Friday, September 18, 2015

Brent Knoll, Somerset


The church at Brent Knoll has a terrific collection of bench ends dating from the 14th and 15th centuries. Vigorously carved, they feature a number of different devotional and moral subjects and I’m sharing one of the devotional ones today.

I particularly like the chevron-carved wool of this lamb, and the way its head is turned towards the cross and flag. In some respects this is a familiar image from Christian iconography, a symbol of Jesus and the way he is sacrificed to redeem the sins of humankind that’s found in a variety of locations from van Eyck’s large Ghent Altarpiece to humble pub signs. ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,’ says John the Baptist in John’s Gospel. But there is no ‘standard’ version of the image – sometimes the lamb bleeds, to represent sacrifice, sometimes he is shown with a book, often, as here, he stands holding the flag. The lamb usually has a halo, but here he has not. Another issue for carvers of the lamb and flag was portraying how the creature holds the flagpole. Some versions of the image have the lamb’s leg crooked around the pole, which rests on the his shoulder; in others the pole stands on the ground while the lamb holds it against his body. Here it seems to balance on the lamb’s foot, a lovely touch.

Buildings, and the objects inside them, are also interesting for the personal memories they conjure up, and I cannot resist sharing one such memory. This image, then, reminds me of the Lamb and Flag pub in Covent Garden. This pub was an Ian Nairn special, and I was pleased to discover that it was an office local when I worked in the area, a watering hole we favoured especially in the summer. ‘It’s one o’clock. Anyone want to go and stand outside the Lamb and Flag?’ J, a cherished colleague, gone now, would call out. An hour of vertical drinking – sometimes I have to say rather more than an hour* – would ensue.

* Most of us reformed, in the end: autre temps, autre moeurs…


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Once again I wonder how you managed the clear photo: the bench ends are either side of a narrow aisle. I just bought the postcards. Brent Knoll the hill is clearly visible from many points across the water in South Wales: when curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to climb it, the footpath was restricted between two fences, and the mud on it was like wet butter. At the top, some lad had been given the job, in the rain, of reducing the tall growth of nettles - an impossible job for one person, I thought. Quite a little hill - it only stands out because there's no competition nearby. Remarkable too how isolated some of Somerset can be: some of the interesting churches are quite difficult to get to.

per apse said...

Marvellous woolly sheep - with all that means in the West Country relating to the textile trade in the late middle ages concurrently with the deepest of religious symbolism. But what of the face at the top right? Crudely carved in comparison to the rest yet presumably it had to be included?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joseph: Thank you. The aisles certainly are narrow, and taking photographs of the bench ends required a lot of bending and a wide-angle lens. I must remember some time to do a post about how I photograph buildings.

I know just what you mean about the isolation of some places in Somerset. I have driven round in circles (well, in irregular polygons) several times in Somerset.