IN SEARCH OF MEDIEVAL INSPIRATION: PART 3(iii)
A piscina is a stone basin near an altar, usually set in a niche in a wall below an arch or canopy, where communion vessels were washed after Mass. The blessed water would be taken away by a drain hole in the centre of a basin (Fig. 61, from Westley Waterless, Cambridgeshire) and would drain on to consecrated ground. Figure 62 shows the 14th century piscina in the south transept of Cawston Church which is extraordinary with its carving of a wildman and dragon with large heads in the spandrels (Figs. 63 & 64).
Fig. 63 Fig. 64
I included the photograph of the medieval piscina from Wiveton Church (Fig. 65) because I really like its stark contrast with the Victorian tile flooring.
Figure 66 shows John Symondes (1511), right, and his wife Agnes (1508), left, in their shrouds with the words, ‘Now Thus’, at the east end of the south aisle of Cley Church (details in Figs. 68 & 67, respectively). Beneath them are their children, who are, from left to right: William, Raufe, Aleyn, John, Cecily, Anne, Agnes, Rose. The inscriptions are upside-down, so that the reader would not turn his/her back on the altar.
Fig. 67 Fig. 68
Fig. 70 Fig. 71
Shroud brasses contain skeletons or cadavers in shrouds. The skeletal brasses to Richard and Cecilie Howard (Figs. 69-71), who died 13th January 1499, from the north aisle of Aylsham Church, and Thomas Brigg, 1470 (Fig. 72), from the nave of Wiveton Church are good examples.
The Brigg brass was, originally, part of a pair too, the second laying to this brasses left, but it is now lost. This brass was covered by two layers of carpet and when they were lifted there was a lot of dust. I had to clear, reverentially, the dust away with my fingers before I could take a photograph. It was like a two-dimensional archaeological excavation!
Fig. 73 Fig. 74
A good example of a cadaver brass is to be found in John Brigge’s memorial (Figs. 73 & 74), located in the south aisle of Salle Church. This brass is unique because the flesh is not fully shrouded. In classic momento mori fashion, his inscriptions reads:
‘Here lyeth Iohn Brigge undir this marbil ston
Whos sowle our Lord Ihu have mercy upon
For in this world worthyly he lived many a day
And here his body is berried and cowched undir clay
So frendis fre whatever ye be pray for me I you pray
As ye me see in soche degre so schall ye be a nothir day.’
Monumental brasses showing cadavers and skeletons are, of course, two dimensional objects, but the 15th century cadaver tomb of John Caraway (Figs. 75 & 76), Rector of St. Vigor’s Church, Fulbourn, Cambridgeshire, from 1391–1441 (d.1443), takes the notion of momento mori to an altogether different level. The tomb is located in its original position on the north side of the santuary and is noteworthy for three reasons: firstly, it is the earliest example of a tomb containg a single figure without an effigy above; secondly, it is the only stone cadaver in a wooden tomb; thirdly, it is the earliest in any parish church. It is actually quite an uncomfortable and distressing piece of sculpture and it serves its purpose well – as I am now, so will you be.
Figure 77 shows the 15th century misericords in situ at Cawston Church. Whenever I come across medieval misericords I sit in them!
Fig. 78 Fig. 79
Fig. 80 Fig. 81 Fig. 82
Figures 78 and 79 are examples of the underseat carving of these misericords, whilst Figures 80- 82 are examples of their arm rest carvings, and Figure 83, an end carving.
Although I am sure of their good intentions, the Victorians were often exceedingly over zealous in their Gothic renovation of churches, but some did the best they could minimizing the destruction. Figure 84 is an example from Salle Church of the sound policy of restoration according to the philosophy of William Morris, where as much of the original material was retained as possible. In this case, the upper half of a 15th century medieval ‘poppy head’ bench end was kept and fitted to a Victorian wooden base.
I covered Moulton Packhorse Bridge in the Inspirational Excursions section on this website, but on my travels I also came upon another medieval bridge, over the River Glaven, at Wiveton (Fig. 85). What a lovely, peaceful little spot this is.