Monday, February 06, 2006

The patina of ages

click photo to enlarge
In the introduction to his wonderful guidebook, "English Parish Churches", the author John Betjeman, writes, "The parish churches of England are even more varied than the landscape." Visitors to England, if they travel reasonably widely, often remark that the the surroundings change markedly in character over small distances - from fens to rolling pastures, from wolds to heather moors, from mountains to sandy beaches. And in between villages, towns and cities tumble over each other. Churches feature prominently in most rural and urban locations, but I do wonder if the variety in them is as apparent to the untrained eye as it is to someone who loved these buildings as deeply as Betjeman.

Does the visitor to England appreciate the differences between, say, the small, almost dour churches of the Lake District, and the cantatas in stone of south Lincolnshire? And what do they notice of a church like St James at Shipton, Shropshire (above)? Like the majority of English churches it comprises a west tower, nave, lower chancel and south porch. It looks comfortingly familiar, even commonplace. But do they see the four hundred and fifty years separating the building of the nave and chancel, or the weather boarding of the tower, or the original metalwork in the windows? Probably not, and who can blame them. Such knowledge can only be acquired slowly, over time.

What they will see, as I did when I took this photograph, is a beautiful, interesting shape, wearing the patina of years, in an early morning churchyard of snowdrops and tombs. I took this photograph from the south east corner of the church, the classic location for photographing English churches. This position allows the camera to explain the building, and leads the eye from the east window, down the chancel, past the nave (taking in the south porch), to the culminating west tower. It invariably produces a satisfying image, and I believe it does here.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen