Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Lincolnshire Churches - Building Materials

Lincolnshire churches, particularly those in the Wolds and some parts of the marsh have a wonderful texture due to the wide range of materials used. Take this wall at Theddlethorpe All Saints, it is built of materials brought from all over the region. Golden Yorkshire limestone, the cooler grey oolitic limestone brought fifty miles from Ancaster, green and brown sandstones brought from quarries twenty miles away at Spilsby and locally produced brick. Sometimes areas of walling have the remains of the roughcast that covered this patchwork in times past.

Ashby Puerorum, Lincolnshire
Ashby Puerorum, mid Wolds - Spilsby stone and handmade brick.

Calceby, Lincolnshire
Calceby, mid Wolds - chalk with dressings in Spilsby stone. The chalk was cut from the wolds itself and was a very cheap and very friable building material. This was a poor parish.

Hawerby, Lincolnshire
Hawerby, northern Wolds - chalk and ironstone.

Burwell, Lincolnshire
Burwell, mid Wolds - Spilsby stone with limestone dressings and brick repairs.

Walesby, Lincolnshire
Walesby, northern Wolds - ironstone.

Haugh, Lincolnshire
Haugh, mid Wolds - chalk with Spilsby stone and brick repair.

Spandrel paintings in Lincolnshire


Friskney, Lincolnshire, originally uploaded by Vitrearum.

Friskney, Lincolnshire

Lincolnshire is not known for its medieval panel paintings, but recently I came across these two naive censing angels at Friskney in the Lincolnshire marsh. They are painted on the eastern spandrels of the fifteenth century nave roof and my guess is that they acted as part of the rood composition above the chancel screen. They are virtually invisible from the ground, but with a six second exposure I got this result. In the bay to the west of this are the remains of an Annunciation, but it has fared rather badly in comparison.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Palimpsest Wallpaintings


A palimpsest is a work or art or manuscript that has been painted on on or written on, scraped off, and used again. The word palimpsest comes through Latin from the Greek words παλιν and ψαω, which is "again" and "I scrape". There are a lot of palimpsest wallpaintings about if you look carefully, in the Middle Ages it was common for faded wallpaintings to be repainted or painted over. Here at Combe in Oxfordshire, is a fairly obvious one. A representation of the Crucifixion dating to the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century has been painted over a larger and earlier representation of the same subject. You can see the cross beam, arms and head of Christ of the earlier painting, above the clearer later painting.


On the south aisle wall of South Leigh church, also in Oxfordshire, is a wonderful palimpsest wallpainting: a representation of St Michael weighing souls, with Our Lady trying to tip the scales through prayer. It has been painted over a much smaller version of the same subject. The later painting is evidently sixteenth century, the earlier painting less than a hundred years earlier. (The photo of the whole composition is by Martin Beek)
South Leigh, Oxfordshire

Here's my detail of the same panel. The faded head of the earlier St Michael is just next to the right arm of the later one:
South Leigh, Oxfordshire

A good starting point for further study of English and Welsh medieval wallpaintings:

Roger Rosewell, Medieval Wallpaintings in English and Welsh Churches (Boydell, 2008).

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Nottingham Alabaster Altarpieces



Drayton, Berkshire, originally uploaded by Vitrearum.

In the late Middle Ages the fashionable material for altarpieces in England was alabaster, a type of gypsum, which could be found in limited quantity in parts of south Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire and was very easily worked. By the early part of the fifteenth century Nottingham had become something of a centre for the production of alabaster panels for use in altarpieces. Generally speaking the panels were fairly small in scale and they were used in groups wired up into a gessoed wooden frames. Often the panels were highlighted with colour and gilding. The images generally followed two themes the Life of Our Lady and the Passion of Christ. As alabaster is a very friable material, often the panels are in quite poor condition, but quite a lot of them still remain. The example above, portraying the arrest of Christ, is from a series of panels in Drayton in Berkshire. I include some more photos of the Drayton sequence.

The Adoration of the Magi, this is an image that would have been termed 'Our Lady in Jesyn' in the Middle Ages, Our Lady in Bed.
Drayton 4

The Annunciation:
Drayton, Berkshire

The scourging Christ:
Drayton, Berkshire

This link to the page on the Swansea altarpiece on the V and A website, gives some indication of the arrangement of a wooden cased alabaster altarpiece.

Further reading:
The definitive works on the subject at both by Francis Cheetham, expensive but gloriously illustrated.


F. Cheetham, English Medieval Alabasters: With a Catalogue of the Collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, 2005).

F. Cheetham, The Alabaster Images of Medieval England (Museum of London Medieval Finds 1150 -- 1450) (London, 2003)

Monday, 4 August 2008

Tower transplant


Barnetby-le-Wold, Lincolnshire, originally uploaded by Vitrearum.

The wonderfully texture church at Barnetby in Lincolnshire has this funny stubby little tower. Surely it's been truncated. Down the road Redbourne church in the same county has the opposite problem, it has this wonderfully exaggerated tower, with apparently two stages of bell openings. Somethings a bit fishy!

Redbourne, Lincolnshire

Anyway it turns out that the upper stages at Redbourne were added to the tower in 1785 by the Duke of St Albans, in order that it appeared as a landmark in his park. It is believed that the masonry was in fact the missing upper stage of the tower at Barnetby. I hope the people of Barnetby got a good deal.

Percy Dearmer and the the Warham Guild


A lot of people know that one of my great heroes is the priest, poet, liturgist and artist Percy Dearmer. To my mind Dearmer was one of the greatest figures in the early twentieth century church. For a short time at least he succeeded to educate the Church of England that the externals of worship were not just a subordinate matter, but had primary value. In his theology they had primary value in that they were good and reflected and manifested the creative force of God the Father. One of Dearmer's greatest achievements was the formation of the Warham Guild. The Guild was established in 1912 to produce vestments and church ornaments according to the aesthetic principles of Dearmer's magnum opus the Parson's Handbook. The Guild replaced an earlier enterprise, the Society of St Dunstan, which Dearmer had founded in 1901 in his new parish of St Mary's Primrose Hill.

Dearmer was a Christian Socialist who abhorred what he termed the tyranny of the sweat shop. Consequently the Warham Guild, like the Society of St Dunstan that preceded it, was run on Arts and Crafts principles. Nothing was mass produced, everything was 'fair trade' manufactured in fair conditions.

Stylistically the aesthetic of the early Warham Guild work was medieval. As time went on the Gothic influence became more derivative. In terms of vestments, the Guild used good quality materials that in general terms have stood aesthetic as well as physical test of time. Below are some examples:

North Cerney, Gloucestershire - vestments

North Cerney, Gloucestershire - vestments

Warham Guild frontal and vestments:
St Mary's Primrose Hill, Hampstead

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Pre-Reformation Devotional Images of Our Lady

Anwick, Lincolnshire

This glorious fragment of sculpture was discovered in 1879 walled up within Anwick church in Lincolnshire. It is a remarkable survival. It is a seated figure of the Virgin and Child, dating from the early years of the fourteenth century. Sadly it has faired badly at the hands of iconoclasts, who have removed the head and much of the body of the Christ Child. Given its treatment it was presumably used as a devotional image. It is remarkable in that it has retained a large percentage of its original polychromy, giving a wonderful glimpse of the vibrant colouring that was typical of devotional images in this period. Lawrence OP has a photograph of a modern image of Our Lady, based on a fifteenth century precedent, which gives some sense of the form and vibrancy lost in the Anwick example.

Our Lady at Dorchester

Down the road from Anwick, at Bigby (well when I say down the road I mean the same county) is another fragment of a similar image of the Virgin and Child. This probably slightly earlier dating from the turn of the thirteenth/fourteenth century.
Bigby, Lincolnshire
As you see it has not faired as well as the Anwick fragment, but is nonetheless an important survival. The figure of the Christ Child seems to be kicking his legs about and reminds me very much of this lively image in glass at East Hagbourne, Berkshire, which is of similar vintage:

East Hagbourne, Berkshire

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Norman door tympana

As a late medievalist, specialising in fifteenth and sixteenth century art and architecture, I can't claim to be any sort of expert on Norman door tympana. However, I do find them rather fascinating and have collected one of two photos of them on my Flickr stream over the course of the last couple of years. In terms of their decoration they seem to fall into three principle categories: 1. Directly religious iconography, 2. Folk iconography and traditional symbolism, which may or may not have Christian reference and 3. purely decorative forms.

The tympanum above, at Little Barrington in Gloucestershire, is twelfth century and fits in to category one. This is an eschatalogical image, which shows Christ sat in judgement, surrounded by angels. The end time is a great thing to be reminded of as you walk through the door to partake in the sacraments of the church.

Below you will find photos and descriptions of one or two more tympana, I hope you enjoy them. Most of the examples, like the Great Barrington tympanum, are twelfth century. As usual please click through to Flickr to get the full photograph

First of all Dinton in Buckinghamshire. This is a particularly wild example, containing lots of iconographical information. Two strange hybrid creatures with the head and front legs of a lion and a serpant's tail eat fruit from a tree. Below is the inscription: 'Praemia pro meritis si qis despet habenda Audiat hic preepta sibique sit retinenda', which can be translated as 'If anyone despairs of having rewards for his merits Let this man hear the advice and let it be retained by him.' Well that's as clear as mud eh. The imagery seems to allude to Adam and Eve's temptation and the fall?
Dinton, Buckinghamshire

Dinton, Buckinghamshire

In this gloriously crude example at Kencot in Oxfordshire, we seem to be on safer iconographical ground. An image of Sagittarius, the usual centaur usefully labelled, shooting at a monster who seems pretty determined to devour him
Kencot, Oxfordshire

At Charney Bassett in Berkshire is example of classical imagery being imported into the decoration of a Christian building. This tympanum portrays Alexander being lifted up by winged beasts.


There is no figurative work on the tympanum at Haltham in Lincolnshire, just a central cross in a roundel surrounded by a rather random collection of decorative motifs, including some knotwork.
Haltham, Lincolnshire

Lastly Great Rollright in Oxfordshire. A great one this, filled completely with rosettes and beaded stars, except for a little panel in one corner. In this panel is a fish that appears to be about to eat the head of a man and a corpse wrapped in a decorated shroud. Any ideas what these might mean if anything?
Great Rollright, Oxfordshire

Further information. A quick search of Martin Beek and Tina_Manthorpe's photostreams will bring up a lot more examples of tympana:

You may also like to have a look at the website of the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture, a British Academy research project which is attempting to catalogue the remaining body of Norman decorative stonework in England.

Where I work - a Perpendicular masterpiece

I have the pleasure of working as the assistant curate in Louth in Lincolnshire. Among the six churches we have in our parish is the parish church of St James, one of the most glorious parish churches in England. The church and the tower were all built as part of one campaign during the 1440s, 50s and 60s. The tower has a remarkable vaulted lantern, in the centre is a removable hatch decorated with a Yorkist heraldic emblem the sunburst. Evidence that this part of the campaign was completed during one of the reigns of Edward IV. Above the tower, which is tall enough, is a slender spire constructed between 1501 and 1515, which gives Louth the tallest parish church steeple in England at 295 fooot.