Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Fit for purpose
I'm continuously humbled and astounded by the beauties to be found in English churches, especially those that are off the tourist trail and off the radar of all but the most assiduous and specialised art historians. Buckland, in the marshy area not far from Faringdon, is a case in point. You could spend a day or more in this building, which has evolved steadily over the centuries and incorporates the work of artists and craftworkers from every period from Norman to Victorian, and still not see everything. For now, I'll limit myself to a couple of details from either end of this vast historical span.
The first you see before you even get properly inside the building. This door dates to the 12th century, making its simple ironwork among the earliest one is likely to find. The metal has been cut quite crudely, but the broad horizontals, the great rounded forms, and the more tightly circling scrolls with which they terminate have been made with a certainty of purpose that no doubt made them as easy to admire in the Middle Ages as they are today. This ironwork has been fulfilling that purpose – multiple purposes rather, to provide hinges, to bind together and reinforce the timbers of the door, and to decorate its surface – for some 800 years. Standing near the beginning of a long craft tradition, it deserves to be far better known than it is.
*Buckland is now in Oxfordshire, but I use the traditional English counties because they reflect the usage in Pevsner's invaluable Buildings of England books – and because I like them.