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.