Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Churches and the unexpected

click photo to enlarge
English churches like this one - St Wilfrid's at Halton, near Lancaster - are often very picturesquely composed, and, on a sunlit January day, make an immediate and favourable impression on the visitor. Here we can see a sturdy medieval west tower, ostensibly of the sixteenth century. However, if we look closer at its fabric we can find carvings and details showing that it probably dates from the eleventh century or earlier, but received a major "update", or more likely, a complete rebuild, in the 1500s.

As our eye takes in the south porch, the nave and the chancel, the sharper cut of the stone and particularly the nineteenth century version of fourteenth century window tracery, tells us we are looking at the major restoration of 1876-7 undertaken by the celebrated Lancaster architects, Paley & Austin. The half-timbered upper part of the south porch is theirs, and it is a charming touch, adding a delightful contrast to the cream stone and red roof tiles. It may echo a Tudor structure that existed when the mainly Georgian fabric was replaced. Looking around the churchyard we can see the large mausoleum of the Bradshaw family of Halton Hall, its finely cut stone and twin urns betraying its eighteenth century date. And behind the church we can see the motte (mound) of the former Norman castle. However, the most interesting object at Halton is tucked under some trees in the graveyard, and easily overlooked. It is a re-built tenth century cross, with parts missing, that incorporates Christian imagery (the Signs of the Evangelists, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection) with what appears to be scenes from the Norse Sigurd saga! These elements have the characteristic interlace ornament, and clearly show Sigurd's riderless horse, Grain. It has been suggested that this unlikely pairing of Christian and pagan imagery may be because Halton was the home of Earl Tosti, brother of King Harold (killed at Hastings). Both men claimed descent from the legendary Sigurd. Older carvings from another cross can be seen inside the church tower.

I took these photographs to record the picturesqueness of the church and the interest of these ancient carvings. The view of the church was taken from in the road outside the churchyard! It seemed a good, if dangerous location for the shot, and allowed me to use the steps as a visual "lead in" to the building itself. A wide zoom was used for both images, the church being captured at 22mm (35mm equivalent), with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f6.3 at 1/400), with the ISO at 100, and -0.3EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen