Tuesday, May 17, 2016
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.