Saturday, 21 February 2015

Do you know?

This early 20th century postcard shews a fine Gothic church in either France or Belgium. Its name and place are unknown. It is unclear as to whether it is a mediaeval church or of the 19th century Gothic Revival, but the presence of a Confessio immediately beneath chancel suggests something mediaeval (at least in part).

Despite the ample proportions of the building, the chancel is relatively small and there are no quire stalls or other furnishings to suggest this is a Cathedral-church. There is, however, a very fine civory or ciborium above the High altar.

Suggestions would be welcomed :

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Mediaeval Churches 1 : " Saint Mary Mead "

Murder at the Vicarage
The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Hambleden.
This view from the south east shews the chancel
partly obscured by a chapel flanking it
and the south transept.
Devotees of BBC television dramas frequently see fine old English churches as a backdrop to the story. The writer of this column is often more interested in the churches than the storyline. In some cases, such churches figure more prominently than others, as in a re-screening last night (Australia) of the 2004 production of Agatha Christie's Murder at the Vicarage. This novel is set in the fictional village of Saint Mary Mead and the famous amateur sleuth, Miss Jane Marple, lives opposite the church and vicarage.

In this instance, the church exterior and interior depicted were two completely different buildings as, I expect, was the vicarage location.

This post concerns that church outside which parts of the production were filmed, Saint Mary the Virgin in Hambleden in Buckinghamshire (UK).  It seems that the church was used for another BBC Agatha Christie mystery Sad Cypress

Murder at the Vicarage
View of the church looking up the path 
from the lychgate. 
At the southwest corner of the nave
can be seen a timber porch constructed 
in the 19th century to protect 
the original stone
doorway of the 14th century.
Like so many old English churches, Saint Mary's was built and rebuilt over many centuries and yet has a certain harmony of appearance because the same basic materials - flintstone and chalk with stone dressings - were employed at most stages of its development. It has its origins in the 12th century, as a cruciform building in the Norman style, but this basic plan was much altered in the two centuries which followed, so that Norman features are not immediately obvious from the exterior.

The church had a central tower over the Crossing which seems to have been part of the original building, but this collapsed and a new tower was built in a different situation at the west end of the building in the eighteenth century, and heightened to its present form in the late 19th century. The appearance of this tower, built when Gothic architecture was at its lower ebb, nevertheless in its simplicity complements the older work. 

A detailed description of Saint Mary's Hambleden may be found here.

Murder at the Vicarage
View of Saint Mary the Virgin from the north east.
The northern transept, although much altered, is the oldest part of the building.
Another chapel (built in the 19th century) flanking the chancel
adjoins the transept. Also shewn is a small vestry.

The late Gerald MacEwan with some of the cast of the
BBC production " Murder at the Vicarage ".
They are standing outside the lychgate of Saint Mary's church.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Chancel Screen : 1
Choirscreen of Hereford Cathedral

Gothic Revival Splendour :
The choirscreen of Hereford Cathedral (1862), shewn in an early 20th century postcard.

Although not a feature of primitive Christian liturgy, differing forms of screen nevertheless can be traced to the early centuries of the Church. In the East, these forms developed into the iconostasis. In the West, a form of screen which separated the chancel (that place which contains the schola and the altar) from the nave of a church. These have variously been known as Rood Screen, Pulpitum or Choirscreen, but each of these term describes a different expression of a structure which performs much the same function. There will be posts on each of these in the future in these columns.

This post, however, illustrates a wonderful screen of the English Gothic Revival in the Anglican Cathedral of Hereford (UK). It embodies a second stage in the Gothic Revival, in which architects more confidently experimented with the elements of Gothic, rather than studied reproductions of particular buildings. Sadly, this marvellous composition is no longer in place in the Cathedral, but is now housed, fully-restored, in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London). The following description of the screen is adapted from the website of the Museum.

The great choir screen made for Hereford Cathedral is one of the monuments of High Victorian art and a masterpiece in the Gothic Revival style. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, a leading Victorian architect, and made by the Coventry metalworking firm of Francis Skidmore.

A 19th century photograph of the Hereford choirscreen.
From the side, its three-dimensional design
can readily be appreciated.
Scott's most impressive screens were largely of iron, as at the [Anglican] cathedrals of Lichfield (1861), Hereford (1862) and Salisbury (1869-72), and all were constructed by Skidmore of Coventry. Medieval screens were not made of iron - then far too costly - but always of stone or wood. Scott regarded iron as an important "modern" material and used it extensively, both structurally and decoratively.

Before it was installed in Hereford Cathedral, the screen was one of the major exhibits at the 1862 International Exhibition in London, and was praised the Illustrated London News as "the grandest, most triumphant achievement of modern architectural art". It helped to win for its maker a special medal for manufacturers in metal, brass and copper, for progress, elegance of design and excellent workmanship.

The screen is 10.5 m high and 11 m long and weighs over 8 tons (around 1000 kilos). Its basic structure of timber and cast iron is embellished with wrought iron, burnished brass and copper. Much of the copper and ironwork is painted in a wide range of colours. The arches and columns are decorated with polished quartz and panels of mosaic.

Passion flowers in many forms are dominant motifs on the screen. They symbolise the suffering of Christ upon the Cross (the Passion). The bearded figure of Christ is the focal point of the screen. On either side, angels play timbrel and harp. The figures look as though they are made from cast bronze but are in fact electroformed copper, a revolutionary new technique at the time and much cheaper than casting bronze. Electroforming is the process of using electricity to cast a metal object. It is done through the electrical deposition of metal upon a plaster pattern or model, while it is immersed in a suitable liquid.

Beautifully restored, but standing somewhat forlornly in its own room in the
Victoria and Albert Museum.
Although completely lacking the effect of its context in a large church,
nevertheless the magnificent detail of this screen can be studied
in the secure environment of the museum.

The central axis of the Hereford choirscreen,
shewing our Saviour in Glory flanked by the angels.