Sunday, April 24, 2016

What's With Medieval Tombs? Part 19: Animals on Tombs (2)

  The first posting on this topic examined some of the generic types of animals depicted on tombs and what they signified in general terms. In this post I will look at some more specific examples of how animals were used in a way the referred to particular individuals. One of the ways of individualising tombs was through the use of heraldry, as the depictions of the actual effigies were generally highly generic and indistinguishable. Animals had their place in achievements of arms. Unfortunately, in many cases the heraldry is lost to us as it was painted on to shields adorning the tombs, and has been effaced in that phase of church restoration that insisted everything should be monochrome.

  The 13th century tomb of William Longspee in Salisbury Cathedral has six prominently carved heraldic lions on the shield. This example has some significance in the history of heraldry as his grandfather, Geoffrey Plantagenet, was supposedly the first person to be granted a personal coat of arms. So they say. The lions on his tomb in France were made in a more durably colourful medium, but William's have been reduced to monochrome. This dynasty did not have a monopoly on lions however, just on this arrangement.

  The early 14th century brass to Sir Robert de Bures in Acton, Suffolk also features lions on the shield. These are the very stylised heraldic lions whose poses all have fancy French names. Heraldry is basically a bunch of patterns arranged in different combinations. During the course of the 14th century these combinations became more and more complicated.

  This tomb of a 14th century knight in Melton Mowbray church has a nice heraldic lion shield, but as no colour remains on the rest of the effigy it has presumably been repainted. It may even have been reappropriated with the help of said lion for somebody who needed some ancestors. Still, it gives you the idea of how these things could be used.

  Lions were not just heraldic symbols, but represented Christian virtues and were deemed to represent Christ. The rather strange books known as the bestiaries ascribed all manner of characteristics to various animals, all with overlaying connotations of virtue or sin. According to the bestiaries, lion cubs were born dead and were revived on the third day by the male lion breathing in their faces. Anything sound familiar here? For those and many other equally spurious reasons, lions were cool, tough and virtuous, and were found as foot supporters on many effigy tombs, as shown in the previous post. The mid 14th century knightly effigy from Pickering, Yorkshire, above has the emblem of a lion's head on the elbow piece of his armour; a medieval version of the saying "more power to your elbow".

  When the lion fought the dragon it represented Christ fighting the devil, as on this corbel tucked away inside the famous so-called Percy tomb in Beverley Minster, Yorkshire. It is not the only piece of hinted Resurrection symbolism on this tomb, suggesting its possible use as a Easter Sepulchre.

  Above is the Percy tomb in all its glorious complexity.

  As heraldic achievements became more and more complicated, animals appeared in other places, such as on the crest of the helm of a knight, used as a rather uncomfortable pillow in funerary effigial depictions. The late 15th century brass to Nicholas Kniveton in Mugginton church, Derbyshire has an animal that looks like a wolf as the crest. However, the composition recalls the bestiary story about the tiger. When a hunter steals a tiger cub, he can throw the indignant mother tiger off his trail by throwing her a glass ball which acts as a mirror. She peers in the mirror thinking that it is her cub and the hunter makes his getaway. It doesn't look much like a real tiger but it does look like the way the tiger was depicted in the bestiary, mirror and all. Is he telling us that he is as cunning and fierce as a tiger, or that he steals other people's offspring, or what?  He is wearing a Lancastrian collar during a Yorkist reign so I suspect he is telling us something.

  Animals were also deployed as shield supporters in heraldry. This fragmentary arrangement shows the supporters on the funerary achievements over the late 15th century tomb of Sir John de la Pole and wife Elizabeth in Wingfield church, Suffolk.

  This beat up specimen from Halsham, East Yorkshire may represent the head of a wolf, or something else fierce and hairy.

  The crest on the 15th century knight's tomb from Swine in East Yorkshire seems to represent a bird, perhaps an eagle.

From C.A. Stothard 1840 The Monumental Effigies of Great Britain, London
  It isn't just knights who can have fancy pillows. The late 14th century tomb of the wife of Lord Beauchamp in Worcester Cathedral depicts her with her head resting on a swan. I think this is unique.

  The knight's effigy on the brass of Sir Godfrey and Dame Katherine Foljambe in Chesterfield church, Derbyshire is a mid 16th century over the top extravaganza of heraldry, as is the rest of the tomb. His feet are resting on a stag. As this brass uses the convention of placing his feet on a grassy hillock, it makes it look as if he is standing upright and stomping on the stag.

  The animals, heraldic or otherwise, can be part of a play on words of the commemorated person's name, a trick known as a rebus. The early 14th century effigy of Sir John de Bordeston in Amotherby church, Yorkshire carries the emblem of three boars. (Boars, Bordeston, get it?) As heraldry became more complex it became less of a symbolic language and more of a pictorial one.

  The 15th century alabaster effigy of a member of the Redmayne family in Harewood church, Yorkshire has a crest of a horse, which no doubt had a red mane in its glory days.

  Sir Walter Griffith (d.1481) rests his feet on a splendid alabaster gryffon in Burton Agnes church, East Yorkshire. Griffith, gryffon; well it only has to be close.

  This gentleman, lying here serenely in Glastonbury parish church, bore the name of John Cammel (d.1487). Spot the camel.

  The early 14th century tomb of Sir Richard (or Robert) Stapledon in Exeter cathedral has the biggest and most conspicuous animal ever in the form of a horse, sadly mutilated, not supporting his feet but being led by a groom beside the feet of his effigy. Another effigy, perhaps a squire, stands by his head. Sally Badham, in her Seeking Salvation (2015) suggests that this could represent his funerary procession. Or maybe Stapledon, stable ... maybe, or both.

  I only include this picture of a horse as foot supporter for Bishop John Langton in Chichester Cathedral because I never met a horse that could do that.

  Finishing off somewhere near where we started, here is a lion foot supporter. Even as foot supporters go, it's a rather peculiar lion with strangely monstrous feet and it's biting at the sword tip in the way that dragons and demons do. It's a mixture of the noble Christian lion and the nasty bitey beastie. It stands at the feet of King John in Worcester Cathedral. Make of that what you will.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

What's With Medieval Tombs? Part 18: Animals on Tombs (1)

  Animals have a lively history in medieval art, depicted naturalistically, stylistically and in ways that seem quite nonsensical. As with most things in medieval depictions, the meaning of animals can come with layers of interpretation. There are the animals of the real world and animals of the imagination. The texts known as bestiaries ascribed certain moral characteristics, as well as some bizarre behaviours, to animals real, imaginary and mythical. When animals appear on tombs, they can have various significances.

  In the earliest tradition the animals have come from folk mythology. These Viking tombs in the church of Brompton-in-Allertonshire in North Yorkshire feature bears guarding the houses of the dead. There are a number of tombs of this type in parts of Britain subject to Scandinavian influence, but these are particularly good examples. They were very probably not even Christian burials, although they have migrated into the church as interesting antiquities.

  This 12th century imported Tournai marble slab in Bridlington Priory church, East Yorkshire, is definitely Christian, but predates the effigy tomb tradition. It probably commemorates the priory founder. The animals depicted include a large cat-like creature, and fox and crow and a couple of wyverns. The wyverns are hard to see in this shot. Low relief carving on black stone in a dark church presents challenges to photography. How this all comes together as an iconographic scheme is lost to us. 

  This elaborately carved 12th century tomb from Conisborough has a bit of dragon slaying going on, among other scenes. You can't help feeling there is a bit of syncretic tradition happening here. When large scale effigy tombs became the elite tomb of choice, animal depictions became rather more stereotyped.

  Some of the earliest effigy tombs of the 13th century were to senior clergy, as in this tomb of an abbot in Peterborough Abbey (as it was then). The churchman was depicted with his feet resting on a mythical serpent. Yes, serpents had legs, and often wings, in medieval art, especially when they represented the devil. Not only is the abbot stomping on it, he has the base of his crozier stuffed down its gullet. Christian leader conquers evil. I have mentioned the enigma of the orientation of medieval effigies before. There is a definite tension between whether the figure is standing up or lying down, but in this type of depictions it seems the abbot, or bishop, is tramping on the beast.

  The sculptor could really go to town on these demonic depictions. The dragon or serpent at the feet of Bishop Burghersh (d.1340) in Lincoln Cathedral sports a fine set of snaggly teeth and a contorted pose.

  The one at the feet of Bishop Fleming (d.1431), also in Lincoln Cathedral, has classic dragon wings and a malevolently curly tail. There is something kind of interesting about the way it is being dealt with by the bishop's dainty and elegantly embroidered slipper.

  Some of the earlier knightly tombs utilised this imagery, as in the effigy of Gilbert Marshal, 4th Earl of Pembroke (d.1241) in the Temple Church in London. No, the crossed legs do not indicate that he had been on crusade and neither does the serpent crushing, but it probably does represent the concept of the virtuous active life ie. it's fine to be a soldier and kill people if it's in a higher cause. Note that the devil is fighting back here by chomping at his spur straps. This is quite a struggle.

  Among the non-clerical classes, the lion and the dog are the most common foot supporters, as in this 15th century tomb in Swine church, East Yorkshire. This has the popular arrangement of a lion for the knight and dogs for the lady, but knights also had dogs and ladies sometimes had lions. Lions are equated in the bestiaries with virtue and with Christ. Dogs are symbols of fidelity. The animals are nearly always looking up at a space above the heads of the effigies; one of the many hints that we are supposed to be helping the souls of these folks out of their liminal state in purgatory. The figures are definitely lying down with their feet resting on their helpful animals. They are not beasts to be trodden down, but helpmates. The dogs, in this case, have had their heads knocked off, as is not uncommon, suggesting that they were regarded as symbols of no longer appropriate religious beliefs.

  Occasionally the imagery was combined. This knight in the church at Bainton, Yorkshire, has his feet on one animal, not distinguishable from this angle, but a serpent beastie is biting at his shield. Helper animal and foe animal are together in the one composition.

  Similarly, this knight in Bedale church, Yorkshire, has his feet on what must once have been a splendid lion as well as a shield biting beastie, not to mention a little bedesman near his feet to help him on his way. His lady has what appears to have been a large and splendid hunting dog.

  Big fancy hunting dogs were status symbols, and were often presented as magnificent beasts. This one at the foot of a 15th century knight in Halsham, East Yorkshire, is grandly attired with a large bejewelled collar as glamourous as his master's bling. While the animals had their spiritual significance, they could double as symbols of earthly grandeur.

  Dogs and lions also appear as foot supporters on brasses, where the whole business of whether the figures are lying down or standling up becomes even more enigmatic, especially in a composition like this one from Little Shelford in Cambridgeshire. While the knight has his hunting dog, the lady has little tiny lap dogs with bells on their collars. Pets, of course, are a luxury item. They represent fidelity and they represent the capacity to keep animals that are neither worked nor eaten.

  A proud and handsome lion and an endearing little bell collared dog chewing on the hem of its mistress's dress make a fine pair on this late 15th century tomb in Methley church, Yorkshire. Sculptors were not always so skilled at depicting lions and some are barely recognisable (#notalion as we tend to say on Twitter).

  This squat and ugly lion in the church of Sutton-on-Hull, Yorkshire appears to be chomping on a bone, which in my head seems like a threatening gesture to the family enemies.

  One presumes that this foot supporter in Sprotborough church, Yorkshire, is meant to be a lion. It does seem to have a curly mane, but it is a fairly bizarre rendition. It could be argued that there weren't too many lions running around Yorkshire at this time, but even the dogs can look a little odd at times. The convention is still being followed, with the lion graciously accepting the knight's feet upon him while gazing upwards. The formal symbolic qualities are present even when the depiction is far from naturalistic.

  As for what this might be at the feet of a lady in Adlingfleet church, Yorkshire; a strangely rendered lion, a sheep, a bird, but it's undoubtedly not an armadillo even if it looks a bit like one. It doesn't help that it has lost its head. Mystery beast.

  As for the creatures beneath the feet of this knight at Butterwick, Yorkshire, the one on the left may be a strangely rendered dog. That on the right could perhaps be a human headed serpent, representing the devil. One foot in each camp.

  The combination of dragon and dog appears on this brass to Margaret Willoughby from Raveningham. The dragon is under her feet while the dog is snuggling into the folds of her dress, for what it's worth.
  There is a lot more to discover about animals on tombs, so I guess this post is going to have to have an Episode 2. There are heraldic animals, rebus animals and animals with religious symbolism. They all mean something.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Where Did the Stones Go?

  In the course of pottering through photographs and antiquarians' accounts to see and reassemble some changing patterns of how our ancestral societies have used and changed the built environment in the middle ages and beyond, I have become intrigued by the scale with which building materials, particularly stones, have been shifted around. It is possible to see where they have been, and where they have disappeared from, but seeing where they have gone to can be tricky.

  This is the site of Leicester Abbey, a substantial Augustinian house with significant historic connections. It has an ancient wall around it. Some of the pillar bases look like the real thing, but much of the rest of it looks not even like proper foundations, rather lines of stones laid out to show where walls were, or were likely to have been. It's bare, empty and extraordinarily vacant in spirit as well as substance.

From Mrs T. Fielding Johnson 1906 Glimpses of Ancient Leicester: Leicester
  After the dissolution of the monasteries, the fabric was pillaged to build a grand mansion, which explains the wreckage, but the mansion itself eventually became derelict. Either the owners were not of the school that retained a romantic ruin in the grounds, or the remains of the abbey and most of the mansion were later removed lock, stock and barrel to build roads, or rebuild the Civil War damage in the town, or build the stocking factories of Leicester, or the railway stations or some other purpose.

  Stone shifting and re-use has been going on since people first thought of putting one stone on top of another. Hadrian's Wall, here shown near Birdoswald, is nowhere its former self. Drystone walls and stone farm buildings are abundant in the rugged north and those neat little squared Roman building stones are just so handy. And there was road building. It's easy to imagine plenty of uses for them without having to take them very far. Roman stones and tiles found their way into later buildings in various places.

  The church of St Nicholas in Leicester has Roman stones and tiles embedded in its fabric. As it is right beside the Roman Jewry wall and public baths, they didn't have to be brought very far.

  Monastic ruins in locations that are difficult of access, such as Fountains Abbey above, have retained substantial ruins, probably because it wasn't worth anybody's trouble and expense to cart the raw materials away. Then they became part of the high class garden furniture of the aristocracy and were preserved because they could be, but not entirely.

  The houses of the wealthy landowners became bigger and more elaborate, explaining some of the existing holes in the monastic ruins. Fountains Hall is not part of the medieval Fountains Abbey, or is it? These stones have had another life.
  Town churches became redundant in the middle ages as parishes were consolidated, and no doubt there was cannibalism as the materials were recycled to enlarge and adorn the ones that survived. Churches did keep getting bigger on the whole. Ecclesiastical Darwinism.

From Mrs T. Fielding Johnson 1906 Glimpses of Ancient Leicester: Leicester
  In Leicester in the 16th century a large town mansion and a free grammar school were built using materials from the redundant church of St Peter. The mansion was rebuilt and altered many times only to succumb to demolition in 1902 to build the railway station, which is itself no longer in that location. The grammar school still exists as a structure, having undergone changes of purpose. (The VCH on British History Online gives it as a carpet warehouse. Google maps shows a restaurant on the site.) This all seems like recycling and churning as a town's needs change over the centuries, but there is a bit of an anomaly.

  Prosperous medieval towns supported large religious institutions with large buildings, expansive cloisters, rambling outbuildings. The above is the former Dominican Priory in Norwich. The friaries and some collegiate churches acquired ever increasing amounts of land within the towns and built big things all over them. The complex in Norwich is a rare survival as by some incidents or accidents of history the buildings were re-used over the centuries for a variety of purposes without totally destroying their integrity. There is a lot of building material in this structure. In this case, because it is Norwich, it includes a lot of flint which may not have seemed so worthy of pillage as other stone. Not sure about that. Most complexes of this type gradually vanished from the town landscape.

  What is far more likely to be found in a modern town is some fragment which has survived the destruction, like this scrap of the Franciscan friary in Lincoln. Last heard, the future of this building was in doubt but the latest proposed incarnation was as a community centre run by the local diocese, having previously served as a museum. This is an interesting evocation of changing community needs, but it doesn't explain where the rest of the materials of the fabric of the entire religious complex went to. The friars didn't remain propertyless mendicants for long, or at least, they had substantial homes to go to.

  An even more enigmatic fragment from Lincoln is this old water conduit, made from a miscellany of carved stones taken from the Carmelite Friary site.That site also eventually disappeared under a railway station, which subsequently vanished to be eventually replaced by buildings of the University of Lincoln. I guess there is some parallel between educational institutions and religious ones in the psyche of a town, but the new institutions are not built from old friary stones.
  Lincoln became very down at heel in the later middle ages and beyond. Daniel Defoe writes of it in the late 17th, early 18th century:

  "Lincoln is an antient, ragged, decay'd, and still decaying city; it is so full of the ruins of monasteries and religious houses, that, in short, the very barns, stables, out-houses, and, as they shew'd me, some of the very hog-styes, were built church-fashion; that is to say, with stone walls and arch'd windows and doors." Daniel Defoe 1928 A Tour Through England and Wales, Vol. 2: London and New York

  You could make quite a few stables and hog-styes out of a bunch of friaries. The description also doesn't suggest much urban renewal in these religious sites, more rural encroachment on the town. It makes you wonder how much of this stone material made its way into the railway stations, art galleries, theatres, post offices, schools and other vital ingredients of the modern urban revival.
  In areas where good quality building stone was rare, it was probably worthwhile to shift it considerable distances. There seems to have been a good bit of shunting stone around along the Ouse, Derwent and Humber river system in Yorkshire, where the white limestone from Tadcaster was favoured for fancy buildings.

  Not a stone remains visible above ground of the East Yorkshire Cistercian Abbey of Meaux, near Beverley. The Google satellite image shows some suggestive marks on the ground. Click here. The whole shebang was shipped down the Hull river to build Henry VIII's  harbour defences at Hull. These are now completely vanished.

  The former abbey church of Selby is built of Tadcaster limestone. Now a handsome parish church, its cloister and all the conventual buildings have completely disappeared.

  Beverley Minster, a formerly collegiate church, got into a drastic state in the 18th century due to the fact that St Mary's was in use as the main parish church of the town, so that it stood largely unused and neglected. The north transept nearly collapsed, only rescued by a man of great ingenuity and confidence with a nifty grasp of engineering physics. It is claimed that stone was shipped from the ruins of St Mary's Abbey in York to assist in its repairs.

  There certainly isn't a great deal left of the stone work of St Mary's. York Minster itself, meanwhile, has required periodic major surgery over many years to keep it glorious and functioning. 

  Meanwhile, most ancient English towns have demolished, partially or wholly, their medieval walls and gates for purposes of modern convenience, but York has not only retained but maintained and renovated its defences of Tadcaster limestone. You can hardly tell where they breached the walls to let the railway in when that was the ultimate in urban modernity, although not a trace remains of the friary that lay underneath the station. The station has, of course, been banished again to the outer regions. The walls of York have undoubtedly gathered in some stones from other sources.
  It is hard to get your head around how these massive stony urban complexes could vanish so completely. There is reason to believe it took a long time in many cases and that ruins lay around in the heart of the cities for years, even centuries. The stones of many buildings, ancient or more modern, may have led many lives and travelled considerable distances. Some may have gone from noble buildings to perform more humble purposes, as roads, docks, walls. Some may have been incorporated into new buildings engendering civic pride. Some of humble origin may have been elevated to more elegant uses. They are effectively alive and part of evolving organisms.
  There is a tendency for folks to discuss the authenticity of ancient buildings. They are all palimpsests; repaired, renovated, beautified, reconceptualised. The idea of a building can live, as with the great cathedrals, or die, as  with the vanished friaries. The stones have many tales to tell. I still find it hard to imagine where that tonnage of stone from the medieval institutions of the towns has gone, but it's out there somewhere.