Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Breamore, Hampshire

By now our sixth sense navigating skills were in the ascendant. Considering the amount of Anglo-Saxon awesomeness here, we should have homed straight in on it. Painted scenes in the high porch, long and short quoin stones outside, a big central tower, and inside, a superb time-travel-portal style doorway with writing over it. An Anglo Saxon inscription - how unusual is that? Very unusual, I can tell you.

The arch is in the lovely green stone that we've seen further north around Salisbury. And the imposts have big chunky twisty rope carving, like a delicious barleysugar, in a softly coloured honeyish stone. It's very nice.

Behind the arch were two long velvety red curtains which picked out the paint in the lettering. This was also rather good.

The writing is said to say 'Here the covenant is manifested to thee'. So listen up and stop staring at the stonework.

Here's the rood in the porch. It's been grievously hacked about, no doubt during the Reformation, when religious nuttery got in the way of aesthetic and cultural appreciation. But look at those bright colours, they're scarcely believable, especially the vivid light blue.

Now the trouble is, those arms are in a very particular, arched, formation. And of course looking at this we were instantly reminded of the rood at Langford in the Cotswolds. There I'd been so certain that the arms had been put back wrong when the rood was moved to the front of the porch, because Jesus's thumbs were on wrong. But here we have the same position as the one I considered 'wrong'. So I really don't know what to think now.

On the sides within the porch are more paintings. Here's what's believably Judas hanging from a tree. You can see his feet dangling for sure. And you can see the roots of the tree. So I guess that bright blue colour was once green. But there's not much else to be discerned other than his coat.

The interesting Painted Church website says that this painting is probably 15th century. And mentions, interestingly, that Judas doesn't hang himself in the bible. In modern internet talk, it's not canon. The way Judas goes in the bible actually seems more ripe for gorey illustrations. It's Acts 1 v18: "Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out." Gross.

I also have to show you the Breamore Lamb of God. Or is it a Dachshund of God. Sadly also hacked? Which seems a bit unfair and extreme.

Landford, Hampshire

It's hopeless to be without an OS map: you can drive up and down the long road in Landford repeatedly and have no idea where you're supposed to be going. We stopped at a new-fangled pub which had a desperate atmosphere. But I needed the loo and a fizzy drink. My dear sister took the opportunity to ask about the church. She doesn't care about looking mad and religious when there's a carving at stake. The directions were curious but we figured it out in the end. Landford's church is nowhere near the obvious Landford. We should have known.

It didn't look promising as it looked rather new (well, Victorian new). But its position high up above Landford did seem promising. I've now read that the church was rebuilt in 1858. It does seem that there was a rather obsessive Thing for doing this to old churches. I'm sure a lot of it was unnecessary vandalism - it's not that they were restoring what was there, but totally trashing it a lot of the time. I raged a bit when we found the door was locked, because it stopped us seeing what we'd come all this way to see.

This was to be a stone "2ft 6in by 1ft 6in, and has sculptured upon it the figures of two priests in full canonicals, with maniples at the wrist, supporting between them a Cross.  The stone is perforated with holes, each an inch square, about 8 in number" (to quote from the link). In the old church the stone was at one time in the foundation at the SE corner of the chancel. Then it was moved above the north doorway. But when the new church was built, it was moved back inside.

You can see a big photo on the CRSBI website, but here's another version, taken by Trish Steel. I feel like we're treading in her footsteps this trip.

CC image on Geograph
The stone doesn't look riddled with eight holes any more? Maybe it got trimmed. It's evidently two people clutching a cross. It's very like the sort of cross a Lamb of God might clutch (or rather, balance delicately on its foot). But beyond that? The CRSBI site suggests one figure is Jesus 'because he has a nimbus', but I reckon both of them have got that, it's not a Jesus-exclusive. Also suggested is St Helena and Friend. She is said to have dug up the True Cross, a bit like a female Indiana Jones, and because there were two other crosses there as well she tested them out on some dead/sick people and only the True one perked them up. A bit like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when there were all those different grails to pick from. But I think those figures have beards perhaps. So probably not St Helena if so.

Anyway. We didn't see it. But there were a couple of pretty nice Norman capitals at the door outside. So I drew one of them.

Minstead, Hampshire

B and I were both truly appalled by the outcome of the referendum, and hoped that our long-awaited trip out would soften the blow a bit. I decided we would go a bit further afield than normal and see something really good. So we made it over the border into Hampshire and found ourselves among the massive oaktrees and soothing greenness of the New Forest.

Naturally I'd not packed the right map, and it didn't help that at the edge of Minstead the road was unaccountably shut. We took a pleasant but fruitless walk into the village and spent our lunch ranting about the referendum on the picturesque green. A detouring drive later we finally made it to the church (Minstead is much longer than you expect when you've not got an OS map).

The church presents a very strange higgledy-piggledy prospect.

Minstead church, CC image by Trish Steel
In retrospect I think it also looked strange to me because it's brick, and we're used to our quarry being in older-looking stone churches. Once inside we found there was even another added room to the south. But I didn't even explore, because the font had been spotted. And It Was Good.

The Minstead font is chunky and four-sided and replete with excellently bold carving. As you'd expect, there was some explanation in the church about what the carvings are, and what they represent.

CC image by Maigheach-gheal
  But I like to prevent brain contamination, and try to have a look and a think before finding out how others have interpreted them. We've seen a lot of fonts now (though not enough as intriguing as this) and it's interesting to see if there are any familiar patterns or motifs.

That doesn't necessarily help interpretation I suppose, as I don't share the cultural environment of a Norman stone carver (fonts our speciality. ask for our latest offers). But I can recognise a few things - like the lovely Lamb of God. It's always so jauntily portrayed in the Norman era. And despite some suggestions in the church that this font is Saxon... don't be deceived. Victorians used to say stuff like that because they thought such carving was "primitive" and so must be earlier. Maybe it was the influence of Darwin's theory of evolution. But we know Saxon carvings aren't like this at all - they're twirly and knotworked. Never mind.

I liked the lamb's long body, stretched out a bit to match the shape of the font. But the animal's identity was instantly recognisable by its bent back foreleg.

Perhaps it's surprising that we haven't seen more LoGs on fonts, because they're very apt. It seems that the phrase "LAMB OF GOD" appears only twice in the bible, both in ch.1 of St John's gospel. This seems a shame as it's got a ring to it (though symbolic lambs do appear elsewhere). John is baptising people and he spots and recognises Jesus because he's got a pigeon on his head. Or at least, it does say he saw "the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon [Jesus]." And so John goes, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world".

Likewise, and according to this amusingly-written blog, Life in the Middle Ages,  baptism washed away your own sins. People tended to get baptised when they were adults, because it meant you could get the maximum number of sins dealt with in one go, rather than doing it young and then having to confess a lot. But note that you had to get it done or you'd be going to HELL. No-one wants that.

But onto the other sides. Which are considerably more peculiar to the modern eye.

Well the blurb in the church suggested this side had eagles and a tree, and related it to OT Ezekiel 17. Well, maybe. The text has two eagles in it, they've planted a plant and they're hoping it's going to grow. It's a riddle, an allegory for something that's happening (it says this at the start of the chapter). But it doesn't seem to have anything to do with baptism. It seems a bit of a random passage. I feel very sceptical.

What's more, I am quite sure that these birds have two heads. This doesn't help much because the double-headed bird / eagle is a very old symbol and a scout about the internet doesn't help at all about its meaning or origins. But there we are. That's what I saw. The thing in the middle could be anything. It's not particularly planty. You could even see it as a figure. I dunno.

Next up, the Cheshire Cat. With not one, but two un-catlike headless bodies below. Not convincingly attached to the catface in any way. There are no cats in the bible apparently. But we've definitely seen enough Norman catfaces to know a catface when we see one. We saw a lovely cat on the font at Stottesdon. Cats have gained a bit of a reputation for consorting with witches and being a bit evil. (When I catch the pair that have been crapping on our lawn there is going to be trouble). Who wants something evil looking at you when you're getting baptised? It seems a bit weird.  Lullington has cats on its amazing font and also carvings of creatures with two bodies and a shared head. The one at Avening is also strikingly similar. But the latter are on corners, to make a bit of an optical illusion. The carving on the Minstead font is flat and rather different. (The suggestion in the church, relating it to Isaiah 11.6 is, I'm afraid, first class piffle, and I think you'll agree). The animals have got lovely poised legs though, and fit nicely into the shape available.

Finally the side that faces you on entering the church. The suggestion in the church says 'Our Lord's Baptism'. Although you will recall John wrote about the pigeon etc, he somehow forgot to mention Jesus's baptism. But the other evangelists fill in. (It amused me that the Wikipedia page about this says 'This article is about the historical event. For other uses, please see...'). As you may read  it's a similar story though - a dove descends and a loud voice (God, that is) says 'You are my Son'. There's an excellent illustration in this 14th century psalter. John the Baptist is applying talcum powder I assume.

Disgracefully borrowed from the Morgan Library. I apologise.

Now does that fit with what we can see... I don't think it does. I'm not even convinced that's a person being dunked. You can see wiggly lines that could be water. But there's only four wiggly lines - shouldn't they be limbs? Jesus wasn't a baby when he was baptised. And that middle figure would have to be holding the poor child by its ear. It is without doubt, confusing. I wonder if he's just pouring water out of a vessel. Hm.

The figure on the left could be wearing a gown with floppy sleeves (not unlike those on the font at Chirton). Or is it an angel with wings? The one in the centre holds a staff with a cross. And the one on the right.. is that a towel? (Here, have a towel. thanks). It's a funny shape whatever it is. And is that a wing? Or a shield?

I'm none the wiser. Perhaps it doesn't matter.

The church leaflet says the Rector's gardener, Henry Abbott, was doing a bit of digging in the late 19th century, when he found the font buried in the shrub bed. Perhaps it was buried to protect it from the idiotic iconoclasts of the reformation. But it has returned victorious! And was given a new pedestal in 1893. Hoorah.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Cholderton, Wiltshire

After the disappointment at Tidworth, we couldn't finish on a bum note. So we took in one more, at Cholderton. The church is on a rise at the top of a short, narrow lane.

The modern font was pretty dull, but our quarry was on display near the door. It's been a bit thwacked about so I suppose it's considered too rough for dipping infants into. I don't know. Sadly it was so close to the wall we couldn't see all its trumpety scallops. Because they were all pleasingly different as far as we could crane about.

Somebody had painted the most superb list of the church's vicars, but it seemed curiously pagan / fortean, with its devils and dragons and snakes and suchlike. But I liked it with its bright contrasty lapis lazuli style blue, gold and red.

I noticed here that it sounds like until recently the font was outside in the churchyard! Probably put there when they rebuilt the whole church in the 19th century (such a familiar story). So a massive thanks to whoever brought it inside and gave it a sturdy new base. Something c800 years old deserves a bit of respect does it not.

Tidworth (North Tidworth), Wiltshire

We tried Tidworth next. Apparently there's a North and a South Tidworth church, I've only just found that out. And although our (Northerly) Tidworth church looked really cute, it was locked up tight with a big padlock. You can imagine the church in its original rural location - like this - but today it had badly designed modern houses and warehouses right up to it, it felt odd. So I wasn't that surprised it was shut. But I was disappointed. I reckon it's probably shut all the time because I can't find any photos at all of the interior on the internet, other than ones taken by churchgoers in churchgoing time. I found a photo of the font here on the church's website. It's rather nice, one scallop each side.

Ludgershall, Wiltshire

The friendly rector very kindly showed us round Ludgershall church. It's got the most impressive Tudor monument. Pevsner likes it very much. I was suitably awed by the amount of detail and the crazy creatures on it. Sir Brydges and his wife were both resting their feet on little animals. I will include them because they definitely look back to the era of our favourite Norman Knight in Castle Combe. They're not a patch on him, mind :) His and hers:

There was also a super 'green man' in the centre of the church (just outside the Brydges chapel), and some other grotesque faces. We've seen a 'green cat' which must be Norman amongst all the amazing sculpture at Quenington , so maybe this could be Norman too? It's pretty chunky and basic.

But what had originally drawn us here was the promise of something Saxon. The rector proudly drew it to our attention. But it didn't look like anything to us: it looked like someone being Very Hopeful.

Here it is at four different angles. But actually it doesn't have to have been at any of those angles originally.  There's a faintly feathery look about it. But I really can't see anything obviously Saxon, or at least nothing that looks like the knotwork, plant scrolls, or animals from the things we've seen locally. Also it's very thin through isn't it. Why is it so thin?

There's the classic framed Explanation next to it. It says "The Carved centre stone was recently discovered at the East end of the Church, it having apparently been used by the builders for filling in at a previous restoration. As it is thought to be old [?] from an earlier Church, possibly part of a Saxon sculptured Crucifixion, it has been placed here for preservation. E S[?] Builder and Alfred W [?], Rector."  You can indeed imagine the bottom left orientation being a person holding out their arm. But then what would be that lump on the left? I'm not convinced.

Actually one of the coolest things at Ludgershall was this amazing (and surely extremely old) ladder up into the belfry. A beautifully patina-ed, naturally wonky, hand made thing, made precisely for this particular space. It was great.

Everleigh, Wiltshire

This one's looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust. It's massive and 19th century Gothic, and has the most crass and enormous monument bigging someone up that I think we've ever seen. I almost wish I'd taken a picture of it, because it was that outrageous and I can't see a photo on the internet. Tch.

But anyway. We'd come to see the font. Which was much nicer.

It reminded me of the one at Etchilhampton. Which is only about 14 miles away, so not far.

We've been to so many now, and I can't remember the names, so I have to try to communicate them to B by association with other things. Etchilhampton had lots of mining bees in the verge. Oh well. If the carvers worked all over the place, perhaps they had the same problem.

My drawing looks a bit odd and flat. The font was grafted onto a new, very symmetrical base. Which of course is a good thing. But it makes the contrast between organic top and sterile base a bit jarring. This is not an excuse for poor drawing unfortunately, but that's what the sketch reminds me of.

Manningford Bruce, Wiltshire

Next followed one of those wild goose chases which the searcher of things in the landscape will be familiar with. There were a number of churches marked on the map strewn liberally around a muddle of Manningfords (Manningford Bruce, Manningford Abbots, Manningford Bohune). Naturally, and actually fairly inexplicably now I look at the map again, I chose the wrong one. But I suppose we got a walk out of it along a mossy path in the rain, which we wouldn't otherwise have had. So I suppose it's not so bad.

Mr Pevsner had said MB was going to be a very complete Norman church. Which it was from the outside, with its small frugal look and surprising semicircular apse. But inside it was far too neat and restored and kind of disappointing (to me at least, I'm sure lots of people would love it). It didn't even have a contemporary font. But it did have the most amazing door.

It'd be nice to think it was original, it looked ridiculously old. We saw a W cut into it. W for Weird Wiltshire I suspect. I've seen W-ish marks on stone before and I always thought that was about masons. But this was on wood. So a bit more mysterious to me at least.  I expect the wood's like stone now anyway.

I have now found out something about this mark. I bought a copy of Matthew Champion's 'Medieval Church Graffiti'  which I can confirm is excellent and interesting. Not that it can give me any definitive answers! But as you can see here on the Suffulk Medieval Graffiti Survey  
pages, it's been thought that the W isn't a W at all, but two Vs for 'Virgo Virginum'. Who knows. But its apotropaic-ness is suggested by our example's prominent position on the front door.

Rushall, Wiltshire

We eschewed the idea of exciting as-yet-unseen tympanums and beakheads this trip. I can't quite tell if it's because I didn't want a long drive (sounds legitimate) or whether I / we are getting completist and want to see every last damn Norman font in Wiltshire. That sounds a bit perfectionist and obsessive though. Perhaps it's come to that. The 'obsessive journeying' bit has turned out to be true. I don't think I care.

First stop was Rushall, down a bucolic lane with sheep grazing quietly in the fields. The church is apparently some distance from the rest of the village. The door was welcomingly open and all was airy and with a pleasant atmosphere.

Drawing this, I actually managed to shut the inner voice up for a while. But I find I still don't pay enough attention to the overall shape, the way the size of the parts relate to each other. So I made the stem too long, but photoshop has dealt with this well enough. The octagonalness made me feel a bit suspicious, it doesn't seem to be much of a thing in most of Wiltshire. But here isn't far from Upavon and its fancy 8-sided font. So I'll go along with it though it feels like a 'late' feature. I liked the feathery fingery base and its strangely ruff-like top. The Blurb in the church suggested it was an upside-down Norman column and that's rather believable. In fact here it is turned the other way up:

So you're getting two amounts of Norman sculpture for one, which was especially good in a church that was otherwise far too modern and bland for our specialist tastes to hold anything else as ancient and interesting. And what's more, this font rates highly on the 'inoffensive font cover' scale, it was very unobtrusive. The font gets pride of place in the centre of the tower base. It was peaceful here and I wish we'd driven down a little bit further to the bridge over the River Avon - it looks lovely on Google's streetview.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Fifield Bavant, Wiltshire

Fifield Bavant is a little place with a little church. You read in various places how it's one of the smallest churches, but it's not absurdly small. In fact it looks smaller on the outside as you approach it (or at least that's how it is in my mind). It's just one room: more of a chapel I suppose if you're being argumentative. It's got this superb south Wiltshire checkered knapped flint thing going on with the outside walls. And it's raised up on bit of a bump. You have to walk through a farmyard to get to it, which makes it feel a decidedly ancient trek. The farm looks very old too, with huge old barns.

My 1968 Shell Guide to Wiltshire says indignantly, "Recent electric lighting has caused an unpleasant outbreak of meters and switches at the back of the nave, and four white lampshades are nearly as big as the church itself." But the meters and switches didn't register with me, and I can only remember the rickety dresser holding religious pamphlets and locally found bits of ancient pottery. Thankfully the lampshades seem to be long gone. Our attention was firmly grabbed by the lovely scallopy Norman font.

The scallops are beautifully wavy and were a joy to draw. And they're not evenly carved (of course), which was really noticeable once you started looking properly. And under the waviness were trumpets, though these were largely hidden unless you crouched down to look - they weren't an obvious part of the design. I rather liked that.

The lid of the font wasn't too foul though it was very chunky and dark. At least it sort of fitted the font's proportions. I could always do without the lids, but so many places seem to have them, there must have been a general feeling that they were necessary.

We had to negotiate horses, horse blankets and dogs to get across the yard. But the local human inhabitants were obviously happy for us to be there and you should not feel put off.