Kilpeck Carvings

Arched church door with carvings

Looking through other blogger’s submissions for this week’s photo challenge: intricate took me back a few years.

My sweetheart had read that some fine examples of carved green men were beautifully preserved at the Church of St Mary and St David in Kilpeck, Herefordshire, and was keen to see them.

After a lengthy drive and a few missed turns, we arrived at the small church which dates back to at least 1143. In my imagination, looking back, it was raised up in a field in the middle of nowhere. There is a tiny modern day settlement, but you have to be going there to get there.

Kilpeck is on the Welsh – English border about 10 miles from Hereford. To quote diocese information the church ‘stands between the remains of Kilpeck Castle and the six acre deserted medieval village whose main road still serves as an access road’. Add in some gently rolling countryside and that sounds about right!

It would not have seemed out of place to hear hooves, and lift our heads to see King Arthur and his Knights riding across the fields to worship in all their finery. That might seem fanciful, but before you mock, Arthur’s Stone is just a morning’s ride away in the Golden Valley.

Anachronistic? Only by 3,000 years or so (the 25 tonne stone was laid there somewhere between 3,700 and 2,700 BC).

OK – back to the real world, which is wonderful enough. The site has a complex history, much of it still unresolved, variously reputed to include Saxon, Celtic, Roman and even megalithic times.

Today’s church has a simple, classic construction: two small buildings of decreasing height – the nave and chancel – nestle against a round apse in a raised oval churchyard, girded by a stone wall.

The decorative carvings on the church door and windows would have been worth the trip, but all kinds of weird and wonderful carvings also gazed or glared down at us from a row of corbels around the roofline. There are 85 of them, all original.

To my eyes, there are at least two distinct styles of decoration. The carvings on the corbels are naive, cartoon-like – sometimes sweet, sometimes caustic. I would guess that this is the oldest work, but perhaps I’m just seeing the handprint of the sculptor. Like most naive art, it has a strange, emotional power.

Censors, religious opponents and vandals down the ages have obliterated so much of the old decoration on our churches that art like this is unfamiliar, edgy.

The doorway carvings have some unusual elements, including two warriors wearing pantaloons, but they’re in a more familiar style: ornate, studied, complex – definitely intricate.

No-one really knows for sure today what many of the images mean, though we hazard guesses, as at so many mysteries. Most likely, each carving is some form of invocation, either for protection or increase.

A cute carving of a hound and a hare was my favourite, but for the challenge I’m posting a picture of the arched door, its carvings sheltered from the rain by a modern sliver of lead. Who would have thought a gem like this would be hidden in plain sight in 2015?

For lovers of wordplay and coincidences – assuming that these Romanesque church carvings in red sandstone can be described as holy rock – my first submission was holey rock.

Links

A church website with an article on dowsing and a downloadable app? Now that’s a mix of cultures!

You’ll also find several Kilpeck Flickr groups sharing detailed photos of individual carvings.

Just one last thought – aren’t the door hinges wonderful?

 

7 thoughts on “Kilpeck Carvings

  1. katemccseattle says:

    What a wonderful memory. I really enjoyed reading about the history. The door looks like it would be a wonderful story starter: just imagine what it has seen through history…

    Like

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