Corbels, corbel tables and label stops

 

Wells lizard

Every profession and specialism has its own jargon.  It makes life a lot easier than referring to the ‘thingy’ or having to keep pointing and saying “that one over there.”  Communication becomes precise and efficient.  While an assortment of words (largely nouns if we’re going to be accurate)  may be helpful for people in the know, for those of us who are just getting to grips with these things, jargon can also be plain confusing – not to mention intimidating.

The other problem with jargon is that you may think that you know something but then a new word comes along to sling the proverbial spanner in the works.  Such was the case for this blog.  Half an hour ago I knew what a corbel was; ten minutes after that I read a guide on a local church website and discovered a new word which threw my poor brain cell  (yes  one – the other one seems to have gone on holiday) into confusion.

A corbel to quote Scotland’s Churches Trust is “a stone which projects from a wall-face, to support a floor or roof, or some other structure. A row of corbels, with spaces in between, at a wallhead, is known as a corbel table. A continuous row of such projecting stones is known as corballing.”  http://www.scotlandschurchestrust.org.uk/maintain-your-church/glossary/?term=73

Corbels can be seen both inside and outside buildings from parish churches to royal castles.  A corbel isn’t always decorated – sometimes it just looks like a neatly cut lump of stone holding something else up.  So far so good.   A  corbel is different from a gargoyle in that a corbel is just one end of a load bearing lump of masonry whereas a gargoyle is a waterspout jettisoning water from the roof after it rains.

Now for the new terminology that had me confused. A label stop, again to quote the excellent Scotland Churches Trust is “the name given to the lower end of a drip mould. Usually a short horizontal section of the same form as the drip mould, but sometimes a carving of a human head, a grotesque animal, or a bunch of leaves.” http://www.scotlandschurchestrust.org.uk/maintain-your-church/glossary/?letter=l

So why was I confused?  I began writing this blog thinking that the delightful little salamander munching his way through a selection of fruit just off the north transept of Wells Cathedral was a corbel – then I did my research for this blog using the Internet to see if I could find out any thing else about him. I landed on the aforementioned local church website.  The words corbel and label stop occurred in close proximity to one another without clarifying the difference between them.  The result was that my brain cell had a minor panic.  Was the lizard a corbel or a label stop?

Further research ensued.  I then found the Scotland’s Churches Trust website with its lovely clear glossary of architectural terms – the brain cell heaved a huge sigh of relief and added another term to the long list of useless information stored in the dim recesses of my skull.

To summarise my convoluted meanderings – the Wells lizard sits at the end of a shaft that shoots off to form an arch – so he is load bearing.  This means that  he is very definitely a corbel.  Look at it and pause to wonder at the engineering capacity of medieval builders as well as their creative genius.  Photographically he is delightful to behold and required me to stand only on tip toes with my arms extended (who’d have thought that a visit to a cathedral could also be an aerobic work out?)

A  label stop, on the other hand, is a dinky piece of sculpture (no that’s not a technical term)  found at the end of a length of decorative moulding so not holding up anything but pretty to look at- but still pause and marvel at the skill it took to create something so very small in so much detail.

If you’d like to browse a glossary of church related architectural terms double-click on the picture to open up the Scotland’s Church Trust glossary.

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Filed under Cathedrals, Churches and Chapels, Uncategorized

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