Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Elkstone, Gloucestershire

It’s always a pleasure to come to St John’s Elkstone, which is one of the most beautiful small churches of the Cotswolds. When you enter the porch and see this carving above the south door, you know you’re in one of England's special buildings. The zigzag carving around the arch is a typical bold gesture of Norman masons working in the late-12th century. So are the tiny beakheads, a bit of grotesquery that the Normans of this part of England seem to have particularly liked. The semi-circular panel above the door depicts, in a style that’s naïve but clear, Christ in Majesty, the symbols of the Evangelists, the hand of God the Father, and the Lamb of God.

Inside, a Norman arch frames a tiny sanctuary and chancel vaulted in stone. Norman and later medieval details abound, from the carved boss at the centre of the vaulted ceiling to the tiny windows. But it’s not just the architecture that impresses here. It’s the warmth of the atmosphere. This is a building that’s been cared for for over 800 years and is still much loved today.

I can’t resist posting a photograph of one more detail though. Around the outside walls of the church are rows of corbels that display more of the fancy of the Norman carvers – heads of animals and people, abstract patterns, and coiled serpents are among the subjects. This centaur archer, copied from a medieval bestiary that gave the monks and masons their take on Classical mythology, is a personal favourite.

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