Sunday, January 18, 2015
Advice to the wise
To go with the pair of tympana that have caught my eye during recent church visits, here’s another tympanum, this time from my archives. It is both stunning and very unusual.
The doorway itself is another showy late-Norman (12th-century) piece of design, complete with an outer row of billet mouldings (the repeating raised rectangles), a band of chevrons, a plain roll moulding, and, innermost, around the tympanum itself, a lovely bit of interlace that is carved in quite low relief. The ornament continues lower down, too – the capitals of the shafts on either side of the door are just visible at the bottom of my photograph.
The tympanum shows two monsters that have lion-like manes and dog-like heads but each beast has only two legs and their bodies taper into their tails. They are eating fruit from a tree which may be a tree of life. Below on the lintel is another beast – this time winged, to make it look more dragon-like. It’s said to be the dragon attempting to devour St Michael, who defends himself with a cross.
Between the tympanum carving and the lintel is an inscription in Latin, which is a very rare thing indeed to see in a Norman doorway on a parish church. It’s not easy to read, because its capital letters are run together without word spaces and the second line is placed on the edge of the lintel, but it seems to go: ‘Praemia pro meritis si qis despet habenda Audiat hic preepta sibique sit retinenda’ and this has been translated as ‘If anyone despairs of having rewards for his merits, Let this man hear the advice and let it be retained by him.’ Which is hardly specific, but suggests, I suppose, that it would be a good idea to listen to what you’re told in church – an interesting emphasis on the teachings of the church at a time when there was a greater stress on liturgy and the sacraments than on sermonizing.