Sunday, November 18, 2012

Twenty-three from this tiny village

The village consists of a little square of eighteenth-century buildings, widely spaced and well laid-out around a small village green under graceful trees.

The sky a hard bright blue and the winter sun dazzling, although it was very cold.

First glimpse you get of the church is of the astounding height and beauty of the tower and spire.  Close-to the building is even more intriguing.  The exterior is very decorative, which suits such a large building.  Pevsner praises the "lacy flying buttresses".  Across the front façade empty niches with gothic canopies alternate with plainer niches filled with figures of saints, with battlements and pinnacles above.  Rich arcading binds the ensemble together.

The churchyard has been allowed to become overgrown with trees and bushes, so that there is a sense of walking through a jungle to reach the south porch.

The heavy key turns easily in the lock and the door opens into a space vast and cavernous but at the same time so perfectly proportioned that one immediately feels the harmony created by the masons.  The central aisle has great twelfth-century columns that have capitals of foliage with among the stylised leaves grotesque heads peeping out with pug noses and gaping mouths.  The east window is a powerful 1899 Christ enthroned in majesty, surrounded by the company of Heaven including animated angles swinging censors and fabulously-robed Archangels (St Michael a sturdy non-nonsense figure).

At the end of the south aisle I entered the Lady Chapel.  Above the altar was a ledge supporting a richly painted and gilded statue of the Virgin and Child.  Behind this statue was a stained glass window that seemed to date from the 1920s, to judge from the pastel colours and shingled hair-styles.  The composition was on the theme of Christ healing the cripple, with the words Take up thy bed and walk.  All the figures were fashionably slim.  Above the tableau hovered an angel arranged in the air as if he were lying on a divan in a pose of impossibly languid elegance. 

I sat down briefly to read the church guide (just a photocopied sheet, although well-written).  Sun streamed in through the clear glass side aisle windows.  The sunshine brought out the pale colour of the stone, which was a shade of white honey.  It was so peaceful and soothing to be there that I didn't want to move again.  However, I became aware of my lungs filling with cold air, and I knew that if I stayed too long in the place my illness would return.  I got up to leave.

In the corner by the door was a display of old photographs from the grammar school (now closed) with uniforms that changed as the decades passed.  Substantial war memorial - brass plates upon heavy wood surrounds with classical pilasters and egg-and-dart ornamentation.  Hundreds served in the Great War and twenty-three (twenty-three from this tiny village!) died. 

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