Friday, 19 December 2014

St Peter & St Paul, Salle - Intimate Details

A Human Scale...

The fifteenth century church at Salle is massive. It is also very impressive, being universally recognised by experts as one of the great parish churches, not just of Norfolk, but within England itself. As I sit down to write about this hugely impressive place, then, I am mindful of the pantheon of writers that precede me: Pevsner, Betjeman, Cautley, Mortlock and Roberts, Simon Knott. What on earth could I possibly have to say that hasn't already been noted by these luminaries? The answer is, I'm going to focus on the small, intimate details within and around the church; a few of the things that, for me, 'humanise' this grand space. 

Paws for Reflection...

In a monumental space such as the interior of Salle, it is very easy to forget to look down. Both, overtly and subliminally the building is designed to entice you look heavenwards. However, if we look at the floor here we see something very interesting. Look, some tiny kitten's paw prints impressed within the fired floor tiles. Imagine the scene: in the shed, the freshly made tiles are laid out to dry. Oblivious to human endeavour a gaggle of kittens pad about on the still-wet tiles. A shout goes out perhaps:
"Get off them damned tiles!"

They scatter, leaving those of us with a mind to look, imagining their presence. It isn't just humans who leave their mark here then - although leave their mark they do...

"Remember Poor Joseph"

If you walk along the south aisle of the church and turn right into the chapel, you will see a large plain glazed window, immediately to your right-hand side. If you look upwards, you may be able to distinguish a small scrawl of writing etched into one of the panes. If you have binoculars or, as I did, a zoom lens, then you will be able to decipher a message written on May 12th 1802 (see above). It reads:
'Remember poor Joseph that painted the Church'*

So there we have it: 'poor' Joseph's humble, workaday contribution to the maintenance of this church memorialised in the window. Who wrote it though? I think it unlikely that it was Joseph himself. It is quite likely that he was illiterate. Indeed, the use of that word 'poor' to describe him could refer to him having a 'learning difficulty'. It would be interesting to examine the parish accounts for the period in order to establish what kinds of work were being undertaken in the spring of 1802. Perhaps some windows were being repaired and a glazier, having an affection for Joseph, decided to reach for his diamond and leave this for posterity. The Salle archive is held at the Norfolk Record Office. Some further work might even reveal the full identity of Joseph, a man whose story is woven into the fabric and history of this place. 

Hands that Carved...

At Salle, only the lower panels of the medieval rood screen survive. However, unusually, this does include the doors into the chancel. Within the spandrels (the almost triangular space between one side of the outer curve of the arches and the framework, pictured above), the legend of St George and the Dragon is depicted. 

The leaping horse in perpetual opposition to the fire-breathing dragon. Both figures lovingly carved by a steady hand; and behind that hand, a medieval mind. A man with assumptions and an outlook specific to his time and place, just as ours are to our own specific context; a medieval man, with different 'mental maps' to ours. I wonder, if we were to stand by his side  as he carved, asking him questions and getting to know him - would he seem 'other' to us, or would he be strangely familiar? And as I look at these two charming figures I am reminded of a wonderful little graffito I discovered at the nearby church of Marsham. Allow me to digress a little if I may...

© Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey - NMGS website
This scene was found low down on a pillar and is a wonderfully childlike depiction of a George and dragon. An interesting detail to note is the fringe at the bottom of the dragon figure. This is similarly represented in medieval manuscripts, and was carved by someone who had obviously seen plays where the dragon's costume would be adorned with tassles. Although far less accomplished that the Salle carving, they both have a charm that engages my imagination as well as my intellect. 

Eyes that See...

Continuing the theme of hands that carved, here is a superb medieval graffito, etched into the stone of a buttress. As you might imagine, the effects of the climate tend to make examples of external medieval graffiti archaeology a rare thing indeed. This is a very fine - and rather large! - example. Stylistically, the 'hand' is fifteenth century. It is an extremely accomplished piece of carving. Thus far, we haven't managed to decipher it, but it just shows how much there is to discover, 'as we pursue the many shades of meaning to be discovered in wonderful old places' (paraphrased from the Ragged Ramblers founding charter)

Now Go See For Yourself...

Finally, if you would like to see the view from Salle's massive tower, here is a previous post where we share this with you

A Tall Story (photos)

Atop a Tall Tower (video)

*I am indebted to Jill O'Shea, from the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey, for bringing this graffito to my attention

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting and informative blog. Lovely pictures too.