Tuesday, December 22, 2009

St Mary & the Holy Rood, Donington

click photo to enlarge
Today's photograph shows a view across the fields near Donington, Lincolnshire, at the tail end of a late December afternoon as the sun is about to disappear below the horizon. The ground and roofs are covered with hard frozen snow, and silhouetted against the sunset glow are skeletal trees and the tower and spire of the church of St Mary and the Holy Rood.

To my knowledge this dedication is unique to Donington church. There are St Marys a-plenty, and quite a few Holyroods (notably in Edinburgh), but no other church seems to have this particular conflation of names. The word "rood" means crucifix or cross. Medieval churches frequently separated the nave (where the people congregated) from the chancel (where the clergy officiated) with a pierced wooden "rood screen", so called because it was surmounted by a representation of Christ on the cross. Many of these old screens survive today, though usually without the rood, and quite a few churches have newer, Victorian examples (complete with rood). That being the case, you might imagine that Donington church's dedication makes reference to this symbol of the Christian faith. And doubtless it does. But in what way? It could simply be an honouring of the principal icon of Christianity. Or, and I think this is more likely, the early medieval building may have held a "fragment of the True Cross" as a relic with which to attract visitors and donations of money. Many early churches displayed holy relics - fragments of saints' clothes, a lock of their hair, a bone or two, a scrap of Christ's shroud, or an old piece of wood reputed to have been brought back from the Holy Land and "definitely a piece of the cross on which our Saviour died, and yours for only a few gold sovereigns father!" Few, if any, of these can have been genuine relics, but many would have been acquired in good faith. I don't know if this is the case at Donington, but it would account for the rood getting second billing to Christ's mother in the dedication.

Donington church is a large and beautiful building that dates back to the 1100s, though much of what we see today is from the 1300s and 1400s. It was one of the sources of inspiration that Victorian Gothic architects looked to when they began to build again in this style. Like many of our old churches it needs constant attention to keep its fabric together, and it is currently undergoing some restoration. If anyone feels able to donate to this worthy cause this website tells you how to go about it.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 150mm (300mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/1000
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On