Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Chopping and changing

Rood screen
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
I've already blogged about our visit to this tiny church of St Ellwye, Llandieu, Telgarth, but I want to revisit the experience briefly. The photo here - rather fuzzy, as my phone isn't up to dim interiors - shows the mediaeval rood-screen typical of many of the churches we visited, truncated at its right-hand end to accomodate a small pulpit. This reflected the change in emphasis in worship after the Reformation, when preaching assumed a greater importance, but the result is visually lopsided and aesthetically upsetting. And as the church is now disused, of course, there seems even less reason for such architectural vandalism.

But I wonder how it was at the time when the alteration was made. Was there the equivalent of a vestry committee, arguing over the structural alterations? Did someone ask what was more important: beauty or The Word? Or were all consumed with such reforming zeal that they merely bashed on, and anyone who had regrets kept these to himself for fear of seeming too papist? However it was done, the alterations are now themselves ancient, and the disagreements long forgotten. This was a silent, powerful space, deserted by all but the bats and a sense of the holy made all the stronger by the lack of domestication which had tamed a more cared-for church (like St Bilo's, seen later in the day and pictured in the earlier blog post).

And this, of course, is where Larkin comes in - again!


  1. Anonymous12:29 AM

    Got rid of ours at the Restoration! Many were delighted to notice all it had hidden for 85 years!

  2. A slight tangent but a word in the Larkin poem jogged a memory of visiting, en famille, York Minster - surely the very opposite in terms of size and atmosphere to your little country church. We had been of course to the fabulous Railway museum earlier in the day and the 5-year old was proudly wearing his newly-acquired railway guard's cap
    as we were walking round, enjoying my husband's fairly knowledgeable observations about the architecture. Suddenly an officious, presumably Christian, lady steward marched over to us and whipped the hat off the perfectly quiet and well-behaved 5-year old with a very curt, unsmiling "Hats must be removed in here." as if he or we had intentionally ignored some universally-observed custom.
    Of course that was more than 10 years ago and attitudes to what's important in churches have changed a lot since then. Haven't they.

  3. Anonymous12:25 PM

    I can't find it online, but I have it at home somewhere - John Betjeman's Hymn, to be sung to the tune of The Church's one Foundation.

    It ends along these lines:
    Sing on with hymns uproarious
    ye humble and aloof.
    Look up, and Oh! how glorious!
    He hath restored the roof.

    Or something like that.

  4. Dorothy, I would hope churches have changed - even if driven mainly by desperation!

    Kenny, I am aware of the beneficial effects of removing your screen - but I think I'd rather remove one than chop it up and leave a bit.

  5. abf, I haven't seen that. Joyous!

  6. Anonymous4:22 PM

    I'll try to send you the rest - or, indeed, post it here (if I'm not infringing anything).

  7. Anonymous9:22 PM

    As threatened....

    I bought a small book – 31 poems – of Betjeman’s work in 1959 or thereby. It was first published in 1958 by Edward Hulton, London. If it or they is or are still in copyright, I so acknowledge and beg their pardon for reproducing the appended verses. Funnily enough, four of the poems are on churchy themes. I’ll spare you the other three... for the moment.


    The Church’s Restoration
    in eighteen-eighty-three
    has left for contemplation
    not what there used to be.
    how well the ancient woodwork
    looks round the Rect’ry hall,
    memorial of the good work
    of him who plann’d it all.

    He who took down the pew-ends,
    and sold them anywhere,
    but kindly spared a few ends
    work’d up into a chair.
    O worthy persecution
    of dust! O hue divine!
    O cheerful substitution.
    thou varnishèd pitch-pine!

    Church furnishing! Church furnishing!
    Sing art and crafty praise!
    he gave the brass for burnishing,
    he gave the thick red baize,
    he gave the new addition,
    pull’d down the dull old aisle,
    — to pave the sweet transition
    he gave th’encaustic tile.

    Of marble brown and veinèd
    he did the pulpit make;
    he order’d windows stainèd
    light red and crimson lake.
    Sing on with hymns uproarious,
    ye humble and aloof,
    Look up! And oh, how glorious
    He has restored the roof!

  8. Oh superb ABF. Well remembered!

    BTW, came across an 1968 Cecilian program for the Merry Widow, with an odd fellow as president and an even odder one as assistant stage manager. There are also a lot of forgotten names as well! That's age.

  9. Anonymous11:59 PM

    Dear AHM the ASM,

    "Well copied" rather!

    I have that programme and many more besides. I am to ancient trivia what a squirrel is to nuts. Why, just this week I have had a Scottish Opera poster framed - I have been meaning to do this for 41 years!

    Sad, really.