Monday, 28 June 2010

Sanctuary fittings and something rare

As well as the original pavement the chancel of Laxton church in Nottingham is lucky enough to still retain its stone sanctuary furnishings, fourteenth century piscina with double drains, Easter sepulchre, sedilia and image corbels.  All it is missing is the images themselves and the medieval high altar. 

Laxton, Nottinghamshire

Laxton, Nottinghamshire

Laxton, Nottinghamshire

Laxton, Nottinghamshire

The seats of the sedilia are topped by a delicious canopy, a triplet of crocketed ogees.  To the far right of the canopy is a bit of protruding rusty ironwork, the outer casing of a little pulley wheel.  What was this for?  J Charles Cox in his County Churches: Nottinghamshire, published in 1912, suggests it is part if the medieval apparatus used to lower and raise the veil that would have cut off the chancel during Lent.  He may be right.    

Laxton, Nottinghamshire

Laxton, Nottinghamshire

Friday, 25 June 2010

F E Howard angel

I'll let this one speak for itself.  This is an riddel post angel from F E Howard's English altar in All Saints, Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire.  It's not often you get to see this sort of thing at close quarters.  

Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire

Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire

Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Benedictine Abbot

Benedictine Abbot - Bardney, Lincolnshire

The incised slab of Abbot Richard Horncastle in St Lawrence, Bardney. Abbot Hornastle was abbot of the Benedictine abbey of Bardney from 1466 to 1507. He died in 1508 and was buried in the abbey church. His incised slab was discovered in the abbey ruins when they were excavated just prior to the First World War. The slab shows Horncastle under canopy dressed in eucbaristic vestments and holding the sacred heart. Above his head his naked soul is shown being lifted up to heaven in a napkin.
Benedictine Abbot - Bardney, Lincolnshire

Benedictine Abbot - Bardney, Lincolnshire

Benedictine Abbot - Bardney, Lincolnshire

Monday, 21 June 2010

Ejected!

Not at all medieval, but on the wall of the chancel at Molland is this fabulous baroque monument commemorating an interesting man. 

Molland, Devon

It commemorates Daniel Berry one time vicar of Molland.  I will let the inscription tell his story:
'Under this monument lyeth the Body of Daniel Berry Batchelor of Divinity sometime minister of this church & that of the parish of Knowstone, wherein he was born, Who for his zeale in the support of the Church of England & Loyalty to that martyred King King Charles the first, was first sequestred by the then Rebels, & ever after persecuted till he dyed being the 18 day of March in the year of our lord 1653/4 and of his age 45'
Daniel Berry became vicar of Molland and Knowstone in 1626.  In 1646 he was one of many clergy who were ejected from their livings by parliament for supporting the king and continuing to use the Book of Common Prayer against the Puritan consensus.  He moved to a small estate he owned in Molland.  Not content with his ejection from his living, for the next eight years the local Puritan thugs continued to treat this gentle man abominably. They threatened to hang him, threatened his family and servants and they confiscated all his private property.  He was a learned man and though begging to keep just one book, his large library was taken and given to a Puritan preacher.  He died a broken man, his health shattered.  The monument was erected by his son after the Restoration of Charles II. 

Molland, Devon

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Another atmospheric interior

If you thought Nettlecombe had atmosphere, well Molland church on Exmoor, in Devon, has even more. 
Molland, Devon

It is one of those churches that the Victorian's forgot and wasn't subjected to a drastic restoration in the nineteenth century.  Consequently the interior is a wonderful example of how the Church of England used a medieval building before the Ecclesiologists came along with their desire to medievalise and correct church interiors.   The church is divided into two rooms by a vast solid tympanum, decorated, as canon requires, with the royal arms and the Decalogue.  This solid screen, open only at the bottom, creates two rooms that were used for distinct purposes in the reformed liturgy, the nave for Matins and Evensong and for preaching, the chancel for the sacrament.  The box pews in the nave are all directed towards the vast towering triple decker pulpit, with it's tester, that dominates the north aisle.  The chancel contains enough space for the communicants to 'draw near' to the communion table during the communion service.

Molland, Devon

Molland, DevonThe east end of the north aisle and the chancel is crowded with baroque monuments and floor slabs to members of the Courtenay family, a cadet branch of the family that produced the Earl's of Devon.  The Courtenay's were recusants and their recusancy probably explains the lack of Victorian restoration at Molland, as they were probably fairly apathetic towards the parish church and it's liturgy.  The church was simply their burial place.    

The church has some fine medieval features.  The Norman font, looks like a reused scalloped capital from a lost arcade. Perhaps it is?The heavily moulded fifteenth century north arcade has capitals of inventive and luxuriant foliage, typical of the west country but well worth noting.  Amid the sea of Georgian woodwork there are still some hints of Molland's medieval catholic past. A defaced little figure of St Mary Magdalene, set in a canopied tabernacle, pops up from a nave pier. She is mostly hidden by the box pews.

Molland, Devon Molland, DevonMolland, Devon Molland, Devon

At the east end of the chancel there is an odd stone box, said to contain the hearts of members of the Courtenay family.  Maybe it does, but it seems to me that the elements that make it up are not in their original configuration, but are elements from a tomb chest.  In front of it is a purbeck marble coffin lid commemorating John Courtenay, who died in 1509 the year Henry VIII became king.

Molland, Devon John Courtenay of Molland 1467-1509

It is rather a challenge to photograph Molland church, there isn't a straight line in the place. That adds to the atmosphere and I am rather grateful that the Victorian's haven't 'fixed' and tidied up the leaning pillars, leaning walls and sloping box pews.

Molland, Devon




























Thursday, 17 June 2010

How's this for a bit of atmosphere

Nettlecombe, Somerset

A fifteenth century Seven Sacrament font in Ham stone, sandstone recesses with thirteenth and fourteenth century effigies of the Ralegh family, a late medieval waggon roof, a patchwork of old flooring and a late seventeenth century tablet with reclining putti. Does it get any better than this, does it?  This atmospheric interior is the south aisle at Nettlecombe in Somerset.     

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

St Mary's Lead

This isolated fourteenth century building stands in a field close to the site of the battle of Towton, near Tadcaster in Yorkshire. Fought in the driving snow on Palm Sunday 1461, this was one the bloodiest but most decisive battles of the Wars of the Roses and it ultimately brought Edward IV to the throne. 10,000 men are said to have perished that day and the little stream, Cock Beck, which you have to cross to get to St Mary's, is said to have run red with the blood of those who had died in the battle.

Lead, West Riding of Yorkshire

Lead, West Riding of Yorkshire

This simple building has Norman origins, but is mainly fourteenth century.  It has been shorn of its chancel and it seems to be highly charged with the memory of this Yorkist victory. It's damp and atmospheric interior has rustic fittings, including a set of medieval rough-sawn benches and a seventeenth century triple decker pulpit. A medieval altar stone has been reset at the east end. Before the altar step are a row of thirteenth century coffin lids, mostly decorated with heraldry and comemmorating members of the Tyas family, including Baldwin and Marjorie Tyas and their son Franco. A single slab is decorated with a cross and chalice, denoting the burial of a priest. There is no settlement at Lead, just lots of sheep in the field surrounding the church and the building has been long disused. It is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust and is well worth a detour if you are ever heading towards York.

Lead, West Riding of Yorkshire

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

New blog

I've started a sideline blog, a guide to Lincolnshire churches.  It isn't intended to be an exhaustive guide, but just a gentle crawl through some of the more atmospheric and lesser known ecclesiastical gems in my native county.  There's not much there at the moment, but in due course you might find it of interest: http://lincolnshirechurches.blogspot.com/ 

Oh and don't worry I don't intend it to distract me from Vitrearum!

It's amazing what you find under the floor.

According to John Throsby in his new addition of Thoroton's The Antiquities of Nottinghamshire, when the floor of the chancel at Mattersey church in Nottinghamshire was replaced in the 1790s they discovered two pieces of 'very ancient' sculpture under the old floor. These panels of sculpture are now attached to the chancel walls. 

Mattersey, Nottinghamshire
They are fourteenth century and very striking they are too. The first (left) shows St Martin of Tours on horseback dividing his cloak to give to the beggar, a fairly standard element of his iconography.  Throsby correctly identifies this.  The second shows two women standing and chatting to each other over a pile of drapery or earth that incorporates a cross broken in two.  Presumably this is the discovery, the 'invention' of the cross by St Helena.  Mattersey was the site of a small house of Gilbertine Canons, dedicated to St Helen and it has been suggested that the panels both came from there and were removed to the church at the dissolution.  This is quite possible, I suppose, but there is no evidence of course. Here's another bit of conjecture. Mattersey priory was burnt down at the end of the thirteenth century and rebuilt in the early fourteenth, might they panels have formed part of the refitting of the abbey church after the fire, were they altarpieces?   They are both of exceptional quality, the figure panels are set under canopies of cusped and crocketed ogees, the crockets blending into this exceptionally lush, deeply carved decorative oak foliage that that gives the Decorated style its name.       
Mattersey, Nottinghamshire


Mattersey, Nottinghamshire

Sunday, 13 June 2010

In search of Morebath

I first picked up Professor Eamon Duffy's Stripping of the Altars when I was an undergraduate reading History at University College London.  It was the mid 90's and the revisionist view of the Reformation had really begun to take a firm hold in Tudor scholarship.  I remember just lapping up this compelling and refreshing account of the popularity of late medieval religion and the sad and distructive dismantling of that popular catholicism.  It was great to read a book, a work of substantial scholarship, that not only accorded with something of my romantic vision of the compelling nature of medieval catholicism, but wasn't coloured by four centuries of Protestant and anti-Catholic propoganda. It still remains one of my all time favourite books.  

The sequel, if you like, to the Stripping of the Altars, is a book called The Voices of Morebath, which was first published out in 2001.This is the account of the impact of the Tudor Reformation on a small parish on Exmoor in Devon, seen through the lense of the parish churchwarden's accounts.  The accounts were kept by a man called Sir Christopher Trychay, who would serve as vicar of Morebath for fifty four years.  He was vicar all through the period of turmoil, arriving in 1520 as a young fresh-faced catholic priest and dying in post in his eighties, as the protestant minister.  The accounts are not just a list of expenses of office, Trychay overlayed them with his own commentary and asides, which provide ga rare glimpse of parish life in the Tudor period.

During the first twenty years of his ministry Trychay put a good deal of effort into re-enlivening the devotional life of this remote parish.  He fostered the development a cult to the Exeter saint St Sidwell, which was focused on an image of her that he placed on the side altar in the north aisle.  Together he and the parishioners worked towards a thorough restoration and requipping of the church building.  Work included a new rood screen, a new rood and the renovation of all the images.  Duffy tells us that all was done with love and great devotion.  One of the most compelling and heartbreaking details of the account concerns a set of new black vestments.  For twenty years Trychay had saved up for a new set of black vestments for use at requiems, putting his own money into the fund and in July 1547 he finally raised enough money to get them.  However, Henry VIII had died earlier in 1547 and his death signalled the first phase of the Protestant Reformation and all the vestments and ornaments so lovingly bought, including the new black vestments, were soon to be swept away for ever.   

What for me is so compelling and moving about Duffy's book  is what it tells us of Trychay's attitude to the Reformation. Throughout the uncertain years that followed, with the demands of reform and counter reform, Trychay stays faithful to his parishioners. He doesn't resign his living, he stays put and weathers the storm with them.  He is quietly nonconformist when he can be and equally conformist when need arises.  There is a sense that his loyalty to his people and their place overides his own personal conviction - his thoughts and actions are always corporate, never individual.  Duffy lays bare the odd contemporary assertion, which has been voiced by commentars of this blog, that the church buildings of medieval England were somehow stolen from the Catholic church and handed to the robbing Protestants of the Church of England in a grand coup.  Duffy makes it plain that this is not so. In the reign of Elizabeth, the priest saying the communion service at the table was often the same priest who had said mass at the altar during the reigns of her father and sister.  The people responding to the new service of Matins and Evensong, were the same people who would eagerly see Our Lord lifted high above the priest's head at the altar during mass.  For the most part the people of England, both the clergy and the people, quietly conformed to the demands of the Reformation.  Priests like Trychay, inwardly conservative in religious matters, outwardly conformed and they stayed faithful and loyal to their flock.  What else could they do?

Morebath, Devon

I was very pleased to be able to visit Morebath last week and below are one or two photos of the church.  Sadly much of the church was rebuilt by William Butterfield in the 1870s and the only part that Trychay would recognise is the fifteenth century north aisle with its barrel roof.  It was at the east end of this aisle at the altar of Jesus that Trychay placed the new cultic image of St Sidwell and it was here that he said his daily mass, while he could.  Of course all sign of that altar has been swept away.

Morebath, Devon

Morebath, Devon

Morebath, Devon

Morebath, Devon

Morebath, Devon
         

Friday, 11 June 2010

Medieval pavement

Medieval stone pavements in English chancels are something of a rarity.  In fact medieval chancel floors are a rarity, for many were destroyed either by post-Reformation burials, or swept away in the nineteenth century.  Under the influence of the Ecclesiologists in Victorian restorations, medieval floor levels were destroyed to admit ranks of steps for elevated altars.  Altars elevated on steps were considered more 'correct' and medieval.  So I was surprised to see a well-preserved fourteenth century stone pavement in the chancel at Laxton in Nottinghamshire. 

Laxton, Nottinghamshire

The pavement, formed from square stone sets or lozenges, covers about half of the chancel floor, including the sanctuary. The western half of the chancel between the choir stalls is covered by Victorian encasstics.  Though badly worn and affected by damp, some of the sanctuary slabs still have their original decoration on them. Each has a centrally placed estoile and and is bordered with a narrow line.  At the point where for slabs meet, a semicircle in each slab forms part of a decorative quaterfoil.   It is a striking, but simple, design. Presumably the levels are the original medieval levels and rather than being raised on a rank of steps or footpace, here we have evidence that the medieval high altar here, was simply raised on a single step above the chancel pavement.

Laxton, Nottinghamshire

Laxton, Nottinghamshire

Laxton, Nottinghamshire

What surprises me about this pavement is that despite it's rarity and importance, nobody seems to have noticed it before.  Pevsner doens't mention it, neither does the listed building record, nor even Cox in his Nottinghamshire Churches.  Sadly the pavement has been damaged, principally by the modern heating system.  The blue carpet covers a large modern metal grille and cast iron pipes makes a fill circuit of the sanctuary. 

Thursday, 10 June 2010

A wooden effigy

This is the first of three or four articles on one church building, the church is St Michael's Laxton, in Nottinghamshire - a building of considerable interest. 

Laxton, Nottinghamshire

On the north side of the chancel is this curious tomb, commemorating Adam de Everingham, lord of Laxton (who died in 1341) and his two wives. Adam and his first wife are portrayed, fairly conventionally, by recumbent effigies. According to J. Charles Cox the effigies are of French marble from Aubigny, so an unusual and expensive commission. Margaret, Adam’s second wife has been given a rarer thing still, a wooden recumbent effigy, presumably added at a later date. Though it is impossible to tell now due to the decay of the wood, it is probable that the effigy, like the stone effigies, was originally coloured. So the three wood have blended in together. 

Laxton, Nottinghamshire

Laxton, Nottinghamshire
The three effigies are supported on a remarkable tomb chest attached to the eastern respond of the arcade. The chest isn’t a solid form, but has a large empty opening in the middle, the purpose of which is far from clear.

Laxton, Nottinghamshire
























 
The tomb occupies a position of great honour within the sanctuary of the chancel and this is perhaps evidence that Adam was responsible for the reconstruction of the chancel which is early fourteenth century.

Laxton, Nottinghamshire
Margaret’s wooden effigy is not in good condition, for the monument has been badly neglected in the past. In the 1790s when the antiquary John Throsby visited the church for his re-working of Thoroton’s Antiquities of Nottinghamshire, he found the building in a deplorable condition. The north chancel aisle where the monument is situated was particularly bad. His description is worth repeating:
What Throsby describes was not an uncommon scene in the late eighteenth century, a time when there was a general apathy to church buildings. He then goes on to describe the state of de Everingham monument itself:
'The north cemetery (the north chancel aisle), is the foulest place I ever saw. I will attempt a description of it without the smallest exaggeration. The floor and old stones are completely covered in coals, coal-slack, cinders, firewood, straw, lime, broken bricks and stone, hassocks and floor mats torn in pieces, ladders, and old sieve, broken scuttles, and spades; brushes without handles, and handles without brushes, mortar boards and mortar, reeds, tiles, foot, broken glass, dog’s dung and...'
Then he describes the condition of the tomb itself:
‘Under the arch, that leads into this place of filth, stands on old tomb almost six feet high, on which lie three figures, seemingly a knight and his two wives; but so covered with dust, that I found it difficult to sketch them’.
So it is not surprise the Margaret de Everingham’s wooden effigy is looking a bit worse for wear.