Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Puzzle picture

It is one face of the stem of the font in St Michael’s, Little Coates. That isn’t in doubt. But what the picture on it is, I have no idea.

From time to time I’ve pointed out to people that scrubbed stone and white walls are a modern fashion in churches. Mediaeval buildings would have been highly painted and gaudy, I continue. Although the bowl of the font is scrubbed clean, look in the shadows underneath and you will see the remnants of the mediaeval paint. That is as far as I went - they appeared to be just random smears as far as I’d noticed in ten years.

On Friday the person who advises the Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches about paint came to see the state of the decoration in the church for us. In passing, I mentioned the stem of the font. ‘You ought to take some digital photos, and see what you can see,’ he suggested.

So I took a lamp and had a first go yesterday. Across the top half of this particular face quite a lot of detail remains, although clearly the bottom half has had most of the paint rubbed away. But no amount of playing about with the digital contrast and colour shades seems to make anything clearer. Of course, it would help if I’d taken a better photograph.

On the right a fifth of the way down I can convince myself there is a face like that of the Lord. If so, I thought at first, is it the banner of the resurrection he holds in his left hand (on the right edge), in which case he is stepping out of his tomb? Or perhaps he is John the Baptist and this is - appropriately for a font - the Baptism of the Lord? Or (it seems to me more likely now) are there enough things like palm branches to the left to indicate he is riding into Jerusalem, in which case it might be an ear of the donkey middle outlined left? Or am I so desperate to convince myself I can see something that I’m ‘reading’ far too much into what I can’t really see?


Tim Stephenson said...

That is likely to be the case :)

Peter Mullins said...

Thanks, Tim, for your tease, with which I've only just caught up.

I've approached a couple of people with knowledge about this sort of thing to see if they can help in any way, and I'll post more if they are able to come back with anything.