Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Lea, Herefordshire

The elephant in the room, or, Odd things in churches (11)

Although it’s not at all odd for a church to have a font, this one is odd, as English fonts go. First of all, it’s Italian; secondly, it’s elaborately carved and inlaid; thirdly, it didn’t start out as a font at all, but as a stoup. That I was able to come across this exotic object in a church in Herefordshire, near the border with Gloucestershire, is due to a gift. The font was donated by a Mrs Hope-Edwards, as a memorial to her mother, and she got it from a London dealer who imported it for Italy. It’s said to be of the 12th or 13th century, and Mrs Hope-Edwards gave it to the church in 1909.

The round bowl is carved with various interlacing patterns and a number of small scenes – just visible in my upper photograph are a man in a boat (he’s holding an oar, but the vessel’s large sail is also visible), and a fox making short work of a chicken. Other scenes feature a dog attacking a ram, a peacock eating a fish, and a woman also with a fish. The bowl is set on a distinctive shaft that has a faux-knot halfway up and the staff is carried on the back of an elephant, a creature that seems to have ears very like human ones. As well as the carving, another delight of the font is the mosaic or Cosmati work running around the bowl and around the saddle cloth that is draped over the elephant’s body.
Scholars of medieval sculpture have made comparisons with work in such places as the cathedrals of Canosa di Puglia and Bari. I have seen ‘knotted’ shafts like this one at Modena cathedral. The meticulous mosaic work, with its tiny diamond-shaped and triangular tesserae certainly has an Italian feel too. In the right lighting conditions the golden tesserae must glitter attractively. Alas! England could not provide sunny weather on the day I visited, but the font still brightened a rather gloomy interior.

1 comment:

Sally Johnson said...

That is so beautiful, and a great story as well. A lovely memorial to a good mother.