My thanks to the creator of the Hertfordshire Churches website for encouraging me to re-visit Clothall church in the hills above Baldock. I’d poked around it once before and entirely missed its treasure.
Behind the altar are three late medieval stained glass windows containing dozens of beautifully rendered birds, some of familiar species, some of species no longer seen in England, and others that you wonder how the craftsmen knew of their existence (see the ostrich or emu or rhea of whatever below). I haven’t attempted to do them justice, only giving you a taste to encourage you to visit.
Surrounded by these gorgeous creatures is a beautiful Virgin Mary, rendered with such humanity and in so touchingly understated a manner, a country girl of the 14th century. Give me this over renaissance grandeur any day.
Also of note is the piscina in the side chapel. The heads are clearly not of Europeans, suggesting that it was not only people who lived in ports and larger towns who came into contact with people from the wider world.
This series of posts has already included some examples of graffiti carved into the fabric of local churches: the sword at St. Paul’s Walden and the three-weddings engraving at the same church, the evocative plague memorial and rendering of the old St. Paul’s cathedral at Ashwell, for example. Below are some more instances. The local stone, particularly the clunch, is soft, making it easy to carve into but also easily eroded, so there is lots of graffiti but much of it worn away.
There are plenty of examples of dated initials, some probably of no more than ‘Kilroy was here’ significance, but some may be latter day versions of the simple medieval pilgrim’s crosses inscribed by the faithful that abound. There are cross keys – episcopal signage – and others of equally Christian nature. Some are clearly secular, such as representations of long bows. Intriguing are the ambiguous carvings such as the strange wheels with bending spokes. These raise questions about the belief systems of our forebears, the extent to which old customs and beliefs as well as later heresies infiltrated the orthodoxy – take a look at Royston cave for a prime example. We know that churches were regularly built on pre-Christian religious sites. While there are several pragmatic reasons proposed for the abundance of ancient yew trees in churchyards, we also know that the yew harks back to ancient beliefs that the church tried to co-opt and tame.
Make what you will of these examples from Newnham:
Wallington apparently boasts a long bow although I couldn’t find it. But I did easily locate the medieval warrior in the 12th century base of what is now the church tower, and another carving that may be of a hobby horse in the porch. One theory is that they refer to a ‘mummers play’ about St. George but they are well away from each other, which seems to undermine any notion of linkage.
At Kimpton, there’s a representation of espicopal keys:
The church at Bygrave has been closed every time I have walked through. Parts of it date from the 12th century but there was a Saxon church there before and Romano-British pottery has been found around the site. It is tiny, unusual in its simplicity, and rather beautiful for that. The bell is located in a tiny housing. The hamlet is of interest, a handful of houses around three farms on a hill surrounded by the flat lands north of the Chilterns extension east of Baldock. The land was never enclosed and the farms have taken over what were three enormous medieval open fields.