Saturday, June 20, 2009

Roof Decorations of the Choir and Presbytery

The Decorations of the Roof of the choir and presbytery are reproductions by Messrs. Clayton and Bell of the original paintings, which dated probably from the thirteenth century. The series, commencing from the west, shows twenty-four prophets and saints, all, with the exception of St. John the Baptist, selected from the Old Testament. Taking them in lines parallel with the choir screen, the first row contains (reading from the left, as one faces the altar): Zechariah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and St. John the Baptist; the second: Zacharias, Joel, Hosea, and Zephaniah; the third: Job, Habakkuk, Nahum, David; the fourth: Moses, Micah, Jonah, and Jacob; the fifth: Malachi, Obadiah, Amos, and Isaac; and the sixth: Haggai, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Abraham. In the square of the transept crossing are (following the same order): St. Thomas and St. Andrew, St. Matthew and St. John, St. Philip and St. Simon, St. Bartholomew and St. Matthias. At the left the last panel on that side contains St. Peter and St. Andrew, while another in the opposite corner has St. James and St. John. In the centre is a figure of Christ, in majesty, surrounded by the four evangelists.

From this point to the east the panels are devoted to secular subjects typifying the twelve months, "The signs of the Zodiac," Price calls them: January, warming at a fire; February, drinking wine; March, delving; April, sowing; May, hawking; June, flowers; July, reaping; August, threshing; September, fruit; [54]October, brewing; November, cutting wood; December, killing the fatted pig. The originals were white, or rather buff-washed, in the last century. Owing to the tenacity of this wash, and the friable non-adhesive quality of the paint it covered, it was found impossible to remove the additional coating without destroying the original paintings. Tracings of some of them were made by Messrs. Clayton and Bell; but although the semi-transparent character of the buff wash allowed the subjects to be discerned from below; on nearer inspection the details became blurred and shapeless.

The theory that the paintings of the choir had been re-painted before their defacement by buff wash seems hardly likely from the state reported by the restorers. The idea probably arose from an extract, itself possibly interpolated, frequently quoted from one edition of Defoe's "Tour through the Island of Great Britain:" "The choir resembles a theatre rather than a venerable choir of a church; it is painted white with the panels golden, and groups and garlands of roses and other flowers intertwined run round the top of the stalls; each stall hath the arms of its holder in gilt letters or blue writ on it; and the episcopal throne with Bishop Ward's arms upon it would make a fine theatrical decoration, being supported by gilt pillars and painted with flowers upon white all over. The roof of the choir hath some fresh painting, containing several saints as big as life, each in a circle by itself and holding a label in their hands telling who they are. The altar piece is very mean, and behind this altar, in the Virgin Mary's Chapel, are some very good monuments." But in the first edition of the same book Defoe himself says: "The inside is certainly hurt by the paltry old paintings in and over the choir, and the whitewashing badly done, wherein they have very stupidly everywhere drawn black lines to imitate joints of stone." In another edition of 1724 the passage reads: "The painting in the choir is mean and more like the ordinary method of Common Drawing Room or Tavern painting than that of a church." Whatever be the actual value of the painting on its own merits, as a record faithfully transcribed of very early roof-decoration, it has an interest of its own far beyond much more important work of later periods.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Statues of the West Front

The statues are arranged in five horizontal lines from north to south, exclusive of the figure in the "vesica," the oval above. In the principal niches of the top row is a tier of angels, below this a tier of Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, then a tier of doctors, virgins, and martyrs, and lowest of all a tier of worthies, including princes, martyrs, bishops, and founders connected with the diocese and the Cathedral.

The Vesica contains a figure of our Lord seated, known technically as a "Majesty." In the tier of angels below, noting them from left to right, are the celestial hierarchies, Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones; Dominions, Powers, and Authorities; Principalities, Archangels, Angels. The Old Testament prophets are: David with the harp, Moses with the Tables of the Law, Abraham with the knife, Noah with the ark, Samuel with a sceptre, and Solomon with a church. The eight vacant niches should contain figures of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Elijah, Melchizedek, Enoch, Job, Daniel, and Jeremiah. The tier with the Apostles observes this order: On the northern turret St. Jude with a halberd, St. Simon Zelotes with a saw, St. Andrew with the cross that bears his name, St. Thomas with a builder's square; on the north buttress St. Peter with the keys; on the [31]southern buttress St. Paul with a sword (both these are restorations of ancient figures); on the southern turret St. James the Less with a club, St. James the Greater with a pilgrim's staff, St. Bartholomew with the knife of his martyrdom and St. Matthias with a lance.

The tier of the doctors, virgins, and martyrs, keeping to the same order, shows: St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, with a scourge in his right hand, and a bishop's staff in his left; St. Jerome in a cardinal's hat, with a church in his right hand and a bible in his left; St. Gregory in papal tiara, the legendary club on his shield, his pastoral staff doubly crossed, and a book, typical of his writings, on his left. On the smaller north buttress, near the turret, is a restored figure removed from its original place, which represents St. Augustine, wearing a bishop's mitre, and holding his hand as in the act of benediction. On the greater north buttress is the figure of St. Mary the Virgin, to whom the church is dedicated. This figure is also restored. In the eleven niches over the central door are, with their various symbols: St. Barbara, St. Catherine, St. Roche, St. Nicholas, St. George of England, St. Christopher, St. Sebastian, St. Cosmo, St. Damian, St. Margaret, and St. Ursula. On the greater south buttress is St. John the Baptist, and on the lesser an old figure unrestored, supposed to represent St. Bridget. On the southern turret are St. Mary, St. Agatha, St. Agnes and St. Cecilia, each wearing the martyr's crown. The tier of worthies comprises: Bishops Giles de Bridport and Richard Poore, and King Henry III. as a founder. Bishop Odo, with a wafer in his hand, commemorating the legend of his miraculous proof of the transubstantiation of the Blessed Sacrament; St. Osmund, Bishop Brithwold, St. Alban, St. Alphege, St. Edmund, and St. Thomas of Canterbury.

The Church of St. Thomas à Becket

The Church of St. Thomas à Becket is a most picturesque structure, and, placed as it is in a square of old tiled houses, makes a delightful picture. It consists of a nave with two aisles, a chancel with aisles, and a vestry room. It was built in 1240 by Bishop Bingham. The embattlemented tower has in its south front two niches containing much mutilated figures of the Virgin and Child and St. Thomas à Becket.

In the porch is a very curious panel with a biblical subject rudely carved by Humphrey Beckham, who died, aged eighty-eight, in 1671, and left this as his memorial. The most striking feature of the interior is the large painting above the chancel arch, representing the Day of Judgment, in the naïve manner of its time. Most works on ecclesiastical mural decoration mention it as one of the most important examples that have come down to us. Other paintings in the south aisle were brought to light by Mr. G.E. Street during the restoration in 1867. Without and within it is a building hardly less worth study than the cathedral itself.