as 270 CE. For more information about All Saints’ Day please click here

CHRISTIANITY | All Saints’ Day 2017-09-12T10:32:30+00:00

BAHÁ’Í | Birth of Bahá’u’lláh

22 October

The year 2017 is the Bicentennial of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh. In 1844, a young merchant from the Iranian City of Shiraz prophesied the coming of a new messenger from God. The prophecy was realised several years late when Bahá’u’lláh, a follower of The Báb, was recognised as the Manifestation of God.

Meaning ‘Glory of God’ in Arabic, Bahá’u’lláh was born Mirza Husayn Ali in Persia in 1817. Despite not studying the Qur’an or the Arabic language in his early years, Bahá’u’lláh grew to become exceptionally knowledgeable about Islam and other faiths. This was a fact that, much later in his life, he would use to argue his claim as the Manifestation of God.

At the age of 27, Bahá’u’lláh became an active follower and correspondent of The Báb after reading his declaration. After The Báb’s death, the Persian authorities sought to diminish Bahá’u’lláh’s growing influence and incarcerated him in the Siyáh-Chál (Black Pit) prison in Tihran. He was later released and banished from the state.

Moving first to Baghdad, then to Adrianople (now Edirne), and Akka (in Syria), it seemed that wherever Bahá’u’lláh went his religious views and growing influence and support caused the consternation of the Islamic authorities. His life was one of constant exile and captivity. Bahá’u’lláh died in Bahji in 1892 and was succeeded by Abdu’l-Bahá, his eldest son. Abdu’l-Bahá was recognised as the first to believe in Bahá’u’lláh’s mission, and the only authoritative interpreter of Bahá’í teachings.

For more information about the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh please click here

BAHÁ’Í | Birth of Bahá’u’lláh 2017-09-12T10:32:36+00:00

BAHÁ’Í | Birth of The Báb

21 October

Seen as the prophet of the Bahá’í faith, The Báb called on the people of his native Persia (now Iran) to purify themselves for the coming of the messenger of God. Bahá’u’lláh, the messenger in question, was a follower of The Báb and it is through him that the Bahá’í faith was founded. Celebrations on The Báb’s birthday are simple yet joyous, beginning with prayers and devotional readings, and ending with festive social gatherings. The Birth of The Báb is one of nine Bahá’í Holy Days on which work is not permitted.

Little is known of The Báb’s early life beyond that he was born Siyyid ‘Ali-Muhammad on 20 October 1819 in Shiraz, Persia (now Iran). Son to two descendants of the Prophet Muhammad – a mercer and his wife -The Báb lost his father when very young and care of him was transferred to his uncle. In recent years, the administrative head of the Bahá’í faith has issued instructions for Bahá’í communities to rely on the Badi calendar for the dates of all Bahá’í Holy Days. As a result, the Birth of The Báb and the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh are celebrated on two consecutive dates between mid-October and mid-November.

For more information about the Birth of The Báb please click here

BAHÁ’Í | Birth of The Báb 2017-09-12T10:32:42+00:00

SIKHISM | Gur Gadi Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji

20 October

Gur gadi is a Punjabi word meaning ‘Guru’s throne’, and it is used in reference to the accession of successive Sikh Gurus as the Head of the Sikh faith. The final, eternal Sikh Guru is not a person but the Sikh Holy Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib. The Gur gadi of Guru Granth Sahib is therefore the most celebrated in the Sikh calendar. Celebrations begin two days in advance, with the commencement of the Arambh Path – an unbroken recitation of Guru Granth Sahib that takes forty-eight hours to complete. On the day itself, celebrations include a nagar kirtan (procession), kirtan (devotional hymns), langar (sacred free food) and various sporting events.

Guru Granth Sahib was compiled in 1604 by the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev. He collated and edited the prayers and hymns of the four previous Gurus together with his own and those of Hindu and Muslim saints where he felt the sentiments echoed those of Sikhism. The result was a new Sikh Holy Scripture which was installed in Sri Harimandir Sahib (The Golden Temple) in Amritsar on 01 September 1604, and conferred the title of ‘Guru’ on 20 October that same year.

Sikhs show the same respect to Guru Granth Sahib as was shown to the human Gurus that were its predecessors. In gurdwaras (Sikh temples), the Holy Scripture rests in its own bed each night and it is ceremoniously fanned when recited from. It is not permitted to place Guru Granth Sahib on the ground, nor for any Sikh to turn their back to it. Most Sikhs do not have a copy in their own homes because it is so difficult to show it the respect it commands.

For more information about  Gur Gadi Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji please click here

SIKHISM | Gur Gadi Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji 2017-09-12T10:32:55+00:00


19 October

Diwali is the Hindu New Year festival. It is the most important event in the Hindu calendar, beginning on the 15th day of the Hindu month, Kartika, and lasting for five days. The festival is an official holiday in many countries, including India, Fiji, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Singapore. Diwali is often known as the ‘Festival of Lights’ because at night, Hindus light up temples and homes with hundreds of diyas (lamps) to welcome Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity. Hindus believe that praying to Lakshmi will bring them good fortune in the coming year. Hindu’s also decorate their homes with colourful Rangoli patterns on the ground, in the hope that these will encourage Lakshmi to visit their homes. Traditionally these designs are painted onto the ground with a mixture of rice flour and water, or drawn with coloured powders.

The Story of Diwali            Prince Rama had a beautiful wife called Sita. One day Sita was kidnapped by Ravana, a demon king with twenty arms and ten heads. As Sita was carried away in Ravana’s chariot, she left a trail of glittering jewellery for Prince Rama to follow in the hope that he would find her and rescue her. Prince Rama followed the trail until he met Hanuman, the Monkey King. Hanuman agreed to help find Sita and sent messages to all the monkeys in the world, who in turn asked for the help of the bears. An army of monkeys and bears set out in search of Sita, who they found imprisoned on an island. As there was no bridge to the island they had to build one themselves. When the other animals heard what happened, they rushed to help. Once the bridge was built, all the animals of the world marched across to fight a fierce battle against the evil Ravana. The battle ended when Prince Rama killed King Ravana with a magic arrow. The world rejoiced and, as Prince Rama and Sita began their long journey back to their land, people lit oil lamps to guide them on their way and welcome them back. From this time forth, Hindu people have lit lamps during Diwali to remind them that light triumphs over dark and good over evil.

For more information about Diwali please click here

HINDUISM | Diwali 2017-09-12T10:33:05+00:00

SIKHISM | Bandi Chhorh Divas

19 October

Although Diwali (the festival of lights) is widely considered solely to be a Hindu festival, it is actually celebrated by Sikhs too, albeit for different reasons. Sikhs celebrate Diwali as Bandi Chhorh Divas (Prisoner Release Day) in respect of Guru Hargobind Ji’s release from Gwalior Fort prison on this day in 1619 AD. When, after several months of imprisonment, Guru Hargobind ji was granted release he was would not embrace his own fortune and refused to leave the fort until all fifty-two of the other Sikh prisoners were freed. Guru Hargobind Ji was given the name Bandhi Chhorh because the bandi (imprisoned ones) were chhorh (released) by Him.

When Guru Hargobind and the other prisoners reached the city of Amritsar, they arrived during Diwali. Overjoyed at seeing their Guru again, the people illuminated Amritsar and Sri Harimandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) with lamps and candles. They sang gurbani kirtan (devotional hymns) in his honour and recited prayers in veneration of his willingness to sacrifice his own freedom for the sake of other innocent lives.

Today the tradition lives on in Amritsar. Every year, the Golden Temple is filled with thousands of candles and floating lamps and its domes covered with strings of light. Sikhs in other communities around the world celebrate Bandi Chhorh Divas at gurdwaras (Sikh temples), which are illuminated with hundreds of candles at night. Shabad (devotional hymns) are sung in praise of Guru Hargobind, and festive meals are prepared in the Guru ka Langar (a community dining room providing sacred free meals).

For more information about Bandi Chhorh Divas please click here

SIKHISM | Bandi Chhorh Divas 2017-09-12T10:33:12+00:00

JUDAISM | Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah

11 to 13 October

Taking place immediately after Sukkot is another jubilant festival, lasting for two days (or one day, in Israel). No work is permitted during the period, and the focus of celebrations is the conclusion and resumption of the Torah-reading cycle. On the evenings preceding each of the two days, Jewish females light candles and recite blessings, and families gather together for festive meals.

On the first day, called Shemini Atzeret, prayers are made for rain as the festival marks the onset of the rainy season. In remembrance the souls of the departed, the Yizkor prayer is also recited. On the second day, called Simchat Torah or ‘The Joy of the Torah’, Jews take part in hakafot (circle) dances morning and night, marching and dancing around the synagogue reading table with Torah scrolls in their arms. Jewish men and children receive an aliyah (the honour of being called upon to read from the Torah) during the service. The service ends with the recommencement of the Torah reading, from the very beginning, on a second Torah scroll.

For more information about Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah please click here

JUDAISM | Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah 2017-09-12T10:33:20+00:00

JUDAISM | Sukkot

4 to 11 October

Beginning on the fifth day after Yom Kippur, the Festival of Sukkot is a joyful celebration of both historical and agricultural significance. Sukkot takes place over seven days, with no work permitted on the first and second days. On the remaining five days, known as Chol Ha-Mo’ed, work recommences. Also known as ‘The Season of our Rejoicing’ or ‘The Time of Our Joy’, Sukkot is a time when the nights are filled with music, song and dance as communities join together for nightly water-drawing celebrations. For Jews, this is both a contrast and a delight after the deeply sombre Yom Kippur festival a few days before.

Historically, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period that the children of Israel spent wandering the Sinai Desert, living in sukkah (rudimentary huts), before reaching the Holy Land. To reaffirm their trust in God’s providence during Sukkot, Jews build temporary sukkot (plural: sukkah) to live in during the festival.

Agriculturally, Sukkot is a harvest festival and is often called ‘The Festival of Ingathering’. A tradition unique to Sukkot is the Taking of the Four Kinds: an etrog (citron), a lulav (palm frond), three hadassim (myrtle branches) and two aravot (willow branches). These represent the four types and personalities that make up the community of Israel, the intrinsic unity of which Jews show their respect for during Sukkot. The Four Kinds are also an integral part of the daily morning services which take place during Sukkot.

For more information about Sukkot please click here

JUDAISM | Sukkot 2017-09-12T10:33:26+00:00

ISLAM | Ashura

01 October

Literally meaning ‘ten’, Ashura takes place on the tenth day of the month of Muharram. It is the most significant day of Muharram, as it is the day that Muslims mourn the death of Hussein ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and son of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the first Shi’ite Imam. On the tenth day of Muharram 61 AH (680 AD) Hussein ibn Ali was brutally massacred along with his family and other followers during the Battle of Karbala. Hussein and his supporters are regarded as martyrs by all Islamic denominations but, while for Shi’a Muslims the massacre has a crucial role in their history, traditions and theology, for Sunni Muslims it does not influence tradition or theology and is mainly viewed as an historical tragedy.

Ashura observances differ between Shi’a and Sunni Muslim communities. For Shi’a Muslims, rituals and observances consist largely of public expressions of mourning and grief. Many communities organise matam (remembrance parades) with men gathering in the streets to take part in ceremonial chest beating. In Iraq, some Shi’a Muslims make a pilgrimage to the Imam Husayn Shrine to see the grave of Husayn ibn Ali, while in a number of countries, including Iran, the Battle of Karbala is re-enacted in special Condolence Theatre performances. Sunni Muslims often observe fasting on the ninth and tenth days of Muharram. Although not compulsory, Muslims who fast on the day of Ashura are believed to be rewarded with ten-thousand martyrs and ten-thousand people performing Hajj and Umrah (pilgramages to Mecca) on their behalf. Sunni Muslims also perform Nafl Salaat prayers, give charity to others, bathe, cut nails and apply surma (kohl eyeliner) to their own and others’ eyes.

For more information about Ashura please click here

ISLAM | Ashura 2017-09-12T10:33:38+00:00