Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Adderbury, Oxfordshire

Fishy (2)

I always think the best part of Adderbury church is the exterior. It has a glorious spire, some outstanding window tracery (much of it renewed during a Victorian restoration), and a riot of 14th-century carving running around the building at cornice level. I wanted to highlight just one of these carvings (although I hope to return to them in another post and feature some more), because Adderbury has the female counterpart of the mermen I included in my previous post about Anstey in Hertfordshire: a lovely stone mermaid, showing off her bifurcated tail.

This mermaid, although somewhat worn in the six hundred years or so that she’s been here, still clearly has long hair, the feature emphasized in the typical medieval portrayals of mermaids holding combs and mirrors, and like those attributes a symbol of physical beauty and vanity. But Adderbury’s mermaid holds no comb or mirror, her hands are occupied grasping the two branches of her tail, like the mermen of Anstey. The branches stretch outwards and upwards, to fit exactly the moulding that contains the carving, so that the mermaid feels perfectly at home in her place high on the church wall. For the people of Adderbury in the 14th century, she must have been a lovely and intriguing hint of life in a place of which they knew little: the far-distant sea.


bazza said...

These last two posts have been so fascinating that I think I will research and write a post about Mermaids (and Mermen). There must be strong symbolism in any pictorial adornment of a largely illiterate age. Weren't the Sirens who called ancient sailors to their deaths mermaids? Anyway they must have been forgiven as they now even feature in the Starbucks trademark!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Again, I'm not sold on the "symbolism" aspect. Nor do I think the citizens of Adderbury would have been unaware of the sea and its character - my own research into the Magnus inscription at Lewes now leads me to think that even an "illiterate" could HEAR (in Latin, French or Middle English) of a complex and various world that was possibly even less insular than our own Western-biased civilisation. 14th century authors refer to Classical writers so casually, I suspect that even the ordinary villager was more conversant with Greece and Rome than we generally are these days. And Gothic church architecture is no primitive thing either. How many e.g. village community centres and the like built these days would run to carved stone figures and spires, etc.? No, let's not be too hasty in pitying the cultural world of the 14th century!