In this collection we pay tribute to the artwork we want may go to — and hope to see as soon as journey restrictions are lifted.
A church, an historic heap of flints, rises up, cavernous, via mist and marshes. The “Cathedral of the Marshes”, they name it. This is Blythburgh on England’s windswept Suffolk coast.
The panorama right here is oppressive, bleak. And what man as soon as made is shortly being misplaced to nature: sea erodes land.
Nearby, the parish at Easton Bavents nearly fully perished centuries in the past beneath the waves. Bare traces stay of the good medieval port of Dunwich 5 miles south.
Yet Blythburgh’s Holy Trinity stands tall, majestic even, a near-perfect expression of the mature perpendicular type of English Gothic structure.
East Anglia is dotted with such archaic oratories, which train a outstanding maintain over the English psyche. These church buildings are our public monuments, as Simon Jenkins has famous. But they’re additionally reminiscence palaces that enshrine a thousand years or extra of historical past.
Names, dates, supplies, shapes: they hyperlink us to lives, tastes, communities and faiths of the lengthy forgotten. To go to such a spot is to do greater than admire. It is to commune with the previous, marvelling in its reinvention as a overseas nation and at how far we ourselves have come.
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Far from the madding crowd
I used to go to Blythburgh as a child. My Dad appreciated it right here: the lonely desolation a tonic for the hustle and bustle of Cambridge’s college life.
His love of church buildings impressed me. In Ely and St Edmundsbury
we went to cathedrals collectively. At Orford and Long Melford he confirmed me the brasses and stained glasses.
But Blythburgh’s impression on me was all the time biggest. It had ambiance — that intangible je ne sais quoi that comes from time and place and feeling.
Blythburgh’s mein is wistful and melancholy, the results of centuries of diminishing relevance and (largely) benign neglect.
This type of place impressed Benjamin Britten to opera and M. R. James to ghost tales. After all, the set of Peter Grimes and A warning to the curious is only a hearty stroll away alongside the coast.
The magic right here is that you’re by no means fairly certain you’re actually alone, nonetheless drab or empty the area may appear. Another James story, Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad tells of an encounter on one of many seashores spherical about. The protagonist, a younger professor, finds a bit bronze object which he blows. The relaxation is all chasing and shadows: pure Gothic horror.
As a child, the story terrified me.
Cathedrals of sunshine, cathedrals of ice, cathedrals of glass, cathedrals of bones
Watched over by angels
A church first stood in Blythburgh earlier than 654 CE. That was the 12 months King Penda of Mercia slaughtered King Anna of East Anglia and his son in battle. Anna’s followers introduced their our bodies right here for burial.
The current constructing is usually Fifteenth-century. In this a part of England these days had been what Evelyn Waugh known as the fats days of wool shearing and the broad corn lands.
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Nearly all the present plan was laid out then: the languid nave, the capacious chancel, memorial chapels within the aisles, benches, monuments, font and the immense hammerbeam roof.
That roof: it protects the congregation from extra than simply the weather. A throng of angels, their faces serene however their wings aflutter, stand guard over those that sit on pews under.
The pews themselves are artistic endeavors, with carved poppy heads parading saints and seasons, works of mercy and sins personified.
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Here, Slander brandishes his tongue, Gluttony his paunch, Hypocrisy his false piety and Sloth his bedgown. There, a person comforts the sick, one other visits a prisoner, a 3rd buries his lifeless.
This type of delicate, intricate carving demanded the very best ranges of ability possessed of medieval craftsmen.
Other church buildings have their very own sacramentals, however Blythburgh’s are amongst probably the most stunning and haunting. Spartan white partitions and a transparent, clear glass clerestory — the bandages of Reformation trauma? — solely improve the impact.
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An elegy to time
Blythburgh’s decline has been a very long time in coming. The Reformation, an early blow, destroyed the priory which abutted the church.
The tower’s steeple fell in 1577 and its lack of resurrection one way or the other appears to symbolise this a part of Suffolk’s light retreat thereafter into bucolic backwater.
In the 1640s, “Smasher Dowsing” and his males attacked the church’s artwork and icons, stripping the roof of half its angels. A parochial itch to shoot at jackdaws nesting within the rafters could have triggered additional harm within the 18th century.
Wikipedia/Chris Gunns, CC BY
Victorian antiquaries restored the place to one thing of its former glory. But at the moment, few come to worship in Blythburgh’s paludal “cathedral”.
The village itself homes simply 300 souls and the locality, within the hinterland of a hen sanctuary, is greatest often known as a haven for sailboats and as a twitchers’ paradise.
Inside the tower, a sombre armoured Jack-o-the-Clock from 1682 nonetheless retains time. His baleful inscription: “As the hours cross away, So doth the lifetime of man decay”.
The church, which has borne silent witness to numerous different plagues, disasters, and wars, endures even now in its gloomy spot.
I glimpse it nonetheless from half a world away, an eerie greyness cloaking it with a salt wind from the ocean.
Miles Pattenden has beforehand obtained analysis funding from the British Academy, the European Commission, and the Government of Spain.