Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Rock, Worcestershire

Watcher, cock, or, Odd things in churches (18)

For many of us, weathercocks are almost synonymous with churches. It was back in the 9th century that Pope Nicholas I decreed that a cockerel should be displayed at the uppermost point of every parish church, a reminder of the fateful triple crowing of the cock that signalled Peter’s betrayal of Christ. The practice of putting a rooster on every church long ago fell into neglect (if it was ever universal), but hundreds of churches still have weathercocks, combining the function of symbol with that of practical use. Know the wind direction and you’re part of the way to forecasting the weather. ‘If that cock’s pointing down the street and there’s a dark cloud over the hill,’ said an old gardener from our neighbourhood, ‘It’ll be raining here in an hour.’ He was right, and such knowledge is useful not only to gardeners but also to the farmers and farm workers who were for centuries the mainstays of the rural economy.

Nothing odd, then, about weathercocks on churches. But a weathercock inside a church is decidedly odd. And yet, what do you do with a rooster that has to be taken down from the tower? Throw him away or send him for scrap metal to be melted down? Maybe there’s a better way. Doesn’t it make sense to set him up inside the church, where his symbolic function survives and he represents a bit of church history? Or perhaps you should keep him safe, against the day when funds can be found to re-erect him on the tower, where he belongs.

Whatever the motivation for keeping this weathercock indoors, I was pleased to see him here, where he provided a few minutes’ distraction from Romanesque carvings and other delights in the church at Rock. Close-up, in spite or perhaps because of the repairs, bolts and rivets, he’s revealed as an appealing bit of folk sculpture, perhaps the proud work of a local blacksmith. The details of the head are sketched by way of telling cuts in the metal: eye, bill, comb, crest. The body is surprisingly slim, making me wonder if weathercocks (and maybe actual roosters) got plumper in more recent years. The tail is splendidly broad, its pattern of holes suggesting feathers and presumably leaving enough metal to catch the wind. In a collection of folk art like the wonderful one at Compton Verney, this would be a star exhibit. Here, in its rightful local setting, it’s a delight.

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