Sunday, 3 August 2014

Leonard Stanley, Gloucestershire

St Swithin's church is huge and grand and impressive. There was a priory at Leonard Stanley and it's clear the church was part of it, you can almost imagine the monks. The church has got a huge central tower - something B and I are starting to recognise as an sign of ancientness. There was a lot of really interesting carving, including a couple of very detailed corbels. One of them showed Jesus having his feet washed by Mary Magdelen and her long hair. It was impossible to see properly because it was so high up, so it was impossible to draw and impossible to take a photo of. Which was a shame. You can get some idea from Eric Hardy's photo on Flickr.

Mr Hardy also has a good photo of the reclining figure on another high-up corbel. I don't know who the figure might represent but he looks pretty relaxed. John Harding seems to think that it's to do with the Nativity, because he thinks the Baby Jesus is on the side, looked over by a cow. But why would such an important part of the story relegated to the side of the pillar? I'm not convinced. Isn't that a hand on the pillar - is it a humanoid cow in a robe?? And if that is the infant Jesus, why is half the scene apparently missing? Does this mean it's all been moved or rebuilt round? It all seems quite weird. The Leonard Stanley website thinks it's fine, and the reclining figure is Mary. But that strikes me as quite peculiar, as such a scene seems unusually personal. And as I recall, Mary had to squeeze out Jesus in a stable, not somewhere with a posh bed. I'm such a cynic. But sometimes it pays not to believe everything you read.

I was most taken with the two animals in a carving more at eye height. It's said to be 'Adam and Eve as grotesques'. Again it's a bit of a strange concept. Why would you carve the first man and woman as weird animals? Admittedly there's some kind of fruit-swapping moment going on. In a tree, possibly. But animals eat and share fruit all the time. It doesn't mean they're doing it in some kind of metaphorical or allegorical fashion. So I'm not sure I go for the explanation. But I love the carving whatever it means or meant. Martin Davis has a clear photo on his 'Freeranger' blog.

strange Romanesque sculpture of Adam and Eve? in Leonard Stanley, Gloucestershire

What was truly rather curious and disappointing was that an amazing carved font was outside the front door, being used as a plant pot. It had a massive crack in it. It surely must be Norman. I mean it's a font that's about 800 years old! So bizarre to leave it outside, so casual, so dismissive of what it actually is. Colin Baxter has a rather charmingly tinted snap of it from 2010. You'll notice the cable design round the top, and the palmette leaves. I'm sure they both indicate its age. I think it's a shame the current churchgoers don't decide to take care of it and move it out of the snow and rain.

It was also surprising to me that there was zero information about the church in the church. It's clearly well used by the congregation, it seemed to have a happy lively atmosphere and was colourfully decorated. But don't 21st century Christians care much about the heritage of their churches, and communicating that to others? Surely they should. There was a booklet about the history of the war memorial (weirdly) but nothing about the amazing Norman carvings.

In addition to the amazing column capitals and the font there were bold and simple carved capitals (which anywhere else would have really drawn the eye), and outside the main door, two dragon heads kept watch. B and I instantly recognised the style as the same as the ones we'd seen and drawn at Elkstone. They were surely done by the same people, or closely copied. We wondered if there was a workshop somewhere churning out carvings which people could choose from! And it was interesting to see these familiar faces, after having seen the matching quadruplet animal corbels at Moreton Valence.

Norman dragon carving at Leonard Stanley

John Harding also has a photo of the scene high up over the door with the dragons - it seems to be a carving of three figures sitting and holding something between them, which is said to be a scroll, though that's not very obvious. His photo shows that there are two tiny animal heads as well - we certainly couldn't see this from where we stood. I think he must have had a ladder or a camera on a stick!

Images © Rhiannon 2014

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