Saturday, March 1, 2008

Castle Frome, Herefordshire

When not admiring Herefordshire’s black and white houses (see previous post), I’m diving into its churches to look for carvings. Herefordshire has its very own school of Norman sculpture, active between, say 1140 and 1190. This school produced work of outstanding vigour – figures, Biblical scenes, dragons, and beak-heads abound in that wonderful mixture of Christian and pagan that the Normans loved. The figures display deeply folded drapery, strong gestures, and, sometimes, unusual poses. This intense style of carving is not quite like anything else in Britain, but scholars have traced antecedents in various places on mainland Europe from western France and northern Italy to Compostela, where it is known that at least one local lord went on pilgrimage.

The font in the small, isolated church at Castle Frome is one of the masterpieces of this Herefordshire school. It depicts the symbols of the four Evangelists and, centre stage as it were, the Baptism of Christ. Christ has entered a rippling, fish-rich pool, St John stands by, the hand of God and dove of the Holy Spirit appear above. The scene takes one back, not just to the first century, but also to the Norman period, when a priest in a remote country parish about to baptize a baby could explain to his illiterate congregation their links to an event in the far western Mediterranean some 1200 years ago.


Peter Ashley said...

Did you follow in the steps of John Piper and sponge down the font with water to bring out the detail, and then light it with an old storm lantern?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Ah, Mister Pahper and his tricks! No, though I have been known... At Castle Frome the lighting was vastly improved when Zoe said, "Here, this might help," and opened the church door.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for featuring our font on your blog. We are very proud of it and so many visitors come and enjoy our church every year with the font, the cavalier tomb and the knight carved on the wall holding a heart. Maybe to mark the site of a heart brought back from someone who died in the Crusades?

Best wishes

Louise Manning, Churchwarden

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks very much for your comment, Louise. I love all the Herefordshire Romanesque sculpture, and your Cavalier tomb, too. The heart I suppose must signify that the rest of the person's body is buried elsewhere – could be because of the Crusades, or some other war, or some other reason. Another nice thing about the church is the way it stands in its elevated position above the road.