Sunday, December 03, 2006

History in stone

click photo to enlarge
In England the church is usually the oldest building in a village. If we exclude those churches that re-used Roman bricks and stones, the most ancient examples have walls and sculpture dating back to around 700AD. However, these are exceptions, and Saxon (C10) and Norman (C11) architecture is the oldest commonly found.

Of course, a church built during those remote days has almost always been extended and improved in subsequent centuries. Frequently a north aisle, or sometimes north and south aisles, have been added to accommodate an increasing population. This usually meant inserting columns between the nave and the extensions. Often the height of the wall above the columns was increased and windows inserted to return light into the nave. When lead became cheaper and more widely used as a roofing material, the pitch of the nave roof was often lowered, leaving evidence of this in the form of a pointed drip-mould on the east face of the tower. The tower itself would usually be increased in height and decoration. Most of these changes would have taken place in the C14, C15 and C16, and the architectural style of the additions usually betray their date.

In the C18 and C19 a south porch and further extensive work was frequently undertaken. And, throughout the life of the building the villagers would be laid to rest in the churchyard, or if they were "well-to-do", in the church itself, their tombs chronicling the changing fashions of the times. Consequently the village church is a repository of English architectural and social history, without equal, and as such, deserves our care.

Most of what I have discussed above applies to the church of St Michael in the village of St Michael's-on-Wyre, Lancashire, shown in the photograph above. Its leaning walls and rough-hewn stonework have survived many passing generations, changes in liturgy, and upstart architectural styles. It stands as both a historic monument and a book of the past, as well as a continuing focus for the faithful of the village. I took my photograph on a sunny December morning, using a wide zoom lens at 24mm (35mm equivalent) to include the foreground "table tomb", the churchyard, and the southeast view of the building. The camera was set to Aperture Priority (f13 at 1/100 sec), ISO 100, -1.3 EV (to keep the cloud detail).
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen