IN SEARCH OF MEDIEVAL INSPIRATION: PART 1(i)
On my travels this year (2017-2018), beyond my more detailed Inspirational Excursions section on this website, on the lookout for historical sources of inspiration for my practice, I have come across a good number of interesting items that I would like to share here. I feel that each photograph below, all taken by me, strengthens my foundation with regard to the medieval period that underlies my work. They form a valuable repository of diverse images for current and future work. However, I believe the most important point of all these visits centres on actually ‘being there’, to experience medieval nuances through colour, design, and impression through sight, sound and touch. To sit on 15th century pews in a remote medieval church, alone, silent, and watch the sunlight reflect on a 14th century nave pillar through 15th century glass housed in a Perpendicular style window, is beyond my powers of writing. I am finding the effects of all these visits to be both lasting and subtle – from choice of a colour and angle of light, to architectural form and compositional layout.
All photographs, bar a small number of exceptions (which are noted), were taken in Norfolk – unquestionably the best county in England for the study of medievalism, with the greatest concentration of medieval churches in the country (a remarkable 659 according to D.P. Mortlock and C.V. Roberts in their excellent, The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches), and many in a good state of original preservation too (not too Victorianized), often in very rural settings that really add to the spirit of the period that interests me. I not only include Norman (1066 A.D. often seen as marking the beginning of the medieval), but also late Saxon features, for in order to appreciate the medieval, it is necessary to discover what went before, so the impact of the Norman influence becomes apparent. This strategy not only informs my practice, but also lays the groundwork for an expansion of my practice further back in time, as a source of inspiration. I have read into each church and provide brief descriptions with the photographs for each entry, for personal benefit as much as for the reader, and I sometimes include some relevant comments on my way of thinking. I certainly have learned a lot. Whilst there is no order in the presentation, I have attempted to group subjects together – exceptions being monumental brasses, which I have deliberately split into five sections; medieval wood carving and rood screens, into four sections apiece; and, medieval glass, which I have split into three sections. I deemed it was necessary to split sections, not only for reader comfort but because one can have too much of a good thing!
Figure 1 shows one of the oldest wooden chests in Britain, thought to date from the end of the 1100s, in Hindringham Church. This chest is wonderful to touch, for it is incredible to think that it was made in the reign of the Angevin kings – Henry II, Richard I and John.
Fig. 2 Fig. 3
The chest pre-dates the church by some 100 years. It has some wonderful Romanesque carving on it (Fig. 2) and some geometrically drawn circles with patterns (Fig. 3).
Figure 4 shows an Anglo-Saxon arch leading from the nave to the round tower at Horsey Church. This is one of the oldest churches in East Anglia and this arch probably dates back to the 10th century A.D. The proportions of this church’s nave are Saxon through and through – narrow, tall, long – and it still has a thatched roof. I found visiting this church to be an interesting experience, for it emanates a feeling of being Saxon, which differs markedly from being medieval.
Fig. 5 Fig. 6
Figures 5 and 6 are two features of St. Clement’s Church, Burnham Overy. Figure 5 shows a 15th century painting on the north wall opposite the south entrance, of St. Christopher carrying the infant Christ. As St. Christopher was the patron saint of travellers, his image was painted where visitors could see him – on entering and exiting the church.
Figure 6 shows the base of a medieval drainpipe located in the chancel floor of Burnham Overy Church. Holy water would have been poured away through a basin above and drained through it and under the church, for it was feared that the water would be collected and used in witchcraft.
I thought that Figure 7 was a wonderful little find. It was located in the chancel, set in the floor. The slab had two such faint crosses on it (three others had worn away) and represents a medieval altar stone. No longer in use but still considered holy, it has been in Cranwich Church for maybe 800 years or more, though the church is pre-Conquest.
Fig. 8 Fig. 9
Figure 8 was another real find from Cranwich Church and the door (Fig. 8; Fig. 9, detail) dates to the 14th century. I was surprised it wasn’t better protected, as it is located in the north wall of the nave (therefore it gets little sunlight and all that this affords) and was there at the time of the Black Death. I touched the wood – I wondered if someone with the plague had too?
Fig. 10 Fig. 11
Figures 10 and 11 are photographs of the south porch door outside and inside, respectively, of Wiggenhall St. Mary the Virgin Church. I have never seen such a large keyhole – the key must have been uncomfortably weighty. The door is really thick and heavy to open – fit for a castle – and dates from the 14th-15th century. It is in an excellent state of preservation having not been exposed directly to the elements, protected as it is by the porch for six hundred years.
Fig. 12 Fig. 13
I love doors for, in a sense, they lead from one world to another. Figures 12 and 13 show a 14th/15th century door in the Perpendicular style, with a wicket door for everday use, in the south porch at Thornham Church, exterior and interior, respectively. The exterior wood is wonderful, with only minor repairs.
Fig. 14 Fig. 15
At the top of the door, on the left, there is a fox preaching to a congregation of geese (Fig. 14) and high up on the right a long-bearded man (Fig. 15) – there is also a man on the left, but he is far less clear. In order to make the image as clear as possible for the reader, I have used the Silvereton effect for Figure 14, whilst Figure 15 represents the true colour of the door.
Fig. 16 Fig. 17
Fig. 18 Fig. 19
Fig. 20 Fig. 21
Whilst at Thornham Church, the sun came out and threw these marvelous shadows on the pews and pillars (Figs. 16–22). It was magical, and I bathed in that light. The bench ends are 15th century.