Sunday, April 28, 2013
'Oh ye whales…
…and all that move in the Waters, bless ye the Lord: praise him and magnify him for ever.' The words of the Benedicite (and also those of the Te Deum) are inscribed around the walls of the south transept of St Mary's church, Buckland, forming a key element in a striking decorative scheme. The transept was redecorated in the early 1890s with a stunning mixture of mosaic and opus sectile work (the latter a technique of building up designs or pictures using larger pieces of inlay that the tiny tesserae employed for mosaic). The scheme was paid for by William West of nearby Barcote Manor as a memorial to his wife. The decorations were designed by Henry Holliday, a painter, designer, socialist, women's suffragist, and associate of the Pre-Raphaelites who continued to work in the Pre-Raphaelite vein well after the heyday of the movement.
High up on the walls are mosaics of saints beneath ornate canopies, but at least as eye catching are these diamond-shaped panels illustrating those beings and phenomena – the lightning and clouds, the fowls of the air, the beasts and cattle, and, of course, the whales, that are exhorted to praise and magnify the Lord. Each small picture combines pale stone laid out in opus sectile with glittering mosaic used for the sky. The earth and its creatures are lovingly and carefully delineated, and the heavens are filled in in dazzling gold.
*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.