Escomb Church

IMG_1600Escomb Church, probably built in the seventh century, is situated in a hollow just west of Bishop Auckland in the north east of England, and is one of only four complete Anglo-Saxon churches left in England. The many substantial slabs of stone for the building are thought to have come from the nearby large Roman settlement of Vinovia, now Binchester, where there are very well preserved Roman baths that can be visited. It could be that there was a pagan site here suggested by the circular churchyard.

IMG_1655The blocks in the stone walls vary in size from small to massive and are laid in a rather random pattern, but the corners consist of immense ‘quoins’ laid on alternate sides as can be seen here; these strengthen the walls. The stones are mainly very neatly cut, again emphasising the Roman link. Stone buildings were quite rare at this time, in fact the skill of building in stone generally left with the Romans at the end of the fourth century. It was Benedict Biscop (628–690) who brought masons from Gaul to build the stone churches of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow, and who no doubt applied their skills here too.

 

IMG_1602Outside to the right of the porch there is a sundial set into the wall, thought to be the earliest sundial in its original position, dated to the seventh or early eighth century. There would have been a metal gnomon and the three lines carved into the stone indicate the hours of Terce (the third hour), Sext (the sixth hour) and None (the ninth hour), which are the times of the services held during daylight hours.

 

 

 

IMG_1616Inside the building is marked by its initial appearance of simplicity with whitewashed walls and wooden pews. The roof timbers have been dated to 1480–1490, and between 1875–1880 the roof was restored at a cost of £500.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1650The simple appearance is deceptive, because looking closer it’s clear that some of the building blocks have a history. Patterns and striations caused by chisels are visible in a number of stones.

 

 

 

IMG_1635And in the chancel, one of the vertical, narrow stones has a clear pattern that is thought to be the Tree of Life, with two figures at the base.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1636These two figures could represent Adam and Eve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1620The windows are small, typical of this period, but open out to the inside to almost twice their size, thus increasing the light. It is quite surprising how much light these small windows give out.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1621The high, narrow chancel arch is of particular note as it is similar to those in Roman gateways and is again thought to have been dismantled from Vinovia and rebuilt here at Escomb.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1622There is evidence of painting on the underside of the arch, but only the red colour is still visible. The paint has been applied to wet plaster as in a fresco (fresco means fresh) rather than simply painted on once the plaster had dried. It is likely that the whole church would have been decorated in this way with patterns and pictures.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1639The simple altar cross probably pre-dates the church and would have been erected at a significant spot for visiting missionaries to preach and pray. Eventually a church would have been built to protect the congregation from the elements and the cross brought inside.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1658Escomb Church is such a delightful, seemingly simple building but its history and place in the annals of early Christianity in the area mean that it is well worth a visit and well worth, too, looking a little deeper and longer to gain  greater insight into a really fascinating structure.

Kedington Parish Church

IMG_1357Similar to many mediæval churches, Kedington Parish Church in Suffolk looks fascinating from the outside positioned as it is up an incline and visible from some distance, but it is the inside that really makes it into a gem. So many layers of history and changing times are still in evidence to be seen.

 

 

IMG_1358Outside the church tower is buttressed and its height at fifty-eight feet emphasises the low roof of the nave. To the left of the one-handled clock (made in 1729 and restored in 2010) is an interesting cinquefoil insert, and the variety of materials used for the building are well shown here – dressed stone, knapped flints, brick, and pebbles.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1359Centuries of footfall have worn away the doorstep shown clearly here with an obvious dip at the entrance to the church. The carved porch and wooden door – with its smaller door opening – give hints of what is to be seen inside.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1414And here it is – the nave and chancel inside the church. Wooden pews os various designs line the central aisle with hatchments between the arches. The canopied boxed pew to be seen on the left at the front of the nave is that for the Barnardiston family.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1362 IMG_1363This manorial pew of this Barnardiston family is quite something! With its own roof and carved and decorated arches it really would have indicated to the parishioners who were the important people in the parish. There are two compartments here with their own doors together with hat pegs and a book box.

 

 

At least three layers of paint were removed to show some of the original fifteenth-century paintings of foliage, dragons and faces amongst other things.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1392At the back of the church are benches for girls and boys. These are for the boys and have pegs for hanging their caps. Those for the girls are at the other side of the church. The master would have supervised the boys and the dame the girls. They don’t look that comfortable to sit on for long services! At the top is a wooden bier from the seventeenth-century used for carrying coffins at funerals.

 

IMG_1393The pulpit is an unusual three-story seventeenth-century pulpit with Jacobean carving. There are six steps leading to the very top where the sermon would be preached. Note the canopy and the backboard ensuring that the preacher wasn’t affected too much by the draughts. The three tiers usually represent the relative importance of the readings with the lowest tier for the parish clerk, the middle tier providing a reading desk for the minister and the top tier for the sermon.

 

 

 

IMG_1394These are the steps to the middle tier with its circular platform and the fine carvings at the front can be seen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

0778F627-4907-4E8E-859E-0EBA4BF24EE1_1_105_cThe old alms box is a replica of what was an old tree trunk which had been hollowed out and sunk into the floor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FA0EACD2-5840-405B-947F-9842D5316756_1_105_cThe most impressive Barnardiston monument is possibly this one for Sir Thomas Barnardiston, lying in armour on a tomb chest (1610) and his two wives who are kneeling in prayer facing one another. Mary, his first wife is on the left and Katherine his second wife has a very fine ruff. Note the three skulls depicted either side at the top of the pillars.

There are also marvellous hatchments in the church but they are for another post!

Trajan’s Column

IMG_0299We have been fortunate enough to visit Rome in Italy a few times and on each occasion I make a pilgrimage to Trajan’s Forum intending to see if I can view the lettering at the base of the column. But every single time the Forum has been closed for renovations and as the lettering is on the side of the column facing into the Forum, the lettering has been impossible to see!

 

 

 

IMG_0313I want to see the lettering up close because it’s regarded as one of the very best examples of Square Roman Capitals. The column was erected to celebrate Trajan’s victories in the Dacian (present-day Romania) wars between 101 and 106 AD and was completed in 113 AD. It is thought that the architect was Apollodorus of Damascus. The victories of Trajan were significant. It’s estimated that he brought back half a million pounds-worth of gold and a million pounds of silver.

 

IMG_0308The column is simply magnificent – it’s 98 feet (30 metres) tall, but when the pedestal is taken into account it’s even taller at 115 feet (35 metres), and consist of 20 drums of Carrara marble placed one above the other. Winding round the column is a 620 feet (190 metre) frieze with carvings of the wars between the Romans and Dacians. There are 155 scenes with 2,662 individual figures and they have even been used as an historical source for the clothes worn at the time.

 

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The inside of the column is hollow and there is a spiral staircase winding to the top; there are narrow rectangular windows placed around the column to give light to this staircase which can just about be detected (there’s one just to the right of the arch almost in the centre of the top visible spiral, and then another beneath it three spirals down. In 1787 the German poet Goethe climbed to the 185 steps to the top to ‘enjoy that incomparable view’. Placed on the platform there  was a bronze statue of Trajan but this was removed by Pope Sixtus V in 1588 and replaced by a statue of St Peter.

 

IMG_0258So there we were last month on our first morning, looking at Trajan’s Column and I happened to spot that the gate to Trajan’s Forum, which had always been firmly padlocked before, was open and it was possible to go down steps to the Forum. There was a kiosk selling tickets – it was open! We immediately bought tickets and I turned hoping to be able to stand in front of the column to view the lettering only to find this section was roped off and thus inaccessible! Without any Italian I tried to explain that I have visited Rome and each time been disappointed by Trajan’s Forum being closed as I really wanted to see the lettering at the base of the column. They very kindly lifted the rope and I was able to realise a long held dream of standing in front of the column and gazing at the lettering. The sun on the letters brought them in to sharp relief and it was such a privilege and thrill to view this panel of exquisitely cut letters that had eluded me for so long.

IMG_0262They really are magnificent! And the sun light added to the exhilaration. The letters also looked so fresh despite the fact that they are two thousand years old. At this point I do have to acknowledge that whoever it was who made the decision to cut into the inscription to allow for the roof of a porch to be built deserves every punishment they should get!

IMG_0265Standing at the base of the column and looking up the letters look very regular and even, but the top row of letters is considerably larger than the lowest row to allow for perspective – the Romans knew about this even then!

 

 

IMG_0270Each letter is so precisely cut and is a fitting tribute to the victor of the wars. And yes, if we go back to Rome, I shall indeed on the first day make my way back to Trajan’s Forum to view the lettering, though I may not be able to persuade the ticket seller to let me cross the barrier again!

 

Dumfries House, Ayrshire, Scotland

‘There’s nothing that isn’t positive that comes out of this place.’

IMG_2850Dumfries House near Cumnock, Ayrshire, Scotland. is a unique place in many ways. The house was designed by Robert, John and James Adam, their first independent commission after the death of their father William. The building of the house was completed on budget and on time in 1759. It contains the most wonderful collection of original Chippendale and other furniture and is an amazing place to visit.

IMG_2849The whole estate and furniture was due to be sold when The Prince of Wales stepped in, reputedly arranging for the lorry carrying the precious furniture to be stopped on its way for the contents to be auctioned in London, and saving this unique house with its associated furniture which has an enviable provenance. However, being The Prince of Wales, this project didn’t end simply with saving a house and its contents. I was there to visit the estate and view the wonderful activities involving the whole community and while I was there I noticed that the stone on side of the house has very intriguing diagonal marks – mason’s marks or part of the design?

IMG_2855At the front of the house is a huge fountain and two formal mazes either side. I tried out the maze and as someone with no sense of direction, I was amazed (!) that I actually got to the middle, marked by a stone obelisk.

 

 

 

IMG_2857And just to prove it, here I am at the centre with the obelisk!

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2860It is well-known that The Prince of Wales loves gardens so as you would expect they are wonderful – a mix of colours and textures and not really done justice by this photograph.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2876As I walked through the gardens close to the house, I was intrigued by this huge tree which looked most impressive against the azure blue sky (yes, this photo was taken on the day I was there; the sky really was this blue).

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2877The bark of this tree was fascinating with its whirls and swirls and I wished I had time to sit and draw it.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2889However, it’s not just the house and formal gardens that are worth seeing. On the estate there are animals kept specifically to show children where their food comes from. And if Dumfries House is a building fit for a prince, the animal houses are certainly beautiful enough for The Prince’s farm animals! But the walled garden really was something else! There was a whole long border of HRH’s favourite flower – delphiniums. Again this photo really doesn’t do it justice.

IMG_2890But true to walled gardens, there were also beds of fruit and vegetables, again used to teach children about food but the produce also used in the café and catering training on the estate, and for the formal dinners given by The Prince of Wales.

 

 

IMG_2893Students from The Prince’s Drawing School were in residence when I was there, using the house and grounds as inspiration for their work. There are also great plans for a development to allow onsite training in building and living crafts. This will add to the training already being done in the Textile Centre. Training is given in sewing and machining skills, not now taught in the textile industry, and I was most impressed by what was produced. Here Ashleigh Douglas, head of the centre, shows a specially designed tartan.

 

 

IMG_2896And, as it’s Scotland, Graeme has been making kilts, and will be creating one of the above tartan after he has finished this one.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2901 2The facilities are most impressive.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2885However, what actually impressed me most of all was, as in the quote at the very top, the comprehensive positivity of Dumfries House and its activities. Every single person I spoke to, from the local taxi driver, to the waitress in the hotel, to those visiting the grounds and house, every single person said how important the estate was to the locality and how impressed they were with what The Prince had done. And in terms of the staff in the house itself, not one wasn’t welcoming, courteous and so kind. It truly felt like a privilege to be wandering through these beautiful grounds and touring a wonderful historical house. If you ever have the chance to visit yourself – do go, make a detour or even a special visit. You won’t regret it.

Roman Capitals

ada9a09acea936d776a6f55c82778c43_LLettering at the base of Trajan’s Column at one end of Trajan’s Forum in Rome is regarded by many as one of the best example of Roman Capitals. These majestical letters, with beautiful proportions, are one of the purest guides for any who want to study the proportions of Roman Capitals. On a recent trip to Rome, I was determined to take the best photograph I could of this block of lettering. For many years this Forum was closed for restoration (it is the other side of the road to the main Forum), but I had read that Trajan’s Forum was now open and so I could stand in front of the column and get a good shot.

 

Lettering at the base of Trajan's ColumnGood fortune was clearly not smiling on me, as when we were there it was closed yet again, with no date for re-opening, and this was the best photograph of the lettering I was able to get – not what I had planned at all, and only from a side angle. The letters are not narrow as they look here, but grand and rounded. Notice also the way in which a later roof for a porch of an access door has been cut into the last line of the lettering. Interestingly, which you may just be able to make out here, the height of the letters on the top line is greater than the next, and so on until the bottom line. This is because the letters were designed to be viewed from the ground, and by having larger letters at the top, they would look all the same.

Triumphal Arch of SeptimiusThere are examples of stunning Roman Capitals all over Rome (including all the modern street names). This is the triumphal Arch of Septimius, just across the road from Trajan’s Forum in the main Forum. It is best viewed, as here, by not going into the Forum itself, but climbing up the path behind the Vittorio Emmanuel monument. The letters were originally bronze and you can make out in close-up the small round darker areas which indicate the attaching pins.

Lettering on one of the tombs in the Via Appia, RomeUndaunted by inaccessibility to Trajan’s Column, I knew that there were really good examples of Roman lettering attached to the tombs along the Via Appia, some way out of the city centre and a long walk, but certainly worth a visit. This is just one example. The letters are beautifully cut in marble, and generally their proportions are good – although the letter N is rather too wide in most examples. However, spacing is not always as good as the letter-forms, lines 9 and 11 being examples of letters pushed too tightly together. David Kindersley, the great letter-cutter, used to say that a bad space is worse than a bad letter. See my Calligraphy Clips on spacing.

Pantheon, RomeThe Pantheon, the temple to all gods, has some majestical Roman lettering along the top of it. From this you can see how wonderfully clear the letter-forms are. We were standing quite a long way away yet it is clear that Agrippa was involved and it was made (FECIT)!

 

 

Rome street signEven road signs around building sites look good in Rome when Roman Capitals are used, but if we’re also looking at spacing, slightly blur your eyes. The ROM is fine, but perhaps the letter ‘A’ is slightly too far to the right. It is the ‘PIT’, though, in the middle of ‘Capitale’ which really stands out. The letters ‘I’ and ‘T’ need to be further to the right, and join up more with ‘ALE’. But this is being really picky when such a good use is made of this wonderful lettering style.

 

Diagram of Roman CapitalsSo what are the proportions for Roman Capitals shown in all these examples? Allowing for the fact that letters need to breath, and don’t always conform, generally speaking the letters in Roman Capitals are regarded as being based on a circle that can be encased within a square, as shown here. Obviously the letter O is that circle, and Q too with its tail (notice it poking out to the right). The letters C, D, and G are also formed from parts of that circle. You can trace them with your finger over the red lines.

 

Asymmetrical letters, then, are narrower, and the width of half of a square, as shown on the left of the diagram. These are B, E, F, J, K, L, P, R and S.

The odds are the letters I and W. Obviously the letter I is a vertical line. The Romans, very sensibly, had nothing to do with the letter W and it is an awkward letter. Nowadays it is regarded as two very slightly narrower Vs.

HCA Awards logoTo see how Roman Capitals can be made to sing, look at this wonderful example of lettering from Tom Perkins for the Heritage Crafts Awards. THIS is how Roman Capitals should look when they are made into a distinctive personal style.

But lettering should not have a rigid a straight jacket, but room to allow it to breath, so the letter R has a tail that sensibly extends beyond that half a square and the top bowl is larger than that of the letter P, the top and bottom bowls of the letters S and B are not equal in size, and so on. Studying the proportions of Roman Capitals is a good first step, but keeping rigidly to them is not the best second step!

Books you might find useful:

Patricia Lovett, The British Library Companion to Calligraphy, Illumination and Heraldry

Patricia Lovett, The Historical Source Book for Scribes

Lida Lopes Cardozo Kindersley, The Annotated Capital

Lida Lopes Cardozo Kindersley, Letters Slate Cut

Tom Perkins, The Art of Letter Carving in Stone

Edward M Catich, The Origin of the Serif

L C Evetts, Roman Lettering

The Church of Saints Michael and Gaetano, Florence

IMG_1319It’s not often that you see a view or a vista that absolutely takes your breath away but this happened when we visited Florence and went into the church of Saints Michael and Gaetano in the Piazza Antinori. Hanging from the arches, stretched along horizontal borders, and placed over shaped inserts in the walls were exquisitely embroidered panels, each one tailored specifically to the spaces.

 

IMG_1322The effect was unbelievable as the flowered borders stretched high along the church and hung under the arches.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1325The sacristan was in the church and I managed to find out about the embroideries. They were apparently made in the early eighteenth century, and it is only recently that they were re-discovered folded up carefully in a store room. This is a close up of the hanging in front of the pulpit.

 

 

IMG_1324It took them quite a while to work out what went where as there were no instructions! However, everything was very carefully made so that it fitted exactly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1353This can be seen from the side view of the pulpit hanging here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1354Imagine trying to work out what went where with the set of embroidered hangings in this area of the church!

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1320The hangings around the altar are particularly fine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1334Here in close up it’s possible to see the exquisite craftsmanship that went into their construction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1332But also to note that they are in dire need of conservation. The weft threads are almost completely worn through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1331There are lots of examples of gold thread work as here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1343Every area seems to have a specially shaped and fitted embroidery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1342We were told that it takes three whole days for the hangings to be fixed around the church and three days again for them to be taken down.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1335Apparently they put the hangings up for the first week of July for special church celebrations and then take them down a week or so later. We were just so fortunate to have stumbled on the church and this most amazing spectacle, when we did.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1348If you’re in Florence at that time, do make sure that you call in and have your eyes delighted by this stunning work!

The Siege of Caerlaverock

IMG_2834Caerlaverock Castle is distinctive in many ways – for a start it is triangular! It is also distinctive in that it was the site of a siege between the attacking King Edward I of England and the defending Scots in 1300. In the grand scheme of things, this battle would be relatively insignificant but for the fact that the campaign was recorded in a poem in French by a herald, and this text has come down to us. When I was learning the craft, some years ago now, I wrote out this poem in translation and bound it into a book.The first page here shows Edward I’s seal with him depicted as a knight brandishing a sword. The title lettering is in Lombardic capitals and written and painted in shell gold.

 

 

IMG_2839I then wrote out the poem and painted in colour all the coats of arms of the participants according to the blazon (word description) as in the text. The first line of the verse on the right explains that Henry Tyes’ banner was ‘lily-white with rose-red chevron’, and this is shown at the end of the top row of banners. The background is white with an inverted ‘v’ – the chevron. I was very much into diapering at the time (creating a background pattern) so the white has a grey swirling design. William Lattimer’s banner, though, was ‘crimson a cross paty or’, and this is a red background with a cross with fleur-de-lis ends, and in ‘or’, the Norman-French for gold. I used shell gold throughout the book, which is why it is a bit thin in places (it required a lot of gold!).

IMG_2835On this page, Earl de Grey’s banner was ‘in pieces six of silver and blue’, well actually the ‘pieces’ are stripes, as can be seen in the second banner from the left along the bottom row. And the banner of Robert de Monhaut ‘high spirit him to heights of honour urged – raised aloft an azure banner with a silver lion charged’ (the English translation of the poem can be a bit contrived!) is to the right – blue with a white (silver) lion.

 

 

 

IMG_2841Here is an enlargement of a section of one of the pages, with Roger de Mortaigne’s banner of a gold background and six blue lioncels (little lions) ‘double-queued’, or with two tails. And also ‘Handsome Huntercombe’ had an ermine background to his shield (white with the black ermine tails inserted in slits for decoration) and two red ‘gemelles’ – horizontal double lines.

 

IMG_2838The actual design and layout of the book was a real challenge in that I had somehow to marry up the paintings with the text, and this wasn’t always easy, which is shown here. A whole page giving details of the battle but no shields actually described. The shields are, of course, for those who were below in status to those who could bear banners. And the humble foot soldiers, who no doubt did most of the fighting, were not recorded in any way!

 

 

 

IMG_2836 2The lettering is in Chinese liquid ink, which is a dense black, and the writing style a sort of upright Italic. I wrote the names below the shields and banners in vermilion Chinese stick ink, which I ground on a slate inkstone and mixed with water. The actual names in the text were written with the same ink but in Gothic Black Letter which made them stand out (perhaps a bit too much, but I was learning!).

As my course also included book binding, I bound the book myself in black leather, and gold stamped the title on the spine.

 

 

caerlaverock-gatehouseThe castle can be visited by the public now and although it is in ruins it is possible to see how much of a challenge this must have been to the English, although the Scots, despite their seemingly impregnable castle, were defeated. There’s more about the poem here.

 

St Clement Danes and the RAF

st-clement-danes-geographSt Clement Danes, an ‘island’ church in the Strand in London, is thought to be situated on a previous church founded by the Danes in the ninth century; it is named after St Clement, patron saint of mariners. The other island church is St Mary-le-Strand and they are both situated on islands in the middle of the road. The building was completed to a design by Sir Christopher Wren in 1682 but was badly damaged by the Blitz of London during the Second World War, and it was only restored in 1958. There is some dispute at to whether this is the ‘Bells of St Clements’ in the nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’ or whether that church is St Clement Eastcheap.

 

641DFA22_5056_A318_A87B4CAFF2FA914CThe church is the Royal Air Force Church mainly as a result of an appeal for funds for the rebuilding after the war. The Welsh slate floor of the church is engraved with the badges of over 800 RAF groups (stations, squadrons etc), and there is also a memorial to the Polish airmen who died in service during the war.

3-st-clement-danes-book-of-remembrance11Along the aisles are ‘shrines of remembrance’ – illuminated cases which display the Books of Remembrance for those who lost their lives in service to the country. There are eleven books displayed; the first book, nearest the altar, contains the names of those who died before the RAF came into being. Books two to nine have the names of those who lost their lives in the second World War, book ten contains the names from VJ day to 2013, and the eleventh book is from April 2013. The pages are turned every day by a turner that looks a little like a military sword (see on the left in this photo).

Sheila WatersIn my book The Art and History of Calligraphy (published 2017) I feature one of these pages with names written by the great Sheila Waters (se right). Sheila was one of a handful of the best scribes in the country, including Dorothy Mahoney, who took part in this immense project supervised by Alfred Fairbank. Sheila said: ‘I wrote a lot for the St Clement Danes’ Roll of Honour. It amounted to about 33,000 names over a period of six years, during which I had two children so it had to be fitted in with changing nappies and feeding babies!’ Her, and the other scribes’, precise rhythmic script is a fitting memorial to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

 

Cosmati pavements

Cosmati pavement, Westminster Abbey

The Cosmati pavement at Westminster Abbey, laid down in 1268 on the orders of Henry III, was covered by a carpet for over 100 years. It has recently been restored and the wonderful colours and riot of swirls and whirls has now been revealed. The pavement is particularly special because it is one of the very few in the UK and the only one in such a complete state. (There is an excellent website with much more about the Westminster Cosmati pavement, how it was restored, the lettering, and the history on this link.)

cosmati_inner1The pavement is 7·5 m square and in the Sacrarium or Sanctuary, butting up against the three steps going up to the High Altar. This position must have indicated its importance and significance when the floor was laid. It’s on this pavement that the throne will be placed and the next king will be crowned. Interestingly, during restoration it was found that many of the stones were antique and were salvaged from Roman buildings, presumably in Italy. It is also different from other Cosmati pavements because the background is dark Purbeck marble, rather then white Italian marble as with all other Cosmatesque pavements

Santa Maria MaggioreIt was, in fact, in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore (a splendid building and certainly worth a visit if you are in Rome) that I first noticed the floor, and was intrigued by the patterns and the design, and wanted to find out more. An enlargement of the floor in this church in Rome is on the right.

 

Monreale Cathedral

Seven members and four generations of the creative Cosmati family based in Rome worked from before 1190 to 1303 and made decorative floors, pulpits, thrones, choir screens and tombs for churches. Colourful and sometimes patterned pieces of stone were cut into geometric shapes of triangles, circles, squares and rectangles and laid in a matrix of white marble. (Right: Monreale Cathedral)

 

Santa Maria in Trastevere, RomeThe first work of the Cosmati family was by Lorenzo Cosmati in a church in Fabieri in 1190, and the last recorded work was by Deodato who died in 1303.Their name gave rise to the style of pavements which are now in a number of churches, such as the Church of Santa Maria Travestere on the right which is an impressive display of wonderful patterns and colour.

 

Two Temple PlaceAnd you don’t have to travel to Italy  to see another great Cosmati pavement. There is one at Two Temple Place, which was built for William Waldorf Astor in 1895. Now the house is a gallery and open only during exhibitions. There is a lot of glorious craft in the house, so it is worth visiting if you can. (Right: taken from Two Temple Place written by Barbara Bryant, used by kind permission)

San Cataldo church PalermoIt does seem quite amazing that this one family, the Cosmatis, working for just over 100 years in the Middle Ages, gave rise to something that is still in evidence today and wanted by some of the richest people in the world in the 19th century for their town house. These pavements are walked over by thousands of people yet also delighting those who care to pause and look down. (Right: San Cataldo Church, Palermo.)

Memento mori – remember (that you have to ) die

DSCN6043-300x214Children dressing up as skeletons, skulls made out of sweet jelly and white chocolate bones are all part of Hallowe’en, but, as with so many of our customs, these sorts of symbols are not new. It was thought that the veil between heaven and earth was particularly thin on the night before All Saints’ or All Hallows’ Day, and so it was then timely for us to remember our own mortality and to consider our life on earth. All Saints’ /Hallows’ Day is, of course, November 1st, and the evening before that All Hallows’ Evening, or Hallowe’en. Nowhere are we encouraged more to think about the afterlife than with memento mori – remember you have to die. And this is particularly true with some tombs such as that for Dean Fotherby at Canterbury Cathedral in Kent, erected in the seventeenth century (see right).

TombStJohnsChester_mOn Dean Fotherby’s tomb, the bones are in complete disarray, however on the tomb of Diana Warburton at St John the Baptist Church in Chester, erected also in the seventeenth century, her skeleton is modestly draped revealing only her upper chest and head and then her feet, (although her feet do seem rather large for her body and look a little as if they’re wrapped in bandages).

 

 

 

9900350Mediæval Books of Hours also included a memento mori, as they contained, usually towards the end of the book, the Office of the Dead. This Office was recited before the Requiem or funeral Mass, and is a rather long section. The illustration to this Office in a Book of Hours usually depicted death or burial, with a shrouded corpse, or, as here, a draped coffin. The fact that Books of Hours were for lay people ensured that the owners would be familiar with the words of the Office which encouraged a reflection on mortality.

 

 

allegory_of_the_vanitiesDeath was also featured in some paintings. Dutch artist Harmen Steenwyck painted An Allegory of the Vanties of Human LIfe in about 1640 (now in the National Gallery). It is a very symbolic painting with the shell representing wealth, the musical instruments indicating the pleasures of the senses, books denoting human knowledge, the chronometer and lamp (which has just gone out) showing the frailty of human life, and all being dominated by the large skull in the foreground – a symbol of death. These paintings are called vanitas, after Ecclesiastes (Old Testament) ‘Vanity of vanities … all is vanity’ (‘Vanitas vanitatum … et omnia vantias’).