Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Mousehold Heath, winter

It's easy to get lost on Mousehold Heath; tracks appear then peter out, and before you know it, you don't know where you are. Years ago, I spent an entire afternoon here trying to figure out where I was, before realising I was somewhere else. I kept ending up back at the Vinegar Pit, a dew-pond near the centre of the heath, apparently caused by the weight of heavy Bren gun carriers placed there during the Second World War, and compressing the soil, making it impervious to water.

The heath is shaped by industry; until relatively recently it was a working landscape, with gravel extraction and lime production being responsible for the numerous gouged out hollows and pits, and despite the necessary conservation work and ground clearing, there's a sense of wildness about it, and it's a good place to just escape from the hurly-burly of modern life.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Stag's head misericord, Cawston

I came across this misericord carving of a stag's head last week in St Agnes Church, Cawston, a village ten miles or so north of Norwich. My first reaction was that it was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship; the stag in mediaeval Christian art is symbolic of purity and religious aspiration, a notion which probably stemmed from the author of Psalm 42:-
As a deer longs for running streams
So my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for the living God.

However, the thing that struck me about it was that it didn't look very holy - there's something slightly ungodly, almost pagan about it, and like the green men in the rafters of the church above us, it spews forth foliage from its mouth, and seems to have leaves growing from the crown of its head.
Perhaps it's not meant to have any Christian significance. As well as symbolising purity, the stag also represented earthly, fleshly male lustiness (as in stag nights, etc), so it may be that this carving is meant to represent not godliness, but the regenerative carnality of creation - something which religious leaders have tried to suppress throughout the ages.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

God Spede the Plow - St. Agnes Church, Cawston

There are four-winged angels looking down at us from the rafters, dressed in feathery uniforms, always watching over us, spying on us. They are God's Staasi, and their presence keeps us in line. Meanwhile, a band of stained-glass angels strum and pluck their stringed instruments, as the late afternoon light shines through them, casting their colours on the wall and the stone slabs on the floor.
The church is a liminal zone, a theatre of war where the battle for the human soul takes place. Imagine how it would have looked five hundred and more years ago. It would have been a blaze of colour - the roof, most likely painted blue and with stars, imitating the vaults of heaven, with colourful messengers of God, wall paintings all around the interior, and the richly-painted rood screen in front of the altar. Among the saints depicted here is Sir John Schorn, who tricked the Devil into being trapped inside a boot, and for his troubles he now finds his image obliterated by iconoclasts.
There are three beautifully carved misericords (although they may have previously belonged to another church), one of which is a stag with foliage spewing from his mouth and nose, like the green men of Norwich Cathedral. I've never come across one like it before.


The church was built by the de la Pole family, a bunch of robber barons who made a lot of their fortune from acquiring land and growing barley. At the back of the church is an old plough, and carved into the gallery woodwork are these words:

God spede the plow and send us ale-corn enow
Oor purpose for to mak at crow of cok
of the plow-lete at Sygate
Be merry and glad
Wat Goodale this work mad.

Ale-corn is barley; the plow-lete is the ploughers guild, who probably met in a pub called the Plow; Sygate is an area on the outskirts of the village; and Wat Goodale is a pun - the name of a person, and an exclaimation of quality. We are reminded just how important the brewing industries were to the lives of people in the middle ages, at a time when a lot of water was contaminated, and the only safe thing to drink was something which had been brewed.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Paris haiku - 07/01/2015

something wicked squats
over Paris with a gun
and the word of god


the end of the line
will only come when we lay
down our pencils

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Devil's Funeral

In parts of Britain the middle ages the Christmas midnight mass was called "the Devil's funeral", as it was believed that Christ's birth had overpowered works of Satan. The recording sampled here is from the 1940s, of the Pope celebrating mass the Sistine Chapel.

Friday, 19 December 2014

What Star Shines Above?

There have been many theories about what the star of Bethlehem actually was, ranging from it being a comet, or the conjunction of two planets in the night sky. Some people have even proposed that it was a UFO, but if you believe that, you'll believe anything...