Sunday, March 04, 2007

Thoughts from a churchyard

click photo to enlarge
"Nowhere probably is there more true feeling, and nowhere worse taste, than in a churchyard", Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893), Master of Balliol College, Oxford, and theologian

Sometimes it seems that Victorian churchyards are all anguished angels, mournful maidens, painful prose, columns, urns, railings and pediments, with the occasional oddity like a downcast dog thrown in for good measure. It's perhaps this aspect of funerary sculpture that Jowett had in mind when he penned the words above. Visit a church of the second half of the nineteenth century in East Lancashire or West Yorkshire, and it often seems that taste, gravitas and discretion were unknown to the memorial masons and their patrons. The visual experience is by turns, opulent, muscular and cloying, local stone vying for attention with imported marbles. But it isn't always so.

Go to a graveyard of a century earlier, and the Georgian tombs speak of a combination of elegance and earthiness. On stones made almost exclusively of local materials, cherubs, garlands and cartouches rub shoulders with cadavers, skulls and bones. The verse is sometimes just as sentimental, but the lettering has sinuous flicks and flourishes that please the eye far more than the boldly incised, almost mechanical regularity that the Victorians prized. Perhaps too, the Georgian churchyard benefits from the patina of the extra century, and the greater spacing of the tombs. Today's photograph shows the surroundings of St Chad's, Poulton le Fylde, Lancashire. The church is an ancient building reflecting the construction of generations. A late medieval tower has a Georgian nave attached, with a semi-circular Victorian chancel and apse at the east end. The graveyard has tombs from the last four hundred years, and in the twentieth century had many of the later ones cleared. Each spring the church is surrounded by a multitude of crocuses. This draws admiring townsfolk, visitors and, inevitably, photographers. In the twenty years I have lived here I have never photographed this locally famous spring scene. This year I did! I have a feeling that Benjamin Jowett would have approved of this interesting approach to churchyard management. My image was captured with a wide zoom lens at 38mm (35mm equivalent), with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f7.1 at 1/320 second), ISO 100, with -1.0 EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen