OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: Barker 'Bishop's Mansion' hosting holiday tea

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-12-01T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Barker 'Bishop's Mansion' hosting holiday teaBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

The British custom of observing afternoon tea comes to the Trinity Church Bishop's Mansion, 614 Franklin St, from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7.

I'm told the traditional tea-time menu will be bite-size sandwiches, a variety of holiday scones topped with Devonshire clotted cream and jam, and a selection of traditional cakes, pastries and chocolates. English style tea with cream, and the Russian style tea with lemon and sugar will both be served on Barker Hall monogrammed china. Hot punch will also be served. Tickets are $7 for adults, $3 for children under 12, and the event is free for children under 6. FYI: (219) 874-4355

Recently renovated, this mansion space is adjacent to Trinity Church and was built in 1901 by industrialist John Barker to serve as the residence of the bishop of what was then known as the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan City.

The entrance to the mansion is through the Trinity Church courtyard and Gothic arched cloister. The interior features multiple fireplaces, a 350 square-foot living room with coffered ceiling, oak paneled library, and a grand staircase. The stained-glass window in the stairway is the symbol of the Episcopal diocese: a lighthouse. Visitors can also tour the upstairs bedroom suites with period fixtures and furniture, adjacent chapel and enjoy a stained glass tour in Trinity Episcopal Church.

Afternoon tea has been a tradition and important part of daily life in England for more than 150 years. Prior to afternoon tea, the British ate two daily meals — breakfast and dinner. During the mid-1700s, the middle and upper classes shifted dinner from midday to the evening. Served at a fashionably late hour, dinner was a protracted, feast-like affair.

Matthew Kubik of Trinity Church, one of the event's organizers, tells me the tea tradition continued in 1662, after Catherine of Braganza of Portugal married Charles II from England's House of Stuart. He said when the newlywed Catherine arrived in Portsmouth, she brought her tea chest and asked for a cup. Soon after, Catherine deigned tea as the official court beverage. At the time, tea was a rare luxury in Catherine's day for it was scarce, expensive and highly taxed.

Although the famed English East India Company had formally introduced tea in the 1600s, it took Catherine's royal influence to make it fashionable.

He said one of Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope (1783-1857), the 7th Duchess of Bedford, also had a hand in popularizing afternoon tea. Because the noon meal was very light, the Duchess found she was hungry by late afternoon. As a solution, her servants snuck her tea and cakes to tide her over until dinner, which was served at 8:30 or 9 p.m. The plan was such a success she invited friends to join her at five o'clock in her rooms at Belvoir Castle.

The popular menu of the day featured an array of dainty cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets, and tea. Given her connection to Queen Victoria and the Royal Court, hostesses throughout England quickly followed suit, establishing afternoon tea as a social ritual.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

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