Monday 25 March 2013

Weak enough

God cloth’d himself in vile man’s flesh that so he might be weak enough to suffer woe.  This is another quotation from John Donne.  I didn’t use it in either of my recent presentations of his work, but I became familiar with it when preparing them, and I take it into Holy Week with me.  I particularly like God’s need to be ‘weak enough’.  Meanwhile, I took these photographs in St Nicolas’ churchyard this morning. 
This one is of Herbert Rollett's gravestone which has fallen, which may not be that surprising after eighty years since it doesn’t look as if it ever had much depth or fixing to anchor itself to the ground.  We are trying to develop an Awards for All bid to do work in the churchyard and print a guide to it, and  one page of the guide was intended to point to this grave, so (although strictly the gravestone belongs to whoever is his surviving next-of-kin) I wonder whether we could have both it and another much older fallen stone elsewhere safely and securely re-erected next year as part of the same project. 
But more interesting than that, the fall reveals the fact that the base of the memorial had been  formed by re-use of an earlier gravestone.  I wonder whose it was, and how the memorial mason felt he was free to cut it up in this way.

Monday 18 March 2013

Witham Shield

Does the legend of dying King Arthur’s sword being flung into a lake preserve a historical practice which would otherwise have been almost forgotten?  I am reminded of this question by the short-term loan of the Witham Shield by the British Museum to a museum in Lincoln; we went on Saturday to marvel at it.

The shield, which dates from perhaps 350 BC, was dredged up nearly two hundred years ago from the River Witham on the eastern edge of Lincoln.  Much more recently whole clusters objects have been recovered around a rediscovered timber causeway a short distance further east.

The dates of tree rings in the causeway also gives rise to speculation about whether this sort of flinging was associated with mid-winter lunar eclipses; if so, this is also something we would otherwise not have suspected.

The gap in the mount in the second photograph shows where coloured glass or some other backing would have been placed. This, the sheen of polished brass, and the use of things like coral decoration, would all have combined to create the impact of the piece.

The brass would have been on a lost wooden backing, the lip of which remains bent over on one side (third photograph) but has been lost on the other (fourth photograph, showing, therefore, how thin the brass sheet is).

The glass case meant I failed to get a full length photograph, and nothing which hints at the shape of a boar, an image which would have been laid as a further sheet on top of the brass but under the central mount.

It is clear that this was a show piece and never intended for use in battle, and ‘marvel’ is hardly the right word for a reaction to it then or today.

Monday 11 March 2013

St Michael's c 1925

This is what St Michael's looked like soon after the major extension to the church built in 1913-15.

The painting is by Herbert Rollett and probably dates from the 1920s (which is when the single estate of farmland which made up most of the parish was auctioned in separate lots, after which housing development began).

It was loaned to us by a private collection for the centenary events last month marking the laying of the foundation stone of the tower. At first I’d hoped that it would turn out to be the painting of the church (‘A roadside church’) which was Rollett’s first painting exhibited at the Royal Academy, but it turns out not to be.

The photograph was taken with permission on private land (Grimsby Golf Course today) at about the point on which Rollett would have been painting.  The church tower is just visible in line with where it appears in the painting.

Rollett’s representation of the church looked strange to me on first sight. However, a careful look at the building from the correct angle revealed that the tower does actually have the profile he gives it. But he seems to have taken the imaginative liberty of eliminating the older, smaller, lower part of the church on this side of the new, larger, taller building.

Taking the photograph on the Golf Course, I also discovered that the curve in the treeline which marks Great Coates Road turns out to be more accurate than I first suspected.

The Bishop’s sermon at the laying of the foundation stone defended major expenditure on such building away from any significant population, and the context for this includes the substantial work which the Grimsby Church Extension Society in particular had had to do to provide new churches in the fast growing town over the previous twenty years.

Joseph Chapman’s legacies, which funded the work on St Michael’s, actually also included funding for the Grimsby Church Extension Society, but one can see why many people might have seen this work on St Michael’s as an unnecessary indulgence at the time.

Monday 4 March 2013

Breathing, bathed in, mercy

The air is not so full of motes, of atoms, as the church is of mercies; and as we can suck in no part of air but we take in those motes, those atoms, so here in the congregation we cannot suck a word from the preacher, we cannot speak, we cannot sigh a prayer to God, but that that whole breath and air is made of mercy.

The two best discoveries of the last week or so have been the spring pictured and the quotation set out above.

The spring is by Laceby Beck which we chanced upon during a recent walk. It is a mile and a half from here although we had not been there before. The circles in the top picture are being made by water welling up from the chalk beneath. The bottom picture is then of the clear pool this creates already flowing strongly into the beck (or into a pipe which runs beneath the path beside the beck).

The quotation is from a 1624 sermon of John Donne which I chanced upon reading round for the two study days on Donne I’m leading this month. Again, it isn’t something I’d come across before, but it seems quite as much worth knowing as his ‘no man is an island’ and ‘into that gate they shall enter’ passages.

I used both discoveries in our services on Sunday for which the provision of scripture began with ‘Ho everyone that thirsts, come to the waters, and you that have no money, come, buy and eat’ and finished with gardener speaking of the fruitless tree ‘let it alone for one more until I dig round it and put manure on it’.