Monday, 22 December 2014

Monkton Farleigh, Wiltshire

The capitals either side of the door at Monkton Farleigh are Norman. The left one has quite flat trumpet scallops (or that's how they look to me), with some overlapping upside-down arches along the top. The right has a creature's face on top of the column. It might be my current obsession with the curious phenomenon of Anomalous Big Cats, but I wonder if it has a feline look. Maybe it's only the little diamond in the centre that reminds me of a cat's tongue. It may well be a tongue - we've seen lots of faces sticking their tongues out. But it certainly doesn't have cat's teeth, they're square and not half as toothy as the ones at Twerton. No, it's probably not a cat at all. It's got lovely repetitive arches over the eyes. And it's quite strange but I do like it. It has an ancient air, an ancient expression. There's an old photo of the whole doorway at Bath In Time.

Images © Rhiannon 2014

More thoughts on fonts and on visiting them.

I've been reading 'Mawming and Mooning' by Bob Trubshaw, which is free to download from the  Heart of Albion website. He bemoans 'explanationism' of medieval church carvings - simplistic explanations. But here's one he liked:
Where the heads are in the 'four corners' [of a font] (if a round bowl can be thought to have 'corners'), as at Greetham, then for once we do have a fairly reliable idea of what they were intended to denote. They were the four rivers of Paradise. On the face of things this seems as arbitrary as the four humours or the four cardinal directions. But the rite of purification for the water to be used for baptism is based on Genesis 2:10 which refers to the four rivers of Paradise (viz. Phison, Gehon, Tigris and Euphrates). More specifically, it refers to the sources of these rivers - their headwaters. And, in the Vulgate Latin of twelfth century bibles, the word for the headwaters of a river is capita. Think of the modern word 'decapitated', from the Latin caput and the word-play (or perhaps simple misunderstanding) becomes obvious.
This reminded me of the square font at Steeple Langford, with the two faces at its corners (and probably space for two more now destroyed).

Steeple Langford's amazing Norman font

But to be honest, we've seen a lot of fonts now. And I can't think of another example at all. If faces were regularly in the corners, the theory would seem like more of a goer. It does make some sense. But to be honest, how many carvers spoke Latin and would have got the joke? I can't see the priests commissioning the work making an explanation of it. Now I've thought it through I'm not convinced at all.

It's strange, on one hand you've got the 'everything's craftily pagan' explanationism of some writers, and then the very straight-laced Record It Like This attitude of the Corpus of Romanesque sculpture. Mr Trubshaw does take a very broad view. And where do I sit? I think it just makes me want to continue in my own vein, discovering the sculptures through drawing them. I can't compete with Mr Trubshaw or the Corpus researchers.

It makes me happy just to visit these sculptures, I don't need to explain them and I'm not sure it'll ever be possible to make definitive statements on them without time travel. With work and coursework there's been a dismaying lack of visits since the end of September - until Monkton Farleigh. But I truly hope to get out and about in the Spring. The arrival of midwinter and a break from work have given me hope.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Avebury, Wiltshire

If I thought the other two fonts today were complicated, they had nothing on the one at Avebury. This one has some order in its geometric arches at the bottom. But the rest is crowded organic foliage, animals and a human figure. There was too much to draw in situ so I took some photos, which I'll have to work further from at a later date.

Images © Rhiannon 2014

Winterbourne Monkton, Wiltshire

The font at Winterbourne Monkton has been on the fringes of my awareness for a long time because of its mysterious figure and proximity to the stone circle at Avebury. It was a lot bigger and chunkier than I was expecting. The carving is very detailed but forthright.

Drawing of the Norman font at Winterbourne Monkton, Wiltshire

A friendly woman who was arranging things for the Sunday service told me the church had been a 'slipper church', meaning that pilgrims took their shoes off there and continued the rest of the way barefoot. I'm not sure where, she said Santiago de Compostela but I think that was probably a bit optimistic. You'd think maybe Glastonbury, as that's a bit nearer (and the 'Monkton' of Winterbourne Monkton does refer to it being owned by Glastonbury Abbey). All the same I hope the pilgrims took their shoes with them (ew). 

Here's the figure. Some people have wanted to imbue it with Sheela-na-gig style symbolism. But there's nothing to really say if it's even male or female.

The head is almost horned at the top, and it's certainly a funny shape. It's hollowed out and there's no trace of those big eyes you get on Norman sculpture. The arm on the left has got a few extra bends in it compared to mine. And that makes me think it could even be serpenty (with devillish connotations) or maybe foliage. Or maybe the carver just got a bit confused, but wanted it to link up with the big zigzaggy chevrons. Who knows. The hand on the right looks curled round at the wrist.

The legs and feet are more delicately done. I think you can even see toes on one. They both fit nicely into the dips formed by the top of the 'trumpets'. Around the rest of the font those dips house a little foliate design. And that's why I'd say whatever's between the legs is probably similar foliage, rather than being anything indicating the figure's gender.

As the churchgoer pointed out, you can see traces of a lot of paint on the font. And you can see that the carvings were rather hacked about when the paint was removed. It must have looked a bit crazy when it was brightly coloured. But I think I prefer the more minimalist look - the lovely geometric carving doesn't need any extra fuss for me. I wonder when the colour was put on though, was it original?

Here's a nicely contrasty picture of the trumpety motifs and the nailhead between them. And a triple chevron band. Mmmm.

One more thing about the location: I drove into the village over a bridge crossing a wide dry ditch. Dry at this time of the year anyway - I realised it must be the path of the eponymous stream, a tributary of the Kennet which only runs in the winter. There is an interesting blog with photos called Canoeing and Kayaking on the River Kennet.

Images © Rhiannon 2014

Yatesbury, Wiltshire

This drawing probably suffers from the curse of the font base, curse of the font foliage band, curse of the font generally. It looks quite simple when you first see it. But it turned out to be a bit of a challenge. I'm not displeased with it though. It's not a design like any others I've seen so far. The shield-like leaves have long stems tucking under the bowl in a very 3-D way. It was also interesting to note the lock on top. Can't have people getting at that holy water.

In English Church Furniture by JC Cox and A Harvey (1908), it says:

Fonts were ordered to have covers and to be kept locked for the double purpose of cleanliness and for checking the use of the water for superstitious purposes. The Bishop of Exeter, in 1287, ordered that each parish church was to be furnished with a baptisterium lapideum bene seratum [a stone baptistry well locked]. Archbishop Winchelsea, in his visitation of 1305, inquired whether there was a fontem cum serura [a font/spring with a lock]. A provincial English synod, held in 1236, provided that the water was to be changed every seven days. The rubric of the first English Prayer-book provided for the change being made once every month; the Scottish book, of 1604, ordered the fortnightly renewal of the water; but by the present rubric there is to be a fresh supply at every baptism.

I feel a bit sorry that there's never any water in the fonts we've visited, after all it is the reason they were created. But maybe having a reservoir of water isn't important to the Church of England. I don't think they go in for all that Holy Water business. You pop the water in, you baptise a few children, you take the water out again. It's not the water so much as the ritual. Next time you need a little bottle of holy water to fend off a vampire, remind yourself that vampires don't exist either.

Images © Rhiannon 2014

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Chitterne, Wiltshire

The church at Chitterne is chequered in flint like the one at nearby Tilshead. But (as the friendly woman tending to the flowers explained), it's newer and was built to replace two other churches. I suppose that was some interfering Victorian's idea. The Chitterne website reports "the old church had little architectural merit" but I wonder if that's straight from the lips of the perpetrator. Although it's impressive in its size, the new church has got that kind of sterile emptiness that you don't get in the older, smaller buildings that have layers and layers of history. This document by Julianna Grant explains some more.

The font is genuinely old though and was apparently brought from St Mary's. It's quite plain, with a pattern of thick circular discs and small domes or triangles between. It reminded me a little of the one at Ansty.

Images copyright Rhiannon 2014.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Tilshead, Wiltshire

Mmmm, the Tilshead font at St Thomas a Becket church. It was enjoyable to draw and the building had a nice atmosphere. It's one of those churches with a central tower, so there is a square room between the main body of the church and the chancel. This makes the two areas seem remote from each other, and gives it an ancient air. Outside, the walls have the flint chequerboard pattern that seems common in this area.

The font is very pleasing to look at. The carved designs are bold and the overall proportions are really chunky and squat. In fact in retrospect it has something of the air of a massive tyre. That's not supposed to sound denigrating, as it definitely sits in the top league of geometric fonts we've seen.

And it's certainly not as disrespectful as what may have happened to it in the past. On the Tilshead Village website it says that during the renovations of the church in the 1840s, the font acted as a bird bath in the vicar's garden?! This seems very bizarre, as it doesn't seem like a way a christian should treat something used to baptise Tilsheadians in since time immemorial. So who knows, I hope it's not true. And whatever, it's back where it should be.

Mr Pevsner was a busy man and I know he had far too much to cover to spend masses of time on fonts. But sometimes I do think he gives these lovely things short shrift in his guides. Of Tilshead font he says 'Circular, Norman, fluted, with bands with diagonal incisions above and below.' It's descriptive but it misses the directness, the boldness, and the solidity and age that makes me love it. I know the Wiltshire county guide isn't a Book Of Fonts though. Perhaps that's what I should write :)

The Tilshead font isn't really very like them at all, but the chunky proportions and chevronage reminded me of the Folkton Drums which are also very lovely things, but so, so much older. The font is probably 12th century, so maybe 850 years old. But the Folkton Drums are 4000 years+, which is hard to comprehend. The sculptors from the Neolithic, the carvers from the 12th century, and me - perhaps we all share some aesthetic sensibilities. It's a curious thought.

Images copyright Rhiannon 2014.

Coulston, Wiltshire

We couldn't get into the church at Coulston, which was a shame, and there was no information about where to get a key. But perhaps it didn't matter because most of Mr P's promised interestingness was outside.

In the south side of the building is a Norman doorway with a lovely golden round arch. On each side is a capital with little volutes (a bit eroded). But curiously, although there are these capitals, there aren't any columns underneath them. And it doesn't even look as though there were any - that is, there's no mark on the stone to suggest they've been whipped away. But I suppose there must have been once.

The poor arch looks rather neglected since someone's seen fit to pile up a load of plastic chairs underneath it. It looked strangely surreal, so I didn't feel as outraged as I might. But to most people it would surely look a bit rubbish. I don't really understand, because I don't find anything very interesting about all these brash Victorian rebuildings of churches. And so if you've got something left of the interesting past, of the beginnings of your church, why wouldn't you look after it? Maybe the congregation would say that there's more to their church than the building, in fact that the building's probably the least important bit. I dunno. It was a bit disappointing to see, anyway.

Chairs piled up outside the poor neglected Norman arch at Coulston, Wiltshire

But another truly interesting thing outside was the spring coming out of the hillside facing the archway. As we stepped gingerly across the marshy ground towards it, we were watched closely by many eyes. The spring is inside a deer park and a couple of stags and many female deer lined up on the ridge above us. We seemed very interesting to them for some reason.

A spring next to a watercress bed, next to the church at Coulston, Wiltshire

The water runs into a pool where there was a lot of watercress. Then we could hear it heading under the path past the church. The area had a special and rather strange air. It was hard not to think of elfish pagan things and whether or not the site for the church had been chosen in relation to this water.

(An interesting though morbid little snippet, is that the murdered child in the Victorian 'Rode House' case (recently retold in 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher'), is buried in this churchyard. The family previously lived at Baynton House nearby, and the father's first wife is also buried here).

Images copyright Rhiannon 2014.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Bromyard, Herefordshire

En route elsewhere, B and I stopped in Bromyard to check out the Romanesque carving at St Peter's church. I'd been super-organised beforehand and looked at the church's website - it said encouragingly that it was usually open all day. But it's so rare that we actually bump into anybody that we were a bit taken aback to find the car park full and the sound of jolly Christian singing in the air.

I'd missed the page that said the churchgoers were becoming a Missional Community. Which is lovely for them of course. And (quite seriously) I am very glad that someone's looking after this amazing building. And even (despite my cynicism) probably, that they're using it for its original purpose. I guess. If I sound mean it's only because the mindset of a Missional Community could not be further from my own. It's not that I disagree with the idea of local community, or being charitable, moral, kind, decent and helpful to others, not killing people, refraining from coveting your neighbour's ass or any of those other sensible Christian tenets. It's the other bits about believing in Jesus as the Son of God and a virgin, who died for your sins in a horrible way on a cross, the bits about angels and devils and Noah's ark and the bible being the inspired and direct word of God, oh and the resurrection. No amount of missional communitying is going to get me to go for any of that.

Here's St Peter and his keys. You can see a photo by Matthew Wells on Flickr.

So we wandered around the outside of the building admiring the lovely carvings, which in some way seemed even nicer for their slightly softened eroded look. At the front door another wandering touristy pair walked past us and into the church. We could hear them being offered alcoholic drinks. It struck me as a bit odd. I suppose Jesus liked a drink, after all he did turn water into wine. But it smacked of a bribe. Or maybe 'what do heathens like drinking? I know, booze. That'll lure them in.' Or a way to relax the unwary so they could be talked to persuasively. I dunno, it was just a bit odd.

We sooo wanted to see the font, it looks smashing. You can see the lovely carvings on the CRSBI website (one side is swirly, the other side an alleged tree of life).

But I felt a bit like a vampire unable to cross the threshold. The Pimms-clutching pair emerged from the church almost immediately, looking vaguely bemused. We decided not to go in.

Images copyright Rhiannon 2014.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The phenomenological experiential vibe business (or otherwise)

We've been to so many places now - about 70 so far, which definitely falls into the Obsession category, I admit it. But going to so many, one can't help but start reflecting on different Vibes one picks up at them.

Of course, the whole subject is quite hard to disentangle, if it's possible at all. Are 'vibes' just subjective things entirely? Or are there material things you can point to that would trigger similar sensations in any domesticated primate? Or are any feelings you get from an inanimate building All In The Mind?

I've been educated in the way of the scientific method and rationality is a nice firm ground to be standing on. But science can't explain everything easily (or to be optimistic, just yet). And this isn't a science blog, it's art. You can't really go explaining art with science very easily, nor even the other way round, despite efforts. But a multidisciplinary approach to the world has always appealed to me. Perhaps it's also good to take a Fortean approach and not be too dogmatic. For example, Lavoisier (the 18th century 'Father of Chemistry') said that stones could not fall from the sky, because there were no stones in the sky. But now we've stopped dismissing stories of stones falling from the sky because science officially knows about meteorites. The fortean approach can also be about abstracting yourself from the actual stories and seeing what the telling of them might mean too (what can we say about the types of things R + B report experiencing?)

Which kind of brings me full circle without having concluded anything, really. But the Experience of being at these different places is intrinsic to our visits. Mostly we focus on the drawing. Maybe focusing on the drawing sometimes has the effect of deliberately putting the vibes into the background!

Donhead St Mary was one of our recent destinations, and somewhere I felt had a really nice atmosphere. Now why (taking the Rational Approach) might this have been? The village was certainly extraordinarily quaint. It was a reasonably warm day. It felt nice to drive up the ridge and find the church at the top - between trees and housetops we had a good view over the landscape. As we got to the gate we heard a strange apocalyptic roar getting louder and louder, but it turned out to be the good old Red Arrows flying past, a jolly sight. We'd just eaten a bun or some crisps (or some other healthy snack) and our blood sugars were a good level.

Inside, the building was airy and open-feeling, it had a high ceiling and was light. At least, this is the way I recall it to be - this is another issue to consider, memory. It was easy to see pretty much all parts of the interior at once (no dark spooky corners). "As I recall" there weren't loads of over-embellished, grimy looking monuments stuck to the walls (I really don't like them). The font took pride of place in the aisle. And there wasn't (to my recollection) any kind of disgusting smell. While we were sitting drawing, we could hear the ticking of the clock in the tower. It ticked with a very nice, slightly irregular noise, and I found it quite calming. A couple of times we heard rustling at the door but that was some dry leaves outside, and only disconcerted me a little because I can't really be bothered for conversation with strangers (even if it's their church, hoho). I recall the visit fondly.

On the other hand, there are memories of That Place (Britford), which I don't particularly like thinking about and B positively refuses to discuss. I've asked her, do you think we've exaggerated it since the experience? Was it really as bad as I remember it? But she says Yes It Was. I do wonder if it's hard to say - what can I really remember reliably about it? I remember passing a baby's grave with a photo - I thought it was pretty tasteless to have a photo to be honest (though fair enough if that's what the poor parents want to do). Horrible but not spooky at all. So we were still fine when we went in, but it was rather dark, and I think that unsettled me. It seemed to be a big church, the nave was all open and high, but you couldn't see anything of the transepts and the chancel was obscured by a big wooden screen. So I think the lack of visibility was unsettling. But surely we've been in other such buildings? So I remember we went scurrying round looking for the light switches. But we couldn't find them anywhere. I looked behind the curtains over the door - and I remember feeling freaked out looking, like I'd find what? that's a bit daft. And then I went up to the north transept to look, and it was dark and just a bit grotty, it didn't feel used or welcoming. Meanwhile B was getting freaked out by the rows of high pews in the south transept full of pots of some sort (I mean what was all that about).

Miss Steel's photo of Britford church from Geograph. That's quite close enough thank you.

There was a foul smell. And it was really strong because we could smell it for bloody ages after we'd left - or at least we could imagine it in our noses, which amounts to the same thing psychologically. I deliberately went to smell a big flower display that was in front of the chancel, because I wanted to make sure whether the smell was coming from the flowers or not. They didn't smell nice, but they didn't seem to be the source of it. And what sort of smell, can I now remember? I think it had a sort of musty yeasty spicey smell - yes, you will say, just the sort of thing churches smell like. But look, we've been in a lot of them, and we know, they generally do not smell like that. So it's age and decay and incense and furniture polish and dead people. But those things are in every church, surely, and we don't usually get freaked out by them.

And we knew we just couldn't have sat there and drawn the Saxon carvings, it would have been impossible to concentrate. Even the massive intricately-decorated font cover (inexplicably on the floor by the carvings) makes me feel a bit weird in retrospect. What is this, a reaction to over-fiddly decoration?! We stayed long enough to take the photos but I know we were hurrying deliberately. And I know we couldn't have exactly run out the door because I remember looking at the guest book and noting how marvellous everyone else thought it was. So I don't want to turn this account into the Amityville Horror with us running screaming. But it's true that we were in a hurry to get out of there.

It's interesting that smell is central to this story. We live in a very visual culture and do not credit smell with very much. But it's wired into a primitive part of our brains, and it's very much connected with memory and strong reactions. My sister made the very salient point that it's about Instinct, and that when you get obvious signals telling you that Something's Wrong, you should listen to that inner voice and get out of there.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Ebbesbourne Wake, Wiltshire

Images copyright Rhiannon 2014

Donhead St. Mary, Wiltshire

Images copyright Rhiannon 2014.

Ansty, Wiltshire

Return of the curse of the font base:

There's no place to hide in Ansty's church (it's very small and simple) and there's no place to hide for the alleged artist when drawing Ansty's font. It's very small and simple. It's got a row of lightbulb-like shapes dropping from the rim. It's probably the simplest decoration we've seen.

The base though, well my excuse is that it was partly hidden behind a vase of flowers. Which I couldn't be bothered to move. But making up the angles is what my brain likes to do. And what it thinks, is not really what the eye sees. I remember being at school with my arty friend Anna and for some reason we were drawing a cube. I drew it graph paper style. I can remember her trying to explain it wasn't right. I don't think I really understood. I wasn't really seeing and I don't think school art lessons pointed out how to? She also tried to tell me that the slates on a roof passed by the school bus weren't grey, but a subtle sort of purple. It took many years before I understood the truth of that one too. She was a natural artist. I like to think I've worked on it and have got my eye in a bit now. But for some reason font bases persist in eluding me. More Fonts Must Be Visited.

Ansty was ludicrously quaint. There's an interesting thing about it at the Wiltshire Online Parish Clerks website. The Knights Hospitallers had a 'Commandery' at Ansty, and they built the church. They had a hospice too where pilgrims could stop off on their way to Shaftesbury Abbey and elsewhere. There's also a manor house which was built at the same time. All these buildings, and the church, are grouped around a big and aesthetically pleasing fish pond. So they could have fish for tea, even if they couldn't have chips because potatoes hadn't been invented yet. The document on the link says this group is 'the finest example of a Commandery of the Order of St John that has survived in England'. So that's pretty cool. But you'd be impressed too if you visited, especially on a sunny day with the light glinting off the water. Chris Parker has a lovely photo on Flickr.

Images copyright Rhiannon 2014.

Compton Abbas, Dorset

Images copyright Rhiannon 2014.

Fontmell Magna, Dorset

images copyright Rhiannon 2014

Monday, 25 August 2014

Castle Eaton, Wiltshire

Images © Rhiannon 2014

Highworth, Wiltshire

Inside St Michael's, in the centre of Highworth, we found another of one of our favourite quarries, the Tympanum With Animal. Unfortunately this animal is being rather mistreated. It's said to be a picture of Samson and the Lion. This may well be the case. He's straddling it and has a hand round each jaw (a brave thing to be doing with a lion). The lion has the characteristic 'tail through leg' pose that's so familiar from many other places.

I had a look at the bit in the bible that talks about Samson and the lion (being a heathen, it wasn't familiar). "..behold, a young lion roared against him. And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done."

It's a bit mean isn't it. He gets surprised by a lion and rips it apart with nothing but his bare hands? And is too ashamed to tell his parents? That's the implication. Along with the fact that GOD had some hand in it. God involved in needless animal cruelty. Then it turns out the lion is just some weird plot device for an riddle (as part of a story containing a whole lot more violence). Next time he's passing, he notices that bees have made a nest in the lion's innards. So he uses this wholly unlikely situation to say "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness". 

I can't be bothered to go into the biblical story (he gets cross and jealous and kills loads of people). Let us focus on the pleasant association, namely that the phrase is used on the front of Lyle's Golden Syrup tins. 

Image from Wikipedia

It's still utterly freaky though. And I doubt bees have ever nested in a lion. And golden syrup isn't made by bees by the way.

Back to the tympanum, you can see a picture on Britain Express. Where you will notice that somebody with no aesthetic sensibilities decided to carve a long explanation under the stone. If ever there were a moment to ask 'why oh why'... what a strange decision. As though their explanation was as interesting to look at, and as though it might matter in a thousand years. It's quite odd.

Images © Rhiannon 2014

Inglesham, Wiltshire

The church at Inglesham was such an amazing surprise. Walking inside was like time travel. If I did more research into where we're going I suppose I'd have known in advance. But actually, I think I prefer the gobsmacking moment of blundering in to find something like this. You can see more photos on the Medieval Church Art blog.

The Victorians really did a proper job on so many churches, ie they whitewashed everything, ripped out the box pews, rebuilt things, made everything sterile and neat. And I'm sure sometimes if they hadn't done this, true, the whole place would have fallen down. But maybe there was another way, and maybe this church illustrates it.

The Churches Conservation Trust looks after it now, but in the 19th century it had William Morris to keep an eye on it.

Our original object was to visit the Saxon carving there. Here's MARIA (she's labelled above) and the baby Jesus on her knee. Except he looks far too grown up to be on her knee. And he also looks a bit like a lion to me (or at least, he turned out that way in my drawing). And there in the right hand corner is God's hand pointing down. I'm sure it's rude to point. I can't remember why. But there's God doing it.

Mr P didn't look closely enough at it because he wrote that Jesus's legs were 'pulled up high'. But they're not particularly. It's more that he's balancing something on his knee, which you'd imagine would be a bible. (Or at least the Old Testament. I mean they hadn't written the New Testament when Jesus was sitting on his mother's knee. I mean that would be ridiculous eh.)

Also there's definitely a hole and scratches round it like a sundial, so the carving must have been outside at some point. But now it's safe in a wall inside. You can see a photo (to assess Jesus's leonine features for yourself), again, on the Medieval Church Art blog.

Finding the church has added niceness because it is down a quiet dead-end road, and it's very close to where two tributaries of the Thames meet (the latter always seems special to my Celtic turn of mind). It would have been busier here in medieval times, but most of the village has since disappeared.

Images © Rhiannon 2014

Langford, Oxfordshire

There are a lot of churches with amazing stuff in this area, and the wandering artist has such a wealth of choice. However, it being bank holiday, the weather here was firmly against us. And this was a shame at Langford, because all the choicest sculpture is outside. Now a truly committed wanderer should have one of these, a WeatherWriter (TM). Ohh yess it's at the top of my christmas list. But even with one of those it'd have been no fun drawing with water dripping down our faces. So we dove into the large church and hoped the rain would go away (it didn't).

Over the porch doorway there's a Saxon carving of poor old Jesus on the cross. That would be bad enough, but the chap's got to suffer the indignity of having been put back together wrong. The carving has obviously been moved at some point by some cowboy builders who weren't paying attention. That or they thought it'd be a laugh.

We stood there in the rain trying to get our hands into the position that Jesus has got his - it's not possible to transpose your thumbs to the other side of your hand though. So his arms are definitely on the wrong sides of his body.
And to add insult to injury, the two figures accompanying him are looking away from him. The one on the right looks like they're whistling and pretending they're somewhere else. The church guide says they are Mary and St John. But neither of them look particularly female? Mary and John do accompany Jesus in various depictions of the crucifixion though.

With the power of photoshop at hand, how could I leave my photo of this travesty unfiddled with? So here we have it - I unveil to you - the original arrangement of this carved scene. Okay so it's not a brilliant effort as all the shadows are too much bother. But you get the general idea.

The church guide makes the interesting point that in this depiction, Jesus has got a bare chest. This makes the carving later (c. 1020-1040) than the stupendous one that is round the corner. The huge 'rood' of the Headless Jesus shows him wearing a neat robe. This is thought to date it to 700-800AD. Which is like madly ancient. In fact it's got to be amongst the oldest things we've seen.

The fact that he's missing his head only adds to the peculiarness of coming across this huge sculpture.

Kencot, Oxfordshire

This is the excellent Norman tympanum over the doorway at St George's in Kencot. You don't expect to come across an astrological symbol on a church. I don't really understand what it's doing there. But then so many of the symbols seem quite obscure. I like Arthur Collins' 1914 Symbolism of animals and birds represented in English church architecture. But even he doesn't make any particularly convincing suggestion. He does say that Virgil had centaurs at the gates of hell. But to be honest they were probably on the side of the baddies, not there to put arrows down the devil's mouth, as the carving below suggests. And an archer is mentioned in Revelation 6:1-2. But he was sitting on a white horse, rather that being half man half horse. So I still have no idea. But I like the carving anyway and I liked the style of the lettering (and we haven't often seen writing at all).

I was quite pleased with this effort. In fact I sent it off with some others to be printed on postcards. I did notice 'Sagitarius' wasn't spelt right but I thought it was ok because that's How It Was. I'd stood there and copied the style of the writing really carefully.

Actually that's How It Wasn't. I just didn't notice there was another T between the centaur's head and the bow. My sister enjoyed pointing it out to me. This is a bit of a shame.

Images © Rhiannon 2014

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Gefail Gŵn - Dog Tongs

Again not Romanesque. But considering all the churches we've been in, it amused me to think of the dog tongs being applied. From Old Stone Crosses of the Vale of Clwyd by the Rev. Elias Owen (1886).

A curious instrument, indicative of a practice no longer followed, is still preserved in Llanynys Church, a Dog Tongs.

Formerly, farmers attending church were accompanied by their faithful dogs. Where large numbers of these animals met, although it was in church, their behaviour was not always strictly decorous, and often their snarling and growling culminated in an open fight. Such conduct in such a place was not to be tolerated, and so man's ingenuity invented an instrument for ejecting noisy, or quarrelsome and pugnacious dogs. 

[...] The parish clerk, or other official, was able to use the tongs without risk to his own person, and the dog, when firmly grasped around the neck, or leg, could not wriggle out of the embraces of the wooden arms that clasped him, and therefore, out of the church he was obliged to go.[...] Stretched out at their greatest length the tongs measure 52in.

[...] It can easily be imagined that the expulsion of a dog was neither noiselessly nor easily executed, and the numerous teeth-marks in this instrument bear witness to many a struggle that took place when an offending dog was being ignominiously dragged out of church. Dog tongs were formerly a necessary appendage in every church. Several of these have reached our days, and others have been lately lost, or carelessly destroyed.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Tytherton Lucas, Wiltshire

Norman carved font at Tytherton Lucas, Wiltshire

Another lovely Norman font, this time at St Nicholas's church at Tytherton Lucas. The church was locked with no information about a key, but to soothe me B had the ingenious idea of taking a photo through a window. She felt this was final proof (if proof were necessary) of escalating obsession.

The church looked old and interesting but the locals don't sound very friendly. Don't dream about walking up their drive to it, ooh no, you must clamber through the thistle-infested field adjacent, as instructed. Imagine how much money it must have cost to get this sign made:

Like, because otherwise visitors would be streaming like army ants up to the church?? Yeah whatever.

Images © Rhiannon 2014

Bremhill, Wiltshire

Norman font with scale design at Bremhill, Wiltshire

This font is illustrated in John Britton's 1838 'Dictionary of the Architecture and Archaeology of the Middle Ages':

I really liked it, and I enjoyed drawing it. The church had an ancient and pleasant atmosphere. On one side the semicircles were half-size for a short stretch. Perhaps someone thought later that they'd recut it - though that's rather a funny idea, why bother? I think they could be original because their cutting hasn't spoilt the stripey strip above. It looks organic as though they started but changed their minds. It's this sort of quirkiness that makes me love Norman fonts so much. It was great to spot on Great English Churches that there other people "who will travel some way to see a Norman font." We Are Not Alone.

Image © Rhiannon 2014

Littleton Drew, Wiltshire (the return)

Anglo Saxon carving at Littleton Drew, Wiltshire
 Images © Rhiannon 2014

Nettleton and Burton, Wiltshire

It took me a long time to find this church. Mr Pevsner lists it under 'Nettleton'. Believing I could find Nettleton without the map, I figured I could find the church. But on my third drive round the village, the truth dawned - actually, the church is some way away in Burton. Obviously.

But I'm glad I didn't give up, because the interior of the church (St Mary the Virgin) is really something special. You can see a photo on the Bath In Time website, where you can see the big arches and their columns. These feature some rather endearing faces. Everything leans at a strange angle and it gives the building a very ancient air. The floor is rather wonky too.

Even the font is a bit asymmetrical (in true Norman style). When I got my drawing home, I felt it had to be wrong, because I'd drawn such an overhang on the right hand side, with nothing similar on the left. So I attacked it with my pen, thinking it was bad draftsmanship. But looking later at a photo I'd taken - I think it really was that out of line. You can see what I mean here on the village website.

It was a shame to visit here without B as she would have enjoyed the trumpety scallops of the font a lot. I liked the solid zigzagginess of the top border too. I think it's somewhere I'd like to return. It had a pleasant solid atmosphere.

Interesting scale design on the Norman font at Burton (Nettleton), Wiltshire

 Images © Rhiannon 2014

Dyrham, South Gloucestershire

Norman font at Dyrham church, South Gloucestershire

The church at Dyrham is tucked up next to a big house run by the National Trust. But if you only want to see the church you can walk in along a path from the back without paying, and you don't have to feel guilty. The church seemed pretty modern - I mean modern by my standards :) A lot of it is 15th, 16th century. There were interesting tiles, a rather nice brass, and a fancy tomb. But the Romanesque obsessive has little extra time for these things. The Romanesque obsessive has to get into the drawing zone.

This font (with its later, rather sweet wooden bird lid) is pretty geometric. But that didn't make it easy to tackle, because it's an interesting combination of full curves and sharp edges. You can see a photo on Peter Walker's website.

 Images © Rhiannon 2014

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Rowberrow, Somerset


We tried to visit the carving at Rowberrow but the church was locked and with no contact details. 

This photo comes from a 1909 book about St Aldhelm, by the Rev. G F Browne.  

The shape of the head is very reminiscent of the Saxon carving at Frome. The interlacing is very complex! and a free-form style design that concentrates on wrapping the creature in its own tail (such as some of those at Ramsbury) rather than the strict logic of say Teffont Magna.