Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Codford St Peter, Wiltshire - wild speculations

When we visited Codford St Peter recently, I drew more than the font. The church is home to an amazing Anglo-Saxon carving. There's a series of photos on Rex Harris's Flickr site. The stone seems to depict a light-footed chap with a hammer(?) in one hand and a branch in the other.

In the church leaflet, there was mention of the designs on the stone. It's like the stone is only half of what it was, it's like a slab from the front of something. The sides are clearly only part of a design. I copied the design and have made a mirror image of it to make a speculative whole. I'm not that convinced I've got it right. But you can see some things reminiscent of the winding plant-like tendrils we've seen at places like Ramsbury.

I feel reasonably happy that these are winding floral designs. I mean you can't see any otters, can you. Or fish. Or eels. I think you'd need a good imagination. So we were surprised when we read that the stone allegedly depicts such things (this was in the information leaflet in the church).

I tracked down the source of these speculations. It's the 1967 (v52) edition of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society journal, in an article by K G Forbes. I'm sure Mr or Ms Forbes meant well but I think they got carried away. And I think it's a bit of a shame that they keep getting quoted in things. They said the main figure has 'a luxuriant moustache'. We looked very hard (you can too). There is no moustache. There really isn't. And I don't think there's an otter either.

I think when you draw something you look very hard and it helps you see what's there and what is not, even when the carvings are worn and indistinct. The plants look symbolic or stylised to me and I don't think it's possible to say they're specifically alders or comfrey, or that the fish (what fish) are actually dace. But never mind. I'm not trying to be awkward, or cast aspersions on Mr/Ms Forbes. I'm just trying to point out that you should try to think for yourself, and not believe everything you read. Making close observations, as when drawing, kind of gives you a boost in confidence that your own observations may be right.

Images © Rhiannon 2014

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rhiannon having an afternoon with Saxon carvings, came across this in my book. Leslie Webster in her Anglo-Saxon Art, says this stone cross shaft with the dancing male figure is in one hand grasping a bunch of grapes and in the other hand a flask, presumably wine. More excitingly, she ascribes both to around Alfred's reign. There is a similar silver strap end with man cutting grapes from Cranborne, Wilts depicted... Again an image of the faithful feeding on the vine that is Christ.