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Stow-in-Lindsey (Lincolnshire)

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Demon Carvers & Mooning Men - re-written

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Norfolk Round Tower Churches I

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Dedication : St Michael and All Angels         Simon Jenkins: Excluded                    Principal Features : Anglo-Saxon fragments. Grand monuments. Dragon carvings on roof trusses.

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I am indebted to Laura Lincoln’s book “Seeking the Saxon from Lincoln to the Fens”. for alerting us to the Anglo-Saxon fragments of what is otherwise a fairly typical, albeit grand, Lincolnshire gothic church.

The wall of the c13 south aisle has two c8 roundel carvings. This tells us that this was probably the original external wall of an ancient Anglo-Saxon minster. These are the only structural remains (apart, of course, from the walls themselves, now covered with plaster) but Edenham also has the shaft of an c8 Anglo-Saxon cross at the north west of the nave. A further ancient sculpture decorated on all four sides sits at the west near the tower arch. Set in the north west wall is a blocked c12 doorway re-sited here from a demolished “Chapel of Ease” built by the Huntingfield family at nearby Scottlethorpe. It is a little incongruous in the church, but we can be grateful that it has been preserved at all.

The font is a very interesting c12 design. It is a massive tub and perhaps demonstrates the confusion of styles from this period when Norman was giving way to Early English design.

The rest of the church sports a number of routine Gothic styles. Of more interest to the  casual visitor will be the imposing (I would suggest overpowering!) array of monuments to the local great and good, including the Earls of Lindsey and Ancaster. There are more in the churchyard.

 It seems reasonable to assume that such illustrious patronage accounts for the grand proportions of the church.

Most interesting to me is that of Robert Bertie, first Earl of Lindsey who was killed at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642, and his son Lord Willoughby. Lindsey was General-in-Chief of the Royalist army, no less, at Edgehill, the first major - and indecisive - encounter of the Civil War. It may have been more decisive had not the renowned Prince Rupert been given independent control of the cavalry. Not for the last time Rupert’s arrogant impetuosity proved costly. Lindsey was shot in the thigh and his son surrendered to the Parliamentary army in an effort to save his father. Despite offers of assistance from the Earl of Essex commanding their forces, Lindsey died. Charles I tried to include Willoughby in a prisoner swap but he was not released for a year. The monument is resplendent with military icons.

There is an angel roof to the nave that dates from c16 but it appears to be heavily restored and is a little ordinary compared with others in the region. What is fascinating is that high on the “T”s of the roof beams are effigies of dragons! From ground level they appear as indistinguishable grey marks that could be metal fitments of some sort. Only a telephoto lens and “photoshop” reveals magnificently malevolent-looking green dragons with red eyes and tongues! Not to mention a heroic patina of cobwebs are some distinctly evil-looking insect nests

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Left: General view from nave to chancel. Right: A mass of monuments “adorning” the south wall of the chancel. The north is similarly furnished.

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The two remaining Anglos-Saxon roundels at either end of the south wall of the nave. One might understand the disregard the aisle-builders may have had for these somewhat abstract devices a few hundred years ago. I think we might judge more harshly those who allowed one of them to be defaced by an electrical junction box. Not all vandals wear hoodies and carry spray paint.

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Left: The c12 century doorway brought here from Scottlethorpe. Centre: The c8 Anglo Saxon cross shaft with a headless figure, possibly of St John. This is no great work of art: the arms are inordinately long and the legs stick-like! Right: The interesting reverse side of the cross shaft with what some believe to be a seated female figure.beneath an abstract design.

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Left: The seated (?) lady. What is she holding in her left hand - a baby? Lorna Lincoln theorises that the shaft would have been a Holy Family group but we don’t know. Every way, this is a strange image. Her arm seems to come from somewhere around her head - or form under a cloak.. The fingers are extremely crude. Compare this with the marvellous art at Deerhurst in Gloucestershire. Centre: Celtic imagery on the two sides of the cross-shaft. Right: This c13 sculpture also appears in the nave. It is weathered so it clearly was outside the church at some point.

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The c12 font with its arcading. Each of the pillars on the font are topped by capitals with leaf motifs.

  The “Dragons’ Den”

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The dragons appear on the middle of each nave cross beam, facing the chancel. From ground level it is hard to discern what they are and it was only by using a 300mm lens that I managed to get these pictures, and even then I needed Photoshop enhancement to correct the light and show the colours. It seems most likely that these date from the time of the Angel roof itself which is c16. It is difficult to believe that such pagan images would have been any later. The angels themselves look to have been painted relatively recently so perhaps these beasts were repainted at the same time? Either way, they are pretty fierce and it is quite rare to see dragon figures that emulate our c20 representations. These look straight out of Tolkien rather than being Norman/Celtic.  It is not even clear that they are made of wood, although it seems reasonable to assume that they are. As can be seen from these three examples (there are at least two more) they are not identical although they are very similar. I wonder what is the significance of the red spots on the dragons’ backs? Perhaps this is where they nailed to the beams. None of the books mention these beasts. Does anyone have definitive information?

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Edenham is not a church that is adorned with a multitude of carvings, but those that are there are very fine. These gargoyles adorn the c15 tower.

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The South Porch Carvings

Edenham has some of the finest carvings in the East Midlands. They are confined, however, to the south porch. The porch dates from the c13 making it a comparatively old one. These carvings, however, are extremely unlikely to be from that period. The c13 and the Early English architectural style saw a retreat from external carving until there was a revival from around the second half of the c14.

The new use of lead for roofs enabled churches to become much more watertight. The steeply pitched roofs that most churches had in order to facilitate rapid run off of rainwater could not, however, be used for lead: it’s weight caused it to “creep” down the roof. This meant the the pitches of many roofs had to be made much shallower.

At the same time gutters were built to take away the water. Parapets were built to conceal them and gargoyles used to direct the water away. The parapets at Edenham are very clearly of a much later style than the c13 and would have been contemporary with the leading of the roofs. At Edenham, as at so many churches in the East Midlands, the opportunity was taken to add some peculiar and humorous carvings. Whereas many churches in the area added friezes in the cornices under their parapets which were usually either plain or battlemented, Edenham used a very ornate parapet and restricted the carvings to its south porch.

To see many pictures of carvings on the sub-parapet friezes in the area go to the article on Demon Carvers & Mooning Men or to the church at Ryhall in Rutland.

In the upper picture, a demon with a spectacular set of dentures tucks into either a noose or the tail of the unfortunate dog-like creature in front of him. Is it my imagination that the victim looks to the world as if to say “look what he’s doing to me now”? Only a mediaeval carver he could make this gruesome scene look like just a frolic between friends!

The lower carving has suffered more from weathering, so it is not quite so clear. The similarly dentally-endowed creature on the right is tucking into a bone of impressive proportions. The rest is less clear. The lower creature has lost his head

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This rabbit (or hare) adorns one of the corners of the porch balustrading - further evidence that effigies were being carved at the same time as the alterations were being made to the south aisle and porch at Edenham.  Note the well-developed haunches and the existence of two ears rather than the “easy option” of one ear shown in flat profile.

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The ornate crosses at  the gable of the porch. Intriguingly, the interior of Thurlby Church (also in Lincs) has a cross is known to have come from Edenham. Nobody seems to know when and why although the cross itself looks very ancient and may be contemporary with the Saxon remnants in Edenham.

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Finally, this is Edenham’s naughty little secret. It is at the corner of the parapets on the south porch and is almost impossible to discern without telephoto lens or binoculars. Look carefully at the top right of the right hand picture. In my article and book on Demon Carvers & Mooning Men I reveal the use of the “mooning man” as a trademark of a stonemasons guild in this area, probably based at Oakham. This rude figure may be a more sophisticated example of a mooner, or it may be a rare sheelagh-na-gig - a female fertility symbol that leaves nothing to the imagination!

I believe it is much more likely to be a mooner. In the rest of the area there has been little or no attempt at concealment. This one, however, is very subtle indeed. This has been a church with wealthy patrons who undoubtedly paid for the adornments to this church. I have a shrewd idea that the masons felt that an “in your face” mooning man such as those at so many churches in the area would not have been acceptable to those aristocrats so they hid it and designed it such that from ground level it would look like a decorative device. They didn’t have to worry about people having telescopic devices in those days and there were no spectacles! I believe this shows the length they would go to in order to incorporate their naughty little trademark. Was this by the Mooning Men Guild? I can’t prove that it was but geography and date says that it is a possibility. Why else would the stonemasons go to such trouble?