Category Archives: Churches and Chapels

On the borders with the White Rose

IMG_2643.jpgThe Neville faction personified by Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick a.k.a. The Kingmaker dominated the borders during the first reign of Edward IV from 1461.  He was appointed warden of both the east and west marches. Two years later Warwick’s brother John, Lord Montagu was made warden of the east march swiftly followed by the acquisition of the earldom of Northumberland.

It fell to Warwick to quell Lancastrian unrest in the north and it also fell to him to negotiate with the Scots. In 1464 the two nations arrived at a truce which upheld march law.  Scotland under James III had encouraged  Lancastrian unrest and supported Margaret of Anjou in her bid to retake the kingdom from the North but as it became apparent that the French weren’t breaking into a sweat to promote Henry VI’s cause James’ enthusiasm for antagonising his new neighbour dwindled.

Inevitably perhaps, Warwick’s relationship with Edward IV soured. In Europe at the start of the reign there had been a joke that there were two kings in England of whom one was Richard Neville but no one could remember the name of the other.  As Edward found his feet and his own trusted circle Warwick found himself being pushed out into the cold.  The pinch point came in 1464 whilst Warwick was in France negotiating for the hand of Bona of Savoy.  It must have been a tad embarrassing when it came out that Edward was already married to a beautiful if impecunious English widow with two sons.

In the North the growing tensions were reflected by a Lancastrian insurrection led by “Robin of Redesdale,” – a ember of the Conyers family and one of Warwick’s tenants.

To make matters worse in 1470, Edward who ruled the country through a means of grants and men  e.g. the Herbert family were his means of ruling Wales, now decided that the Percy family should be returned to their earldom.  The people of Northumbria had never taken kindly to  a Neville overlord.  Unfortunately John Neville did not take kindly to having the earldom of Northumberland removed fem his clutches even if he was compensated with lands and the title Marquis of Montagu.  It was almost inevitable that he would change sides.

In the west march Richard, Duke of Gloucester was assigned the title of warden just as his brother fled the country.

There followed a brief interlude between 1470 and 1471 when Henry VI was nominally in charge.  Fortunately for the English the Scots were busy with their own problems so didn’t take advantage of the game of musical thrones in which their English neighbours were indulging.

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To cut the long story  of 1471 short, the Earl of Warwick had a nasty accident at the Battle of Barnet, Lancastrian Prince Edward had an even nastier accident at the Battle of Tewkesbury, Margaret of Anjou was rounded up and eventually deported, Henry VI had a nasty accident in the Tower.  Richard of Gloucester, not yet twenty, having proved his martial capabilities at both the above battles resumed his role as warden of the west march. He arrived in Penrith that same year.  Tradition has it that he lived in The Gloucester Arms which still sports two boar above the doorway.

By 1474 the English and the Scots had reached a state of mutual appreciation that would have seen Prince James of Scotland being married off to Edward’s daughter Cecilia. Unfortunately  cross border theft appears to have continued as usual.  In 1475 according to Neville, James was complaining about the capture and plunder of two Scottish vessels, one of them his own personal property (Neville, 159). In 1480 usual service resumed and the English and the Scots made war upon one another, not least because although Cecilia’s dowry had been paid there was no sign of any nuptials.  There was also the small matter of the Scots being ensconced in Berwick – a consequence of the Lancaster V York conflict.

In 1482 an army was gathered.  Richard of Gloucester was appointed Lieutenant General and off they all went on a sight seeing trip through the Lowlands.  Berwick became English once again and just to add a little confusion to the scene James III’s brother the Duke of Albany declared himself to be King of Scotland and swore loyalty to Edward IV.  The English army was now committed to putting Albany on the throne meanwhile James III was troubled by bolshie nobles (nothing new there then) who rebelled against his lead and returned him to Edinburgh where he was kept a prisoner.

Richard and his party of touring soldiers joined the Edinburgh party in August.  The good burghers of Edinburgh swiftly searched their pockets and down the back of their sofas in order to repay Cecilia’s dowry and make the English go away – which they duly did leaving James in Edinburgh Castle with the lords who’d rebelled against him and Albany in charge of the town. At the risk of confusing affairs still further Albany then besieged his own brother. Leaving the Scots to their own devices Richard returned to England for the time being but Edward IV’s death in April 1483 brought the war to an end as Richard had other things on his mind after that.

Richard now needed someone else to fulfil the role of steward of Penrith Castle and warden of the west march.  He chose a man named John Huddleston. Huddleston looked to the Harrington family for patronage. The Harringtons  were one of two families who dominated Lancashire and Cheshire.  Their main contenders for this role were the  Stanley  family who took advantage of the death of Thomas Harrington’s death at the Battle of Wakefield fighting for Richard of York, and also that of his son leaving only two girls to inherit.  There was a messy court case, some fisticuffs and rather a lot of fudging by Edward IV and Richard of Gloucester who both recognised the loyalty of the Harrington family and the, er, how can I put this – oh yes- shiftiness of the Stanleys. However,   Edward IV  rather astutely recognised that he couldn’t do without the Stanleys.  Richard by selecting John Huddleston for the important role of warden signposted a downturn in Stanley fortunes and power – the rest as they say is history – as at Bosworth the Stanley family backed Henry Tudor. To read more about the Harringtons and Stanleys try this blog – Plantagenet Dynasty- here.

The images come from St Andrew’s Church Penrith.  They show close ups of the Neville Window which can be found in the south wall of the nave. The current window is a nineteenth century creation using fragments from an older window.  It shows Richard of York, Cecily Neville and the Earl of Warwick’s insignia of the bear and ragged staff.

 

Neville, Cynthia J (1998) Violence, Custom and Law. The Anglo-Scottish Border Lands in the Later Middle Ages. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

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Richard III and Great Malvern Priory

DSCF2426Richard donated funds for the west window of the nave. It was  largely destroyed  but some fragments are now in other windows scattered around the priory church most notably the arms of Richard. The boar supporters are noticeable.  The same window also depicts Edward IV’s arms as Earl of March. Anne Neville’s arms are in the first window of the north quire; the so-called Museum Window.  The coat of arms is a modern reproduction but the heads of the bear supporters of Warwick are original.

Clearly the leading families of the day vied with one another to contribute to the alterations in Great Malvern Priory.  One of the reasons that the Duke of Gloucester and his wife would have made a donation was that Richard at that time was the Lord of Malvern Chase.

The reason for this goes back to the Scottish Wars of Independence.  One Gilbert de Clare died without children.  This made his sisters Eleanor and Margaret heiresses.  Their mother, as a matter of interest, was Joan of Acre one of Edward I’s daughters.  Eleanor was married to Hugh Despenser the Younger when she was about thirteen. Eleanor’s grandfather (Edward I) died the following year and her uncle became king (Edward II).  This was not necessarily good news for a marriage made by politics rather than in Heaven as Hugh was Edward II’s favourite.  He’s the one that Edward II’s wife, Isabella, the so-called she-wolf had hanged, drawn and quartered when the opportunity arose after having him tattooed with all sorts of Biblical verses beforehand.  Warner’s book mentions that Eleanor’s relationship with uncle Edward was close.  So close, in fact, that contemporary chroniclers drew some decidedly dodgy conclusions about the king and his niece, as though there wasn’t already enough scandal surrounding Edward II.

The younger sister, Margaret, was married to Piers Gaveston – Edward II’s other favourite. Sometimes, you just couldn’t make it up.

Malvern Chase fell into the hands of the Despensers via Eleanor. The chase left the family when Isabel Despenser, three generations on, married Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick. Richard managed to get himself killed in foreign parts during the Hundred Years War and his son died without issue meaning that the whole lot passed to Richard’s daughter Ann who was married to Richard Neville a.k.a. The Kingmaker.

Bear with me, we’re nearly there.  Ann Beauchamp had right and title to the land after the death of her king making husband at the Battle of Barnet in 1471.  However, in order that the lands, titles and money should end up in the paws of his brothers, Edward IV had Anne declared legally dead.

So that was how Richard, Duke of Gloucester came to be lord of Malvern Chase.  He was married to Anne Neville and, of course, that’s not without a tale of its own. Richard’s brother George, Duke of Clarence was married to Isabel Neville, Anne’s older sister.  He wanted to keep Warwick’s wealth for himself so tried to prevent the marriage between Anne and Richard from happening.  Legend has Anne being disguised as a kitchen maid having been briefly married to Henry VI’s son Prince Edward but widowed at Tewkesbury and then placed in the custody of her sister and brother-in-law.  Who needs Game of Thrones when there’s this amount of intrigue happening?

What the west window, to get back to the priory,  does demonstrate is that Malvern was part of Anne’s portion rather than Isabel’s and that it was commissioned and created prior to 1483.

The original window depicted the Day of Judgement.  This has been largely lost.  In one account it is put down to a storm.  Wells suggests that the window also experienced vandalism. The glass in the current west window remains fifteenth century but it has been relocated from other sites within the priory.

An interesting feature of the window is that the lower panels are filled with stone, apart from two small windows or ‘squints’ designed to allow monks who were unable to attend services – through poor health or great age for example- to watch.

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Warner, Kathryn. (2016)  Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen Stroud:Amberley Publishing

Wells, Katherine. (2013) A Tour of the Stained Glass of Great Malvern Priory. The Friends of  Great Malvern Priory

 

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Great Malvern Priory

IMG_7747.JPGWhat a gem!  Great Malvern Priory was founded in 1085 by a hermit, Aldwin, from Worcester Abbey on land belonging to Westminster Abbey.  This means that during the life of Great Malvern’s monastic establishment it looked to  Benedictine Westminster for direction which is why it’s a priory rather than an abbey in its own right.

Aldwin was supported and guided by Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester who went on to become one of King John’s favourite saints. The priory also received its charter and funding from  William the Conqueror who gave charters to many monasteries – a reminder that the conquest of England had the Pope’s blessing and that William was conscious of the need to give thanks for his victory. Henry I and Edward III confirmed and renewed the charter. The priory wasn’t without its problems though.  The fact that it was on Westminster Abbey land but founded by a monk from Worcester and looked to the Worcester for guidance led to friction at various times in the priory’s history.

DSC_0102The pillars in the nave of today’s building are Norman and there are odd clues to the Norman past scattered about the building but the priory as it stands today dates largely from the fifteenth century.  The Bishop of Worcester was called upon to consecrate the new build in 1460 – just as the Wars of the Roses really got started (Battle of Wakefield December 30 1460).  However, the new build ensured that assorted Lancaster and York monarchs added their ‘bit’ to the decor from Henry VI’s tiles via Richard III’s stained glass windows to Henry VII. At least those monarchs wanted to enhance the building, finished in 1502.

In 1535 Dr Legh, one of Cromwell’s commissioners and a bit of a thug by all accounts,  visited the priory.  Things can’t have been that bad as there is no report of his findings amongst Cromwell’s documents.  According to the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535, the income of the prior and convent amounted to £375 0s. 6½ d. It escaped the act suppressing the small monasteries, although a cell belonging to the priory wasn’t so fortunate.

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In 1539 the monastery was dissolved despite the please of Hugh Latimer the Bishop of Worcester (he would ultimately go to the flames in the reign of Mary Tudor for his Protestantism). He wrote to Cromwell on behalf of the prior; ‘at the request of an honest man, the prior of GreatMalvern, of my diocese,’ pleads for the ‘upstandynge’ of his house, and continuance of the same to many good purposes, ‘not in monkery . . . but to maintain teaching, preaching, study with praying, and (to the which he is much given) good “howsekepynge,” for to the “vertu” of hospitality he hath been greatly inclined from his beginning, and is very much commended in these parts for the same . . . The man is old, a good “howsekepere,” feeds many, and that daily, for the country is poor and full of penury. Alas, my good lord, shall not we see two or three in each shire changed to such remedy? . . Sir William Kingston can report of the man further.’ The letter dated 13 December 1538 finishes with flattery: “Blessed be God of England that worketh all, whose instrument you be! I heard you say once after you had seen that furious invective of cardinal Pole that you would make him to eat his own heart, which you have now, [I trow], brought to pass, for he must [needs] now eat his own heart, and be[as] heartless as he is graceless.”  Latimer went on to offer Cromwell 200 marks and the king 500 if they would spare the priory.

Not that it did any good. By January 1539 the priory had been suppressed and the lead stripped from its roof.  The prior, one Richard Whitborn, received h £66 13s. 4d. each year.  Ultimately, in 1541, the parishioners of Great Malvern purchased the priory for £20.00 as the original parish church was in a poor state.  They acquired the “stateliest parish church in England.” The parish church of St Mary and St Michael is without a shadow of a doubt a show stopper.

 

A second post will consider Great Malvern’s medieval tiles whilst a third post will explore the wonderful medieval windows and also a fourth post on the glass given by Richard III and by Henry VII.  As you might guess, I spent a very happy morning in Great Malvern Priory although I wasn’t able to study the misericords (the ledges on which the monks could rest during services) because of work being done in the choir of the church.  Great Malvern is unusual in that as well as depicting a mermaid on its misericords it also has a merman.

For fans of C.S. Lewis it is also worth noting that he went to school in Malvern College just before World War One and whilst he was there he may have been inspired by the enclosed east doors of the priory church which ultimately turned into the wardrobe by which the Pevensies entered Narnia.  A glimpse through the lock reveals a fir tree and a lamp post.

‘Houses of Benedictine monks: Priory of Great Malvern’, in A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2, ed. J W Willis-Bund and William Page (London, 1971), pp. 136-143. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/worcs/vol2/pp136-143 [accessed 16 August 2016].

Cleop. E. iv.264. B. M.Wright’s Suppression of the Monasteries,148. ‘Henry VIII: December 1538 11-15’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 13 Part 2, August-December 1538, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1893), pp. 438-455. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol13/no2/pp438-455 [accessed 23 August 2016].

‘Parishes: Great Malvern with Newland’, in A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 4, ed. William Page and J W Willis-Bund (London, 1924), pp. 123-134. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/worcs/vol4/pp123-134 [accessed 16 August 2016].

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Jacobean Rood Screens – Wooden Wonders.

croscombestmaryThe parish church of St Mary in Croscombe Somerset is rather splendid. It is filled from floor to ceiling with Jacobean carving dating to 1616. The pews are still boxed. There are even two desks for the parish clerks as well as a pulpit complete with its canopy. Amongst St Mary’s pleasures is the scent of wax polish and the diversity of patterning that can be found on the pew doors (I feel a blackwork band sampler coming on.)  However, the furniture that dominates the church of St Mary is the rood screen.

 

A rood screen is the partition between chancel and nave.  There is often also a step at this point in the church.  Rood is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a cross.  In earlier times the rood screen was usually surmounted by a cross.

 

Rood screens were removed during the Reformation by order of KingIMG_4793 - Version 2 Edward VI in 1547. After all, they served to separate officiating clerics from the laity. During the reformation altars were replaced with communion tables and the rood screen was removed.  Some were returned into position during the reign of Queen Mary only to be removed once more during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  The Word of God became much more important than the Sacrament under protestant rulers.  The idea that the congregation and the act of worship should be separated from one another also became an alien idea along with the concept that a priest or monk was required to intercede on behalf of an individual.  These ideas  go some way to explaining the rather impressive pulpit in St Mary’s as well as the introduction of pews to listen to the lengthy sermons preached from the pulpit.

During the reign of King James I rood screens made a comeback – not to separate the congregation from all things Holy but to remind them that the monarch was in charge! Laud’s Book of Common Prayer also required communicants to have a separate space to the rest of the congregation.  This means that many churches replaced their rood screens.  As Jenkins observes the debate between factions regarding the importance of the Word and the Sacrament was ultimately a significant contributor to the English Civil War. In the meantime church interior designers may well have been hedging their bets – rood screens and pulpits to satisfy both contingents.

Leeds, St John contains a similarly ornate testament to the skills of Jacobean woodworkers. John Harrison, a local cloth merchant, built it in the mid 1630s just in time for the English Civil War. Leeds is very fortunate to have St John because it was due to be demolished during the 1860s. The churchwardens described the interior as ‘debased’ (Jenkins 924). Gothic architecture was the pinnacle of church architecture for the Victorians so no matter how fine the carvings the wooden paneling of the seventeenth century was bound to be met with some derision. Fortunately it was preserved – and the rood screen that had Leeds St Johnbeen taken out returned.

Both rood screens are fascinating because of the detail they contain from lions to monsters and grotesques to naked ladies and cornucopia. Then of course there are the royal coat of arms.  In Leeds the royal arms are on the left hand side of the screen while the right hand side sports the three feather crest of the Prince of Wales.

 

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Greystoke Church Stained-Glass

GreystokeThe parish church of St Andrews in Greystoke had seen some difficult times by the seventeenth century.  It was first built in stone in 1255.  Its key feature was a defensible tower where villagers could take shelter when the Scots came raiding.  It’s ironic that the name St Andrew is a reminder that in 1066 this part of Cumbria was in Scotland where it remained until the reign of William Rufus.  A wooden church may have stood upon the site when Ranulph de Meschines gave the land into the hands of Llyulph or Ligulph a local man.  The Barony of Greystoke was confirmed to his son by Henry I.

But back to St Andrews.  It prospered under the care of the Greystokes ultimately becoming a college for the training of priests during the fourteenth century.  It had chantries and could offer sanctuary to those who needed it.  That all changed with the Reformation when the furniture was stripped out and the priests sent away.

Worse was to follow during the English Civil War.  Cumberland, generally speaking, was Royalist by inclination.  By that time Greystoke Castle was in the hands of the Howard family – (the Dukes of Norfolk).

In 1648 the civil war arrived in Greystoke. The castle was besieged and captured – some might say knocked about a bit- by the Parliamentarians under General Lambert. It wasn’t rebuilt until the nineteenth century.

The inhabitants of Greystoke had clearly heard about the iconoclastic tendencies of the Parliamentarians and before the Roundheads arrived, so the story goes, they carefully removed all the medieval stained glass windows and buried them for safekeeping.

The glass was eventually recovered and restored in 1848 at the same time the whole church was rebuilt.  Unfortunately it could not be reset as it was meant to be.  Glass fragments had become lost and confused with the passage of time. This means that some of the images do not quite tell the stories they were meant to tell.  The devil under the foot of the bishop isn’t quite where he should be – he should be whispering in Eve’s ear.

There are plenty of examples of ‘patchwork’ or ‘jigsaw’ stained glass around the countryside.  In Wells, the medieval glass is a reminder that medieval lead and putty might not have been up to the job as well as being a reminder that Parliamentarians armed with pikes were not gentle with old glass.

Much of the stained glass in the City of York survives only because Lord Ferdinando Fairfax gave orders that it should not be destroyed after the Parliamentarians captured the city in 1644.

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The Lion and the Unicorn

stcuthbert'scoatofarmsThe lion and the unicorn are the heraldic supporters of the royal coat of arms.  The lion represents England, while the unicorn stands for Scotland.  This current combination of supporters dates back to 1603 and the accession of James I of England or James VI of Scotland depending upon your viewpoint.  There is a fine example of James’ coat of arms in the church of St John the Evangelist, Leeds.

Earlier kings used different supporters.  Tudor kings used a Welsh dragon and sometimes a greyhound.  Richard II used a white hart.  In addition, the arms  have changed over the centuries as Ireland, Scotland and Wales were added.

The royal coat of arms in its various guises, usually supported by a lion and a unicorn, began to appear in English churches and cathedrals in the aftermath of the English Reformation – a reminder to congregations that the monarchy was in charge of matters spiritual as well as temporal. There was never a law, although the “great council” issued an “injunction” in 1660 (Records of Buckinghamshire, p386) to say that churches required coats of arms, they tended to be put on display during times when it was sensible to demonstrate loyalty to the crown– after the restoration of Charles II; in the aftermath of the Jacobite uprisings and upon the accession of a new monarch for example.

This means that the coats of arms on display are not always the same. The arms on display in Halifax date from the reign of Queen Ann, while in Woodkirk near Morley the arms are those of King George I.

Not every church and cathedral has a royal coat of arms. The Victorians got rid of many of them or consigned them to less prominent positions. Apparently there are even one or two arms where thrifty churchwardens turned the board around and painted ones on the back.

The Churches Conservation Trust provides an interesting summary of the way in which the royal arms changed over the centuries with examples. Double click on the image of the fairly rare King Charles I coat of arms that was added to St Cuthbert’s in Wells in 1631 to open the page.

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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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Capital

Wells capitalsI’m sitting here feeling slightly dazed – and perhaps it’s not surprising.  I’ve just spent five hours in Wells Cathedral taking photographs (okay there was a pause for a very moorish ginger and chocolate tray bake which contained absolutely no calories what-so-ever and a cup of tea.)  Aside from the scissor arch, the medieval crazy patchwork stained glass and the cathedral cat – a glorious and imperious ginger called Louis I spent an awful lot of time craning my neck for some capital shots.

A capital coming from the Latin capitulum meaning of the head refers to the top bit of a column – so it’s load bearing.  A very nice guide even talked me through the different parts of a capital this morning.  The very top of the capital is flat – that’s called the abacus.  The abacus tends to be plain – though by the late Gothic masons were decorating them as well.  Then comes the necking which thins to join the shaft of the column beneath it.  Sometimes the necking runs straight into the column but more often than not there’s a thin moulding to separate the column from its capital.

It’s possible to tell the age of a capital in an English church by the kind of decoration on the necking.  Norman capitals are solid and largely undecorated – those are the Romanesque ones.  Having said that the Normans do decorate their capitals often with symmetrical patterning and rather chunky looking people if my memory serves me correctly.

In any event  the next stage  in the evolution of the capital involved foliage – in some cases foliage that looks rather like a tree drawn by a small child – one stem and one leaf in neat rows.   Somehow the Gothic evolved out of the Romanesque so that by the thirteenth century masons were running riot carving sinuous leaves, green men, strange birds, beasts and odd little figures.

In Wells there are doves, dragons and lions as well as a fox running off with a goose in its mouth.  The fox is being pursued around the capital by a very cross farmer.  There’s a spoonbill swallowing a rather plump frog; a devil who has caught a fish; a pedlar with his pack and a string of beads; a man with terrible toothache; a cobbler; a man removing a thorn from his foot; a thief; assorted Old Testament types; someone being martyred and rather a lot of different kinds of leaves as well as a bewildering collection of heads peering down from their hiding places.  The more you look the more that you see – English Gothic at its best – at least that’s what the very nice guide told me and I’m not going to disagree.

So next time you go to a church or cathedral if you’re not crawling around on your hands and knees attempting to photograph misericords  without moving them or crossing any barriers that have been erected to keep the public at a safe distance you can vary your posture by standing on tip-toe developing a crick in your neck while trying to hold your camera steady in order to capture capitals.

 

 

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Carved bench ends – a tale of elephants, men and a fox

DSCF0446Dating from the same period as misericords, bench ends in churches across the country are often intriguing insights into the medieval world.  The fox is in Burlingham Church in Norfolk and, yes, he is in pursuit of geese.

In Greystoke, Cumbria there are paired lions  with their tongues sticking out and their bottoms sticking up as though they’re sliding down the bench into an undignified slump.  There are also these barefoot, bearded men wearing something that looks remarkably like  kilts.

Further south in Ripon Cathedral one bench end sports a startling elephant with a castle on its back.

In Devon its even possible to find bench ends carved their full length to include the carvers initials.

I wonder what modern carvers would create if there was a sudden trend for bench ends – safety-pinned goths, a besuited woman in high heels clutching a mobile phone and perhaps a bateria or virus magnified to grotesque proportions.

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Misericords

DSC_0046Misericords from the Latin word meaning pity are also known as ‘mercy seats’.  These are the ledges or rests in choir stalls so that clergy singing the divine offices could rest their weary legs.   The clerical perches were often hinged so the misericord carving could only be seen when the perch was raised. Many oak choir stalls with their misericords were placed in churches during the medieval period; their carvers are largely anonymous and the meaning behind the carvings sometimes lost but they remain a fascinating glimpse of the past.

Hemingborough in Yorkshire has some of the earliest examples of misericords in this country and Exeter Cathedral has a complete set dating from the Thirteenth Century.

The carvers used their imaginations when they created each misericord.  Some scenes come from the Bible; others like the foliate green men sporting leaves from their mouths come from an earlier folklore; some images such as elephants come from medieval bestiaries.  Hyenas were popular because not only were they an exotic species but they had legendary status as well according to Richard Hyman in that they were supposed to disinter and eat corpses…lovely.  In addition they represented “vice feeding on corruption.” (Hyman: 21)  Other inspirations came from everyday life; from animals realistic and fanciful and from mythical creatures such as mermaids.  A carver in Fairford captured a woman raising a ladle to hit her unfortunate spouse  .  In Ludlow a man warms himself in front of his fire and in Manchester a game of backgammon can be spotted.  Less amusingly in Lincoln a knight tumbles from his hours mortally injured.

Sometimes it is possible to spot a carver who has travelled around a locality.  Greystoke Parish Church has some delightful misericords that are matched by similar examples in Dacre and also in Cartmel.  Carlisle Cathedral has some impressive examples as does Hexham Abbey.  Perhaps the man who carved them travelled from one church to the next in search of work.

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Further south Ripon, Richmond and Chester have some intriguing misericords as does Wakefield, Halifax, Gloucester Cathedral, Worcester, Southwell Minster and Ludlow.  In fact these lovely little works of art not only give an insight to medieval craftsmanship and mindset but they can also be alarmingly addictive…you’ve been warned and I’ve not even started on bench ends, corbels, capitals, grotesques and gargoyles.

DSC_0036This misericord from Cartmel depicts a rather alarming two-tailed mermaid with her mirror and comb.  In medieval times a mermaid symbolised lust and temptation.  I’m not sure that the Cartmel mermaid would tempt anyone with that ribcage!

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Filed under Cathedrals, Churches and Chapels