Friday, March 10, 2006

800 year old craftsmanship

click photo to enlarge
Did the craftsmen who made this door in the early 1200s think about how long it would last? Almost certainly. It is constructed of thick oak planks from a tree hundreds of years old when it was felled, and the size of these is dictated not by lack of skill but by concerns about strength and durability. Overlaying the door is a marvellous scheme of metalwork based on bosses and strips embellished with scrolls. These might look like surface decoration, but in fact they are the craftsmen's elaboration of components essential to the structural integrity and construction of the door - nails, hinges, latches, etc.

Did these people imagine it would still be in use eight hundred years or so after they put it on its hinges? Probably not. Whilst some medieval minds did have a grasp of the sweep of history, workmen such as these probably had a much shorter-term focus. However, they also had their eyes on eternity, and one can't help but feel that this, as much as more temporal concerns, were what led them to expend such effort on the metalwork. The door truly is conceived as an entry to the kingdom of God.

This door can be found at the church of St Andrew (also known as Sempringham Priory), at Sempringham, Lincolnshire. In this small rural settlement the Gilbertine Order was founded. The Gilbertines were the only monastic order to originate in Britain, and uniquely, they embraced both men and women in their establishment. This probably accounts for their limited appeal at the time! The church dates principally from the 1100s and later, but pieces of Anglo-Saxon interlace sculpture suggest an earlier building may have existed.

I decided to photograph a detail of this door, because often a part is more expressive than the whole. It also allows the pitted metal, scrollwork details and the age-ravaged and patched woodwork to be better seen. I moved the door to give a raking light that emphasises these details, and I hope my resulting shot represents, quite well, the character of this timeworn door.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen