Monday, May 11, 2020

Ripple, Worcestershire

Flowers and fields

I have posted pictures from Ripple on a couple of previous occasions, including one on which I shared an image of one of the church’s impressive set of misericords. These seats, which flip up to reveal lovely and often humorous carvings, are mostly found in cathedrals, monasteries, and large collegiate churches, but here, in a quiet Worcestershire village, there are sixteen of these carved seats, all 15th-century, twelve of which feature a sequence of images quite common in medieval art: the labours of the months.

From church portals to books of hours, these depictions of the appropriate works for the twelve calendar months are widespread – a medieval constant, one might say, portraying the key points and cycles of life in the countryside through the seasons. Except that they are not entirely constant, because the climate and agriculture in, say Italy is rather different from that in England, and even in England there may be local variations. So in March, for example, they might be ploughing in France, pruning the vines in Italy, and here in Ripple, they’re scaring birds from the crops, rather as the Resident Wise Woman has recently been doing as the seedlings went in.

Ripple’s misericord for May shows the figure of the Virgin Mary carrying bunches of flowers. So what’s she doing here while in Italy they’re harvesting hay and in France they’re hawking? Apparently, the carving is a commemoration of the custom of carrying an image of the Virgin bearing flowers into the fields on Rogation days, when Christians took particular time to pray to God for protection from calamities. Rogation days occurred in the run-up to Ascension Day,† and were a time of processions and the image of the Virgin was carried around the fields during the blessing of the crops.

Blessing the crops with the appropriate ceremony was clearly a vital part of the agricultural year and worth marking as one of the twelve important labours. This simple carving, placed out of the way on a folding seat, becomes, it seems to me, rather moving when one understands how much hope and faith it embodies, summing up as it does how vital this crop will be to the community. There’s also something rather lovely about the way it celebrates spring flowers, which are themselves, and like Mary herself, living symbols of growth, renewal, and hope.

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* They’re inevitably rural labours. The work of the town merchant or craftsman is less bound by the seasons than that of the farmer or grower.

† There is a ‘major’ Rogation Day on 25 April, and three ‘minor’ Rogation Days in May.


per apse said...

Your photo is so good - 'my' misericords never come out as well! And the comments conjure up "the good old days!" So what chance of actually enjoying the merry month when we can't get in any building to see its treasures? Thanks again for your blogs - PS thankfully the natural world has its wonders also!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Per Apse: Thank you. I wish I had more good photographs of these misericrods from Ripple. The trouble is, the contortions involved in getting into position are actually becoming quite painful, and when you do get into position, it's dark down there, so the images aren't very clear. But I try. And yes, meanwhile, there are the consolations of the natural world.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I remember Ripple as the place where the old lady getting off the all-villages-served local bus stopped a moment to kiss the bus driver. Haven't seen the misericords - must go on the itinerary, when permitted once more.

Joe Treasure said...

Thanks, Phil, for the physical effort this picture required and, as always, for the historical background. And thanks also to Joseph Biddulph for that evocative glimpse of Worcestershire life.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joe: Looking at the image again, I'm eager to go back to Ripple (it's not faraway) and take more pictures, perhaps armed with a cushion for my medieval knees!