Wednesday, May 13, 2015

St Endellion, Cornwall


There is much to like* about the church of St Endelienta, at St Endellion, Cornwall, and the interest begins before you get inside the door. Many parish churches have sundials near the entrance – churchgoers need to know whether it’s time for mass, or communion, or whatever term they use, and anyway church doors often face south. This one was put up by (or in memory of) churchwardens Jonathan George and Digory Gray in 1826.

The sundial is a lovely mishmash of motifs, from Ionic columns to the sun itself. At first glance, you could dismiss those columns as rustic Ionic – a simple version of the real thing. But actually, they’re not bad. The columns are fluted, the spiral volutes on the capitals are carefully cut and there is a hint of egg and dart decoration between the spirals. The carver has even included the abacus – the bit just above the capital. When you look closely the sundial has all kinds of other winning details: the row of stylized acanthus leaves marking the top of the square ‘frame’; the tiny interlaced semicircles just below them (just about visible if you click on the detail image above); the designs that fill the quadrants at bottom left and bottom right and look as if they’ve been taken from patterns for part of a plaster ceiling by Robert Adam. The Sun, complete with face, keeps watch above all, and he is set in a panel that’s not arched, not triangular to fit the line of the roof above, but scalloped, another Regency touch. Best of all, the numerals are confidently cut with lots of contrast between the thick and thin strokes – a feature that was highlighted for me as the sun appeared from behind white clouds, transforming a chilly morning and bringing out the best in the carving. Good timing.

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*As is my wont, I’ve concentrated on a single detail. This church also boats beautiful roofs, carved angels and bench ends, and more. Plus a notable music festival, associated particularly with the conductor Richard Hickox and continuing after his death.


Stephen Barker said...

Wonderful piece of carving, I particularly like the sun.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Given the precise mathematical design for post-medieval sundials, one would be surprised at finding "rustic" anything in connection with them - though some seem to have been produced locally. This one doesn't look like Cornish granite.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you both for your comments.

What is the material? It's certainly not granite. Slate?

Eileen Wright said...

Hi Phillip. The building material could be either limestone or sandstone, both plentiful in the Southwest, and also often used for old gravestones.

A really fab sundial, that. The ones I've seen on churches are usually quite plain. A little thought about the usage; I reckon they may have been for the bellringers to tell the time by, as the bells themselves were for heralding the congregation to the service. I don't know if that's the case, but it seems more logical to me.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Eileen: Good point about the bellrigners. The idea of a bunch of parishioners hanging around, checking the sundial during the hours or minutes leading up to a service has always seemed a bit odd to me. But, yes, maybe the bellringers would – they'd be the ones whose responsibility it was to get the time right.

Stephen Barker said...

The sundial looks like it is cut in slate, which would be an excellent material.
In the churchyard of the disused church St Mary in Arden, Market Harborough is a slate headstone to Samuel Turner who worked locally as an artist, surveyor, headstone engraver and sundial maker. His own headstone which he engraved himself (apart from final dates) incorporates a sundial at the head of the stone. The sundial is accurate for its location. Unfortunately when the churchyard was tidied up and headstones were moved to create an open grassy area his headstone was moved to the north of the disused church were it does not receive the sun.
The headstones to Turner's two wives which he engraved incorporate a number of architectural features which I suspect were taken from architectural pattern books, which may have been the source of details incorporated at St Endellion.