Saturday, July 31, 2021

Buildwas, Shropshire

Well floored

Buildwas Abbey, where the Resident Wise Woman and I were pleased to find ourselves on our own in an atmosphere of almost monastic quietude recently, is an enchanting monastic ruin. It’s best known for the almost intact ruins of its church, built in the second half of the 12th century in a transitional style that bridges Norman and Early English Gothic – chunky round stone piers, arches that look semi-circular at first glance but which actually come to a very subtle point. The other glory of the place is the chapter house which, with its more slender columns, seems to be moving still more towards the Gothic.

If the columns and vaulting of the chapter house are admirable, even better to my mind is the collection of medieval tiles that paves part of the floor. These are not I think in their original place, but have been brought here and arranged in a pleasing jumble after excavation elsewhere on the site. Some of these tiles are fragments, some have been broken and pieced together, some of them are whole; all are faded. Yet even in this condition they have a serene beauty and as one looks across the floor one can see an engaging range of decorative touches and motifs – birds, flowers, leaves, grotesques, abstract designs from roundels to chequerboards, and elements such as the fleur de lys.

A few of the tiles give an idea of the richness that the colours must have had when they were new: strong terracotta ‘flower-pot’ reds, darker reds, rich ochres. A reminder that if the lives of the Cistercian* monks at Buildwas were austere, the visual stimulation they enjoyed was not only a matter of the natural beauty of the nearby countryside or the sight of an occasional richly illuminated manuscript. Even when their eyes were cast down, they had something interesting to look at: art and craftsmanship, indeed, to look up to.

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* Buildwas began as a Savignac foundation, but like its ‘mother’ house, Furness, Lancashire, it became Cistercian in 1147 when the two orders merged.

1 comment:

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

There is a similar collection of tiles at Much Wenlock.