Thursday, 19 April 2012
Today our hostess took us on a little tour SW of Hereford and into Wales (land of my fathers...). We set off towards Abergavenny but she suddenly remembered Kilpeck and asked if we would like to see it. WOULD WE LIKE TO SEE IT????? This has the most famous sheela-na-gigh in England. (Look it up). The church is set in an egg-shaped church yard, a sign of great antiquity. Usually circular.... 'They' say the Devil couldn't hide in the corners of a squared off church yard, but somehow, this seems a poor explanation and any aerial photo will show you that this plot is definitely not circular, and not accidental. I think the 'egg' shape is something else, but I am probably obsessed. There's a whole lost village here, never excavated, but clearly visible. Also the sad remains of a Norman motte and bailey castle, now overgrown with trees and rather pulled about. English Heritage might be doing something about it, but so far their work amounts to a pictorial sign bolted onto a gate. Trying to walk up to see was too treacherous for me in my slidy boots. I called out for a stick to help me back down again and retreated. Back to the church - WOW!!!!! Outside, holding up the eaves, are dozens of corbels - animals, angels, peasants, faces, wheels, my sheela-na-gigh, musicians.... wonderful. Its VERY reminiscent of Barfreston church on the way to Dover, but with less weathering, and so more definition. Also bigger. Red stone. Luverly. Inside, apart from the font, there is a stoup which looks like a pregnant tummy with hands held across it, and that may be older than the church. This has carved elements below, which look like a lady's bum and thighs, or like a phallus with balls. Hmmmn. A wondrous place. But what really excited me was one of those corbels outside, on the very eastern-most point of the apse. Here there is a corbel said to be the Devil with the Lamb of God. No sign of Devil, and the Lamb is now identified as an Equus Dei, a sort of Christian horse. As some of you will know I have a very special interest in any early representations of horses in or on early churches. They are always associated with the Devil. This particular horse has a marvellous spear-like Cross over it, which rests on one hoof. To me, the connection with the stories of St Eloi and St Dunstan are unmistakable. I will have to explore all this further. Anyone with any information and willing to share it, would be very welcome. We called into the local gastropub to use the loo, and had a nice coffee, till the muzak drove us out. Then we went on to Dore Abbey - a massive Cistercian foundation now lacking its entire nave, but still enormous and beautiful, with ancient stained glass, carvings, an apse, and so much... very French in flavour, not surprisingly, and an odd survivor of Henry VIII's raids, as this truncated end has served as a parish church since the mid-16th century. Hooorah. All Cistercian churches were dedicated to St Mary. The outside of this old priory has a prominent window with the same pointy egg-shaped design, which I have seen in Greek Orthodox icons, often as the border for a Christ in Majesty. It also appears on the pretty and mysterious sarcophagus in Minster church on the isle of Sheppey and it always makes me think of a particular and intimate female shape. (Remember the sheela-na-gigh). Around and outside in the fields, there were some long-legged horses, and lambs and ewes, and daffodils. A sign on the lych gate commemorates an officer who died in the first World War, 'killed in action, by his friends....'. or so it says. V amusing (now). Then to Abergavenney for lunch in a cafe called Cwtch, meaning 'cuddle', and all very nice. The owner gave us a taste of her new pickle made of beetroots and fresh oranges, with cumin and coriander. Yummy. Her shop must once have been an apothercarys' but was also a grocery and she said the old fittings are now on display in the Castle Museum. So, after I had bought some walking boots, we went to see all this. The Castle was blasted to bits during the Civil War, and remains a spacious rather elegant ruin, with muddy grass between the eloquent stone relics which once formed stout walls and corridors. The Museum shows that Herman Hess was imprisoned in Abergavenny, surprisingly, but that due to the remoteness of the place no-one in the area suffered from bombing during the war, except one random fire-fighter who was blown over a hedge when he tackled a loose explosive. Then we went for a walk on the Sugar Loaf Mountain (so I could try out my new walking boots), and our hostess could get a good walk. She was disappointed as I was too puffed out after 20 minutes steep climb and yet another huge rainstorm threatened. I did feel a bit weedy about this, but a) my socks kept slipping down inside my boots, and b) the rain when it arrived shortly after our return to the car was absolutely torrential. Ha! Back home, through the blinding storm. Reading Pigsties and Paradise (an account of lady diarists visiting Wales in the 18th and 19th centuries. Then supper, a bit of blogging and now time for bed. I did hear, during the evening, that one young man readint my reports so far, has much enjoyed my account of Plymouthe which he knows. He had not thought of that city in that way. Our host, who plays the organ, is building his own, and beside the dining table has a huge loom of wires and connections, which he has taken two years so far to create, and which he will install in his own little organ loft upstairs within a month or two. Various parts have been acquired from dealers over the last year or so - stops, pipes, pedals etc. It is a labour of love. The whole thing will be dismantle-able, when he comes to sell the house. He disdains installing an automatice transposing mechanism (which he could easily do), as all proper organists should be able to transpose pieces at sight, up or down. I hope my reports will be of at least as much interest as the diaries of the lady travellers to Wales in the 1790s and 1820s, whose works I have been reading this afternoon. They mostly complain about the dirty inns, and admire the sublime and picturesque effects of architecture and landscape. I am not sure what I am missing.