Friday, January 20, 2006

A star of stars

click photo to enlarge
It is the English way to "take down a peg or two" - to "bring down to earth" - that (or those) which other nations might exalt. Thus Norman Foster's stunning new Swiss Re building in London is familiarly known as "The Gherkin" (see blog post of January 14th), Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was generally called "Maggie", and the great British institution of Marks & Spencer is commonly referred to as "Marks & Sparks". So, what name could possibly be applied to the 272 feet high, fifteenth century tower of the church of St Botolph in Boston, Lincolnshire: an elaborate and daring structure with a lantern-like open-work top, set in a flat area of fen, arable farmland and river. Well, for centuries this medieval masterpiece has been known as "The Stump"!

I have visited this church on a number of occasions, and, like any tall building, I have found it hard to photograph in its entirety. However, good medieval churches - and this one is outstanding - offer details and vistas a-plenty to the eye that looks. My photograph shows the lierne-vault which forms the ceiling of the underside of the tower. It is an elaborate and exquisite arrrangement of ribs and bosses formed into four stars which, together, make a larger star. The purpose of this attractive pattern is principally structural. However, the medieval builders capitalised on its beauty with their carving, and made this inaccessible surface many feet above the congregation's head a tribute to the glory of God.

On the occasion I took this photograph I didn't have my tripod with me, so I lay on my back with the camera clamped firmly to my face, and increased the exposure to ensure illumination of the vaulting. I tried to get the picture as symmetrical as I could to complement the symmetry of the main subject. When I look at the beauty of the ribs, bosses and windows in this tower I do have some concerns about our national trait that allows such beauty to be referred to as "The Stump".
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen