Wednesday, February 27, 2013


This past weekend was Purim, a holiday in which Jews celebrate the defeat of a genocidal plot against them, as described in the book of Esther. Purim is a festive time, with parties and treats, but observant Jews also observe four mitzvot (commandments), as illustrated here in LEGO by Joanna Brichetto.

Mikra Megillah - listening to the public reading of the story of Esther (plus a related passage from the book of Exodus)

Seudah Purim - celebrating a festive meal (note Joanna's custom LEGO-scale hamantaschen, a traditional Purim pastry).

Mishloach Manot - sending gifts of food to others

Matanot l’Evyonim - giving charity to the poor

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Interview with Jackie Britton

I've been looking forward to posting another interview, this time from Jackie Britton. As she describes below, she is on the journey of a lifetime, and there's even LEGO involved! Follow Jackie's travels on her blog, Jackie's Mid Life Crisis Gap Year, or jump straight to the photos on her Flickr stream.

GodBricks Jackie, welcome to GodBricks. Before we jump in to a discussion of your travels, let's start with a bit of background about you. Could you tell us a bit about your interest in architecture, art, history and culture?

Jackie Britton I have always been interested in buildings: as a child I used to pore over house plans in old Ideal Home Exhibition catalogues and try to design my own. I find the way people live in their houses, how spaces are laid out and used in different periods and cultures fascinating. On family holidays my parents used to take us to a lot of historic buildings and I would wander around a stately home, castle or Roman villa ruin, imagining myself living there, skipping from room to room as I enacted a day's activities in my head. Since then, my interests have grown to encompass architecture as a whole, as my delight in art generally has grown. It's hard to say why looking at buildings is so compelling for me, but it is. And as for history, I have always loved museums and have been lucky enough to spend twenty-five years working in two of the UK's best, the Science Museum and then the V&A (a museum of art and design). I still doodle house plans in boring meetings too.

GB How about your background with LEGO and other building toys? Is this something that goes back to your childhood, or is it a more recent interest?

JB I have had Lego since I was about four and spent my teenage years building bigger and more complex buildings with interiors – for some reason monasteries and research laboratories figured quite often in my output. It was only much later that I started collecting historic and contemporary building toys more generally, mostly inspired by a small exhibition in London put on by RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects). It had about fifteen or twenty exhibits and I felt a visceral urge to own them all, so off I went looking for them in antique markets and then eBay, only to discover that many hundreds or even thousands of different sets have been produced worldwide since the mid-nineteenth century. I have around 1400 items in my collection and am still finding new things on a regular basis. GB - Check out Jackie's site Architoys to see more on this.

GB Finally, are you a religious person? What is your background with religion?

JB My parents packed me off to Sunday School and I was confirmed in the Church of England when I ws in my mid-teens, but that was mostly because my friends were too (my best friend's father was a vicar). But I don't believe in any gods, spirits or other supernatural powers. I do however see religious belief as a fascinating fruit of human culture, despite all the bad things that have been and continue to be done in its name. I like to say that I regard religion as a spectator sport and certainly belief has inspired much of the world's great art and architecture.

GB Thanks for that background. I've noted your travels on this blog and on MicroBricks before, but for those readers who may be new, could you describe your whole project?

JB Some years ago I was wondering how to decide which of the many competing attractions in a particular country to visit and it struck me that one criteria could be those listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites (WHSs). As I looked into the list more, I was taken with an ambition to visit all of them, or at least as many as possible – this is probably the mentality of an inveterate collector showing. When the opportunity came along to take voluntary redundancy from my job I seized the chance, and the generous lump sum payoff, to finally take the gap year I didn't have the guts to do when I was eighteen. Rather than travel continuously, I take a few months break between each trip so my gap year is going to be nearer a gap two and a half years when I run out of funds later this year. So I pick a part of the world, visit all or most of its cultural (as opposed to natural) WHSs, build a microscale Lego model of some aspect of each (or the whole thing if possible) and post an entry on my blog about each site, with photos of the real and Lego versions. I was very lazy last summer though so my blog is, at time of writing, rather behind.

GB So you've been to northern Africa, various European locations, Central and South America, Russia, and are now in Sri Lanka. What other sites will you be visiting in this Asian trip. Do you think you'll have a chance in a future trip to visit the holy sites associated with Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the Mid-East?

JB The plan for this trip is to go on to India, Nepal, Bangladesh (subject to getting a visa in India), Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, The Philippines, South Korea and Japan. I would have liked to visit Pakistan as well, but that didn't seem wise, or indeed possible as an independent traveller. Two well known highlights from these countries will be the Taj Mahal and Angkor, but also included, alongside all the temples and fortifications are three mountain railways in India and some colonial urban architecture. I would very much like to visit the Middle East and regret that I didn't have more time when in Syria on a business trip five years ago; although I did visit the eighth century Umayyad mosque in Damascus, built partly on Roman foundations. At the very least I hope to be able to visit Egypt in the not too distant future.

GB How did you decide to document your travels in LEGO? What are some of the challenges that you've faced in your LEGO building?

JB I'm not too sure where the idea came from, it just occurred to me one day, whilst I was still in my job and planning my future. As soon as it did though, I got very excited and realised that whilst it would sound rather mad to many of my friends, it was exactly what I wanted to do! I had wanted to find some way of responding to the places I saw, to feel that I'd really looked them rather than just taken some photographs and moved on. If I had the talent I might have gone with drawing or painting, but I create much better in three dimensions. Also you're never bored with a Lego set! The biggest challenge was deciding what to bring, and how much. I chose the limited range of colours by doing a Google image search on 'world heritage site' and getting an overall impression of the colours on screen. And I spent a very happy time scanning through pretty much the entire catalogue of parts on Bricklink looking for ideas of useful bits. Beyond that, it soon became clear to me that for most of my constructions I was only going to be able to build one facade of a building, rather than in the round. I also have to make cunning use of parts. So for instance, while I only have two 1x1 bricks in each colour, I can use the end of slopes and the back of panels when I need more blank wall. The backs of my models are a mess, often held up with a shonky network of bits in other colours to keep the SNOT sections in place. I occasionally take pictures of the backs, which you can find in my Flickr stream.

GB So many of your recreations have focused on religious structures - temples, cathedrals, etc. Can you point to a favorite or favorites from among these MOCs?

JB I think my favourites are the really complex ones, with lots of fiddly bits and those needing a higher than usual level of cunning. The more parts I've used, the happier I am. So favourites would include the MOCs for: the monastery of Guadalupe;

Burgos cathedral;

the Templo do San Domingo in Zacatecas;

the church in Olinda;

and the entrance tower of Novodevichy Convent.

GB Is there some MOC that gave you the most trouble in capturing the essence of the real thing?

JB I spent a very long time trying to work out what to build for Machu Picchu and had a few false starts where it built something very tiny and underwhelming, just to try to get over my builder's block. It is such a huge iconic archealogical site that I wanted to try to do some justice to. In the end, I had to go for an impression of part of it and cheat a little with cheese blocks just balanced on top of the walls for the steep gable ends.

GB Is there some insight you've gained in your visits to various religious sites around the world, whether personal religious growth or more cultural insights into humanity's search for an experience of the divine?

JB Hmm, interesting question. I have found that the more I see of more religions, the more firmly I know myself to be atheist, not that I was exactly ambivalent before. I see that throughout history, people have looked for an explanation of things they don't understand, tried to control the world around them or found solace in the face of a difficult life, but all in such completely different ways and sure that theirs was the religion that was right. It seems to me that in the face of these needs, it is inevitable that some kind of belief system will arise. But seeing the impact of European missionary fervour on the indigenous people of Latin America was also a powerful reminder that it never turns out well when people decide to impose their beliefs on others. The resurgence of Orthodox worhip in post-soviet Russia also shows how tenacious religious belief is even when determined attempts are made to stamp it out.

GB What is the one site you most want to visit (and build) in your future travels, if there were no limits due to money or access issues?

JB It's almost impossible to chose just one, but I'll go for the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, the winter palace of the Dalai Lama since the seventh century. Timbuktu in Mali comes a close second though.

GB Thank you so much for your time! Happy travels, and I'm looking forward to following your future adventures and LEGO creations.

JB Thank you, it has been a pleasure!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Some kids who played games about Narnia, got gradually balmier and balmier

Elena built Lucy's room from the opening scene of the C.S. Lewis book Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a book full of allegorical vignettes, largely dealing with the work of sin in our lives.

Overview of the room

Confrontation with Eustace

Waves come out of the painting

And fill the room, eventually sweeping the children into the world of the painting

Monday, February 18, 2013

Chinese New Year

I know, this is a week late. I've been busy, and also this past week has been pretty full of things to note here, with the news about the Pope and then a series of holidays with more or less connection to religious themes. A week ago yesterday was Chinese New Year, and first I need to note that this is not a religious holiday. Instead it is a cultural holiday, but Buddhist, Taoist and folk religious traditions have been tied in to this day over the years. For instance, household altars are cleaned and redecorated for the new year. Taoists will burn an effigy of the kitchen god so that he can go to the Jade Emperor to report on the family in the previous year. Buddhists will refrain from eating meat on certain days around this celebration. The Chinese zodiac is a fold tradition, but also gets tied to religious stories, for instance with Buddha picking the twelve animals. This year is the year of the snake, and LEGO celebrated by producing a limited release an official set. This set seems to be only available in Asia.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Mardi Gras / Ash Wednesday / Lent

We're now in the Lenten season, a period of 40 days of solemn contemplation before the joy of Easter (okay, the 40 days doesn't count Sundays, and in some traditions Lent ends on Maundy Thursday instead, so it's 42-46 days). Lent starts with Ash Wednesday. I couldn't actually find any good LEGO creations for Ash Wednesday or Lent - of course there are lots of things based on Easter and the biblical events leading up to that day - so I'm going to highlight Mardi Gras here. Mardi Gras literally means 'Fat Tuesday', and it was a day of feasts and parties on the eve of Lent before starting ritual fasts on Ash Wednesday. The festival aspects have grown, and the Mardi Gras or Carnival season can last several weeks in various countries. In the US we mostly think of Mardi Gras in terms of the partying at this time in New Orleans, which is seen in the New Orleans section of Legoland California.

Here's a Mardi Gras mask by Carson Hart.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Saint Valentine

Happy Valentine's Day. As celebrated today this isn't a religious celebration, but there was a Saint Valentine, well, actually there were a few. The one in question was either a priest in Rome or a Bishop of Terni, condemned and martyred outside of the Flaminian Gate of Rome on February 14 in the late third century. Maybe it was one or the other of these, or maybe those stories both relate to the same man. The Feast of Saint Valentine was first celebrated by Pope Gelasius I on February 14, 496. The association of the day and the saint with romantic love developed in the middle ages. Here's a Valentine by Mumu to help you celebrate the day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Benedict XVI

Keeping in the theme of Pope Benedict XVI, also from Legoland Windsor we get this picture of the Wall of Fame, full of famous figures. There in the bottom row you can see the outgoing pontiff - right between Hagrid and Madonna. I'm sure he's proud.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI

As anyone who reads this blog surely already knows, today Pope Benedict XVI announced that he will retire at the end of this month due to his advanced age and illness. This makes him the first Pope to step down from office before death in centuries. In 2010, Benedict visited London, and Legoland Windsor commemorated the event in brick form, which seemed an appropriate model to highlight today.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Abu Simbel

The Great Temple at Abu Simbel (here by customBRICKS) was completed around 1265 BC and was dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah, and also to the Pharoah Ramses the Great, shown here as a god. The temple was moved in 1964 when the original site was scheduled to be submerged by the Aswan High Dam. The tumbled-down statue, though, dates to ancient times - when they moved the temple they decided to leave it as it was rather than reconstructing it.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


On December 24, 1968, the crew of the Apollo 8 mission read the creation story on what was the most watched television broadcast to that point.
Bill Anders
"We are now approaching lunar sunrise and, for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
Jim Lovell
"And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
Frank Borman
"And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land earth; and the gathering together of the waters called He seas: and God saw that it was good.
And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth."
That same day they took the photo "Earthrise", reproduced here in LEGO form by Dave Shaddix.