Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Church Crawler Writes

Well, I've been walking again. This was in a part of Oxfordshire that was formerly Berkshire. The familiar home counties mix of rolling farmland declining into hedgeless agriprairie, and picturesque villages for the most part deserted (on a working weekday) and often lacking even a pub. Thank God then - or man's exertions on His behalf - for the churches. This walk was, in a quiet way, rich in them.
It started with the grand medieval church of the market town from which we set out (a church that was quite sensitively made over by two distinguished Victorian architects and is still being worked on expertly and to good effect, as was explained to us in detail by the incumbent, a man with a fine sonorous voice, ritualist beliefs and a stud in his ear). But what stands out in the memory is one of those small, seemingly insignificant village churches in which England is so rich that we are barely aware of them. This building, largely 13th century, barely scrapes ten lines in Pevsner. In the little churchyard are several baroque tomb chests and stones, carved with charmingly inexpert swagger. An exterior door, reset, is clearly Norman. Inside, the chancel arch is archaically narrow - no later 'opening up' here - and the two abaci survive, very crisply carved with leaf trails. A distinguished Victorian has been at work, adding a south aisle, but the effect of quiet, time-worn simplicity is unspoilt and absolute. It is a numinous space.
This church might yet become redundant, as many such do - but for now it retains its soul, the feel that only comes with having been attended, and attended to, over so many centuries. It is, in its small and wholly unspectacular way, an astonishing survival (one among so many that we forget how astonishing they are) and still, like all such churches, it is rich with that sense of age-long continuity, embodied history. Of course, inevitably, Larkin comes to mind - not only Church Going, but, as always on these walks, Going, Going. Well, even in our time, it has not yet , thank God, Gone...
Meanwhile, why aren't you listening to Bryan's Private Passions?

10 comments:

  1. It means charged with a sense of the divine, Mutley - I thought every dog knew that. Are you OK with abaci? (I've just been reading about your encounter with Selena Dreamy, btw...)

    ReplyDelete
  2. A nice counterpoint to "I still shiver in old stone churches" over on Radio 3. Any further hints on where this is? It can't be far from where I live. Meanwhile "PP" has been recorded and stashed as an mp3. Schubert and Chopin did it for me. Dark shapes that move the surface ripple. I suppose peace means something different to each of us: we know it when we have it but it's so hard to describe.

    Dogs probably are charged with the divine. Think what would happen if a human jumped on the dining-table and ate everyone's starter ten minutes before supper. Dogs do it all the time and are often let off completely and congratulated for their intelligence.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Homer Simpson does it, and everybody loves him - but then he's clearly a dog trapped in a human body.
    Rather than set a pointless competition - Name That Church - I can tell you it's Letcombe Bassett, outside Wantage. If you're passing...

    ReplyDelete
  4. And here's a link. Letcombe B has a Hardy connection too...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks v. much. Would make a nice trip from here.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Oh, I do so love numinous space. Especially because we are such a profane race. But, dear Nige, you always leave a luminous trace; how I'd like to see your face -- I'll bet it's alight with warmth, kindness apace.

    What *are* abaci, btw? Sounds like the plural of abacus, though that can't be right (unless they were used to count attendance!).

    ReplyDelete
  7. First Bryan on the radio and now this delightful piece by you. Poetic. Is it contagious or something?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I think the plural of abacus would be abacuses - thanks for the help on numinous.. I am feeling a little that way inclined myself.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Well thank you Susan (tho I'm sure my face wld only disappoint hem hem). For the record, an abacus is, architecturally, the flat part at the top of a capital. Those two were remarkably beautiful...

    ReplyDelete