Monday, February 2, 2015
Now and then as I travel around the country I enter a church and I’m blown away not by the architecture, or the antiquity of the building, but by a single stand-out object – a bit of carving, say, or a stained-glass window – that makes my journey worthwhile. Things like this, as John Betjeman put it, hinting that you have to suffer for your art, are worth ‘cycling twelve miles against the wind to see’. Indeed – although I must admit I arrived in more comfort, on four wheels.
The church of St George in Brailes is a large building, mostly 14th-century but with a tall 15th-century tower. Inside, in spite of an interesting monument or two and at least one item that could qualify for one of my ‘odd things in churches’ posts, what got my attention was the font. Whoever carved this, some time in the 14th century, decided to use each of its eight sides as a showcase for a window design. These windows in stone are stunners, and present a round-up of 14th-century tracery in the style the Victorian antiquarians labelled ‘Decorated’, an appropriate term that’s still widely used.
So, in my first photograph, the carver illustrated on the left ‘reticulated’ (net-like) tracery, in the centre an interesting design with a pair of flame-like openings, and on the right a window incorporating the double-curved ogee arch that was so popular in this period. In my second photograph are three more designs: on the left trefoils, in the centre a wonderful whirling wheel, and on the right quatrefoils within a framework of intersecting tracery. Beneath the window designs are two bands studded with stylized flowers – four-petalled flowers and the round, incurved ballflowers, another very popular 14th-century motif that I’ve noticed before.
This kind of font (the one at Brailes is not unique, although such fonts are not common) is sometimes known as a pattern-book font, a term that suggests a mason providing a catalogue similar to those offered in printed books in the 18th century enabling builders and carpenters to run up the required kinds of fireplaces, doors, cornices, and so on. Not that a static piece of church furnishing from the Middle Ages could have quite the same purpose as a commercially available book – it’s a font, at the end of the day. But what a wonderful place to begin one’s journey through life. Or to end a 12-mile cycle ride.
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Font-fanciers might like to know that I posted about a similar font, adorned with carved tracery but in the style prevalent a century or so later, in the church at Preston Capes, Northamptonshire.