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Friday, 24 July 2015

A minor miracle

Wales is studded with places beginning with 'Llan' which is often denoted as a settlement centred on an ancient and noted church. In fact Llan originally denoted a hermit's cell, or in reality a group of hermit cells, because in the early celtic church, a holy man would attract like minded followers. It was the Norman Conquest that imposed churches and a more organised religion. Hence the church at Llancarfen. There are a few remaining Norman touchs, but most is a relatively modern C14th. 

Things took a turn for the worse in the C16th when the boy king Edward VI, and his regent the Duke of Suffolk, ordered the destruction of ornamentation, stained glass and wall paintings. By the Cromwellian period over 97% of church art had been destroyed - or to depress you in a different way, a mere 3% of the glories of medieval church art remains. Our own C17th Taliban at work. 

All this  makes what occurred at Llancarfen a minor miracle. 

The easiest way to erase wall paintings was to simply limewash them. In time the white became grubby and every five years or so it was redone until by the late C20th the limewash had become a crust. 

It was when some external work was being done that a fragment of crust cracked and fell from the wall, revealing a glimpse of what lay beneath. Since then part of the interior wall has been painstakingly restored. This wasn't the only minor miracle. A C19th vicar, in line with all things gothic, had planned to strip everything down to bare stone. Luckily he died, or ran out of money.

What is lovely about the paintings so far revealed is a fine mix of naivity and modernity. The faces have personality and life in the style of a contemporary comic book.
Here the story of St George and the Dragon comes to life. The story had it that a dragon was terrorising a kingdom and could only be kept at bay by a regular gift of two sheep. Fearful of running out of sheep, the community offered it one sheep and a young girl chosen by lot. When the king's daughter was chosen. He was distraught. Enter St. George. Here you see the king and his wife staring out from their turret; the princess with her companion lamb, and St George ramming a spear down the dragon's throat. Our Lady is blessing her knight.

I love the flamboyant crests to his helmet and elbows, the determination in his face.
This is interesting, the way the artist continues the picture round the corner of the window.You see George's spear going right through the dragon's head

Elsewhere on the wall is a depiction of the seven deadly sins. Here beautifully drawn devils are not so much tempting but forcing these hapless folk into:
                                                                    Greed and sloth
                                                             Despair, Pride and Anger

And the sinners, all of them, are poised over gaping-jawed serpents - Gateways to Hell. What is clear is that these would have led down to an equally wonderful depiction of Hell. Unfortunately an earlier vicar inadvertently destroyed it when building a short-lived vestry at the back. All that remains is bare stone.

 Finally a reminder that all is vanity, and death awaits everyone.
Here we have a C15th dandy wearing a Monmouth cap, and he's not looking very happy. On the inside of the window you can see why. Death (not a skeleton but a rotting cadaver with a  toad for a heart and snakes in his belly) is dragging him where he would rather not go.
I on the other hand was looking forward to  to a fine lunch at the Fox and Hounds and two beers.


Maria Zannini said...

I had no idea that the destruction was by royal decree. How sad. What was the reasoning for this?

Anonymous said...

Wonderful snaps. Is there a restoration project? Of course, one wonders if an active congregation might not prefer the softening effect of age as opposed the more lurid depictions. :)

Reading Before School said...

It's wonderful to see these illustrations were only covered, not lost.

Mike Keyton said...

Maria, you followed the religious dictates of the monarch, or else. And the hatred between Protestants and Catholics was as intense as that between Shiite and Sunni today. Protestants saw ornamentation as idolatrous.

Mike Keyton said...

Crash, they are being renovated. Ref softening with age there are churches to suit all types. But those medieval churches would have been intensely psychedelic in flickering candle light

Mike Keyton said...

Jeanne, I agree completely 😀