The Weobley Angels

Here is a close-up of the stained-glass angels in the tracery of a south aisle window at St Peter & St Paul’s Weobley that caught my eye yesterday, and a more thought-through attempt to make sense of it. It’s based on an iPhone snap and the window itself was restored (with many pieces missing) in 1929 so it’s not a great basis to work on, but we can make some preliminary observations, that I think are quite interesting:

  • The style and subject matter alike put us firmly in the fifteenth century, when both angel windows/roofs/bosses and meditation on the instruments of the passion were popular themes.
  • Angels are everywhere in East Anglia, but so far I have seen far fewer of them in Herefordshire. This may be a reflection on the amount of church re-ordering that was going on in each place in the fifteenth century rather than any difference in devotion.
  • The angels have six wings – a pair crossed above their heads and a pair crossed across their loins as well as the ones to each side – so they are seraphim (Isaiah 6.1)
  • Their feathers are represented as often in fifteenth-century depictions in a way that makes them look as if they are wearing a feathery angel-suit. This is thought to reflect the way in which people would indeed dress up as angels in the plays and pageants of the time.
  • Note also the neck-line of the garments which is reminiscent of that of a vestment. Angels and other figures are again often found in fifteenth-century roofs and windows dressed as if in a liturgical procession, representing the eucharist or other event (such as the Coronation of Mary) in heaven, and inviting those celebrating the liturgy in the church below to see themselves as part of the same in heaven.
  • There was no one definitive “set” of the Instruments of the Passion, but those named above were often found – alongside dice, nails, the seamless robe and more. They were also called the Arma Christi, as if they were the emblems on Christ’s coat of arms, or his weapons for defeating the devil. Late mediaeval devotion could involve visualising and meditating on each of the instruments in turn. The Dominicans in particular prayed in this way. (San Marco in Florence is the place to go to see this where each cell has a different picture on its wall to inspire prayer.)
  • We don’t of course know what was in the main part of the window below (assuming these figures were always where they are now) or what their context was in general. A crucifixion scene would fit, but my gut instinct is that this is unusual for a south aisle.

I guess the next step is contact the local church and some historically-minded Herefordians and see if (a) anything else is known about the window (are their records of its restoration?), and (b) has anyone worked on it and written it up yet? I’d also like to find out whether anyone is working on a general survey of Herefordshire Stained Glass – the CVMA doesn’t pick up more than a few pieces so far.

All suggestions gratefully received.

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The Weobley Angels

Today’s Church Crawl took us to Weobley, a charming village on the “Black and White” trail, with a multitude of appropriately-timbered houses, and a relic of the more recent past (still in use in fact?) that I couldn’t resist putting into black and white too. The church is huge: mostly fourteenth-century as we see it, with the second-highest steeple in the county.

A preaching cross stands outside, which we are told still has openings into which the Eucharistic elements would be set. It took me back to a much earlier Cross at Bewcastle which with some its other eighth-century companions had holes drilled in in them in which relics would be placed before using at as a mass station.

The church has the air of being well-loved and well-used by the people of today, and inside inevitably are also reminders of those in the past who did the same – a civil war Colonel, a medieval lady (some hair-do!) and a whiskered gent from more recent times. I wonder if the DAC would ever allow a modern effigy to be added? And if so , who would be the subject?

Above in the south aisle are the re-set remains of some remarkable fifteenth-century stained glass. Pevsner and the church guide just say “six seraphim” and leave it at that. Seraphs they may be, though I am struggling to see six wings. But what it are remarkable are their costumes and the objects they are holding.

They are not so much angels as people dressed up as angels, wearing angel-suits in fact – as is so often seen in Norfolk – and they seem to be holding not symbols of angelic office but of local trades – a hammer, a ladder, a sheaf, a spear. I’m going to stick my neck out and say that here we have a could just possible have an illustration of a local pageant or mystery play in which representatives of local trades or guilds would don their angel-suits and proudly carry the symbols of their occupations.

What do you think?

STOP PRESS

Night thought: the tools are very likely to be the Instruments of the Passion not symbols of trades. I’ll try and get some better photos to see if this hypothesis works for the less clear ones, but the hammer, ladder and spear fit well.

Book now: a retreat in the Steps of St Cuthbert at beautiful Shepherds Dene

image 27-01-2019 at 08.47Come and join priest-photographer Steve Radley and myself as we lead you “in the steps of St Cuthbert” in the lovely countryside around Shepherd’s Dene in Northumberland. We’ll have a focus (pun intended!) on “seeing the light” as Steve helps us use our cameras to help us in our meditation and prayer, and I tell the stories of St Cuthbert’s spiritual sightfulness. And all this in one of the special on-the-edge places in the Border Country where Cuthbert lived and worked. As well as enjoying Shepherd’s Dene itself we’ll have trips out to Holy Island and Durham Cathedral as we follow in the footsteps of the saint. To book email info@shepherdsdene.co.uk or call 01434 682212. We’d love to see you there!image 27-01-2019 at 08.49

Visiting Kilpeck Church

Kilpeck Church has an international reputation for its exuberant carving, work of the Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture. Malcolm Thurby’s book of that title will tell you all you need to know about it, with a top rate set of photos, so hie ye there if my snaps don’t satisfy…

The South Door is the pièce de resistance with its dragons flanking slim Norman knights in their usual conical headwear. I thought the one pictured was a peaceable sort of fellow carrying a cross: Jean wasn’t so sure … They are both the same as and different from the other major figures on the chancel arch. Pictured is St Peter with his outsized key and a pretty stern expression. In. other sets the carving has an element of naivety about it – I read somewhere that it reflects the work of the axe rather than the chisel – but what quality! And all around the church a profusion of carved corbels (not gargoyles) stand guard. I really thought the one pictures must be a modern replacement, with its floppy-eared dog and pop-eared bunny, but no: even the Muppets have their mediaeval precursors its seems.

The locals who work hard to keep the church open and alive have a good website at http://kilpeckchurch.org.uk, and we can also recommend the Kilpeck Inn just down the road. It used to be called the Red Lion. Presumably it had an identity crisis after the sign was put up, and had to put in for a name change:

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Visiting Dore Abbey

unadjustednonraw_thumb_c52What a strange and intriguing shape Dore Abbey is as you approach it! What we see is just a fragment of a former Cistercian Abbey, now preserved in use as the Parish Church, and with a strong new vision to continue to serve the local area as a place of retreat and refreshment. Inside you are struck by the spaciousness.

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As Jean remarked, it is also quite different and quite unusual to visit an Abbey like this with its roof still on and the living church around us. Generally, the outside and inside have merged into an architectural rather than liturgical, monumental rather than human landscape. Not so here.

There is a veritable genizah of now disused carved stonework behind the altar in the retro-choir, and amongst them some very fine bosses indeed:

The walls are covered in paintings and texts, from various periods but united by a strong sense of memento mori:

That’s Time to the right, with hourglass and scythe… A couple of personal memorials caught my eye too – both to bishops (I wonder why I always seem drawn to them?). One is a “heart burial” from the Middle Ages, the other a very unusual depiction of Archbishop Laud:

Huge thanks to all those who help keep the Abbey alive today. You can visit them at http://www.doreabbey.org.uk.

Laying some ghosts – from my Faraday talk

Until modern times science meant all sorts of knowledge, not just the geeky bits. And religion was the way pretty well everyone ordered their life. So it was all one thing.

Galileo was a practising Catholic, and senior clergy in the Vatican were on his side. The real worry was not about science but opening the door to Protestant thinking

Newton had a deep if unconventional faith, and wrote about that alongside gravity and mechanics.

Darwin did lose his faith for quite complex reasons, but also wrote, “It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent theist and an evolutionist.

The famous Huxley/Wilberforce debate about evolution didn’t have a clear “winner” nor was it much talked about at the time. The debate was between conservative and liberal faith.

The Huxley party wanted to professionalise science and separate it off from “amateurs” like clerics. (The term “scientist” in its modern sense was only coined in 1833.)

At the same time “fundamentalists” (their word for themselves) in America reacted by maintaining the literal truth of creation in 7 days with no evolution (“creationism” – not the same as believing in creation in the way I do).

There are some big issues to work through, but for many this is a “both-and” not an “either-or”. And scientists are as keen as the religious to recover good public discussion.

Building better bridges between religion and science

Rodney Holder in full flow speaking on the Big Bang to the annual Faraday Institute course for local church leaders. I was on first and did a quick survey of levels of scientific education among the attendees. Nearly half had a further degree…

How can very helpful professional education like this attract and engage with more ministers who like me have just an O-level? What are the hindrances that don’t apply to the more qualified group?