Saturday, February 25, 2012

Buried column capitals

click photo to enlarge
What did the medieval builder do when the local population and congregation increased beyond the size that a small nave and chancel church could accommodate? Simple, he added an aisle. This was usually on the north side of the building because fewer burials were made there than on the sunny south side. How do you go about adding an aisle to a stone building? Well, you support the existing roof then punch holes in the external wall. You make these holes into an arcade of arches supported on columns so that the upper part of the old wall is secure. Then you build a new external wall with windows beyond the arcade, top it with a lean-to roof and finish off the interior. In a few short years you've added an aisle and increased the church's accommodation.

But what if the need arises to reduce the size of the church because the population declines due to, for example, the Black Death, rural depopulation, or the high cost of maintaining the old structure? Well, then you get rid of an aisle. You fill the arcade arches with stonework, thicken what now becomes the exterior wall, remove the lean-to roof and knock down the old external wall of the aisle. You can re-use the windows by placing them in the walling that fills the arcades (see small photograph).

Of course, you have to make these walls thick otherwise the old column capitals may still be visible. And even if they're not, a Victorian antiquarian may well reveal them and turn them into a feature demonstrating the longevity and building history of the church. Oh, and you might find that a future parishioner makes use of the crudely carved thirteenth century capital as a charming place to position a small vase of flowers to beautify that part of the nave. An example of this is the subject of today's photograph taken in St Andrew at Donington-on-Bain, Lincolnshire.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 27mm
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec
ISO: 500
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On