Tuesday, March 24, 2009

the first few churches

UK 08, ever-continuing.

Over that day-and-a-half,, Lucia, Mark and I explored. Not wanting to go too far afield after the long drive from Lincoln, a tour of Wingfield College and St. Andrews, Wingfield, we plumped for Hoxne (pronounced Hocksen), which has St. Peter & St. Paul church with wall-paintings, and a moated vicarage. Not to mention the Swan, a pub in a 15th c. Bishop's Lodge. In an omen for our timing in other instances, we came along just before closing time, and had to be satisfied with an ale for Mark. One of the locals actually spotted his accent as Canadian (Vancouver, which is awfully close), winning a beer to be collected next time we saw him.
Hoxne is known for having one of the better historical claims to a connection with the martyred King Edmund, including (gone now) the tree he was supposed to have been bound to. Mark remembered the name because of the Hoxne Hoard, a Roman find.

St. Peter & St. Paul, Hoxne, has been restored by the Victorian hand, though not as splendiferously as Thornham Magna below.
Pictures of the moat were taken later. On this visit, we noticed first the lovely lychgate, which is, yes, where corpses are brought in for burial. In case you wondered.
The graveyard is somewhat overgrown, and I took photos of leaning gravestones and ivy-covered tombs. There's a surprising variety of types through England. East Anglia has a number of what look like above-ground, oversized stone coffins, usually with a head and foot-stone. There's probably a technical term, but I don't know it.
I also took pictures of trees, but that may warrant a separate post. Or several separate posts. Or just keeping that sort of thing to myself.

What I really wanted to see, though, was the wall paintings. Three large paintings had been recovered in this church, and I just wish my photos hadn't been so blurry. Simon's are better, over on the Suffolk Churches page.
The first one you see is a St. Christopher, usually painted right across from the church door, because if you see St. Christopher first thing in the morning, you're safe from violent death for the rest of the day.
The other two are the Seven Acts of Mercy, shown as seven figures holding scrolls (and possibly insignia). This one is the Seven Deadly Sins, depicted as a tree. There was probably a larger scheme, with more moral lessons, but these are all that survive (or have been able to be recovered so far).
The paintings are as high as possible on the walls, and must have been impressive when all the colour was present and fresh. They're still impressive, damaged as they are.

St. Mary, Thornham Parva (which means Little Thornham) was top of my list of Churches To See. Simon waxes eloquent about it, and with good reason. That was our first church next morning.
It's a proper parish church, layered with history, so that the 14th century wall painting scheme is broken by 15th century windows, an 18th century gallery and 20th century plaques. A cardboard box holding copies of the church bulletin sits on top of the medieval font.
And it's thatched! It has a thatched tower! St. Mary sits, like a few other East Anglian churches we were to see, in the middle of fields. One thatched cottage nearby, but otherwise it's clearly a ways from any parishioners.

The interior is simple, too small to have aisles, but with a restored rood-screen, and a few pieces of rescued medieval glass tucked in the window tracery.
This picture, while giving you an idea of the small compass of the church, hides the two things that make it really remarkable.
One is a rare survival of an almost complete wall painting scheme, the sort of thing that almost every medieval church once had, destroyed in so many cases by later fenestration (sorry, putting in windows), or well-meaning Victorian restorers wanting to reveal 'the beauty of the stonework' by knocking off the plaster. The Puritans, ironically, did more to preserve the paintings: whitewashing over them and painting improving mottoes on top.
But I digress (cries of No! Really?).

The wall paintings tell two stories. One storyline is the martyrdom of St. Edmund, including his flight, the body found guarded by a wolf, the removal of his body to the shrine in Bury. A doorway arch stands in for the bridge that the cart bearing his body was miraculously able to cross (it was too narrow for the cart). The picture here is described as Edmund's head being reattached to his body by monks.

The other storyline is the Infancy of Christ. The Annunciation is missing, but the Visitation, Adoration, and Presentation are all surviving. The paintings are much more intimate, obviously, than the Hoxne paintings. They're at head-height or just above, and the style is simple, almost cartoony to modern eyes. This is not the art of the court.

The art of the court is represented by the other treasure of Thornham Parva, which is the retable. Excuse my blurry and partial photo, as I'm not good at photographing through glass. (Mark took better photos, and I may post them later).
The retable was probably the property of a noble family, hidden away and perhaps part of a secret chapel during the Reformation, then forgotten, eventually found in a stable loft and donated to this little church.
It shows the Crucifixion, with four saints flanking it on each side, holding their insignia. The background is gold leaf, and the figures are painted in oil, which pegs it as an English production. There's a sister panel, identified as being from the same oaks, now in the Museum at Cluny (and which I used as a model for a panel painting I did some years back).
The figures have that dancer's grace of early 14th century painting, with exaggerated hands and length of limb, to give them more gesture and emphasis. The modeling of the draperies is ... just so beautiful that I think I have to shut up about it now.
I'll post Mark's pictures later.

St. Mary Magdalene, Thornham Magna (Big Thornham) is appropriately much grander. It's the church of an important family (as St. Andrew was) rather than a parish church. And it has been restored most impressively, with the brightest Victorian touches of glass and paint.
Jane led us unerringly about, and we found a lane to park in, a raised cart-track alongside the road, paved with dead leaves. It had the air of being left over from the past, though I suppose it was in use enough not to be grown over.
This tree caught my attention on the way in, for its wild exuberance in a clipped and trimmed context. (Look, it's the only tree picture here, and there were some awesome trees at Thornham Parva, but I have some self-control, whatever you might think.)
The grounds are beautifully kept, and there's a fine Victorian angel in the graveyard.
There was one other church, I think, that had as impressive a restored interior (judged purely on its Victorian merits). I'll have to find which it was in my notes.

The day was cloudy while we were there, so I didn't try to photograph the stained-glass windows, which were lovely Pre-Raphaelite style, designed (I found out later) by Burne-Jones.
The hammerbeam roof may be medieval, but overall, it's best to just consider this Victorian Gothic and enjoy it for that.

I have to remind myself just how far up ecclesiastical interiors go. It surprises me each time I enter an old church, that there's so much air enclosed. Modern churches don't seem to reach quite so high.

1 comment:

sarawakiana said...

This is Sarawakiana - someone interested in old things - records- anything.
Great posting!!

Greetings from the island of Borneo.