Monday, August 15, 2011

Look up, but look down too

click photo to enlarge
It's a natural reaction, when approaching a medieval cathedral, minster or abbey, to look up. The architecture, indeed the main premise of such a building is to inspire that reaction in people: to make the passer-by admire the soaring towers, the pinnacles, the buttresses etc but, more importantly, to gaze heavenward. Identical intentions attach to the interior of these great churches, though here the iconography is more explicit and a visitor can be in no doubt of the message that is being broadcast.

In truth there are precious few surfaces of a cathedral that are not enlisted in the proclamation of the faith. From the "unnecessarily" ornate carving of capitals, windows, roof bosses etc, the celebration of Biblical figures in carving, stained glass and other materials and the heavy use of symbolism, to the beautiful carved and painted scripts that proclaim their messages, the building is a vehicle for the religion that erected it.

But, whilst it is natural to look up in a church, fewer people look down at the floor beneath their feet. Yet here too beauty and the message can be found. Some of our churches still have the original stone paving that replaced the rushes and compressed earth of the first religious buildings. Others retain medieval tiles impressed with geometric shapes, foliate crosses, leaves and other patterns, including the elaborate letter "M" signifying Mary or Madonna. Marble paving of the eighteenth century can also be seen: I posted a photograph of a trompe l'oeil example in the choir of Beverley Minster, East Yorkshire, earlier this year. The great restorations of the nineteenth century have left a wonderful legacy of floor tiles. Many of these take their lead from the medieval styles and colours but original designs abound too. This photograph of the area around the font of the church at Swineshead, Lincolnshire, shows very characteristic Victorian tilework. And then there are examples that are difficult to date because stylistic clues are few.

Today's photograph is such a tile scheme, also at Beverley Minster. Is it eighteenth or nineteenth century, or does it date from some time in the twentieth? Whenever it was made it works well. The eight pointed star is centred under the crossing tower, and the complexity of the pattern lessens as it spreads into the transepts. The design is strong, with contrast, but the colours are relatively muted, and it works with the surroundings. My photograph shows visitors in characteristic pose, faces turned upwards to the glories overhead. I wonder if they also looked down at the lesser, but also interesting, beauties beneath their feet.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 29mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/25
ISO: 1600
Exposure Compensation:  -1.0
Image Stabilisation: On