March 13, 2007

Vandalism and Latinity

Filed under: architecture, England — podtourz @ 6:11 pm

I’ve been reading a fascinating book this week while preparing a Norwich tour – ‘Decoding flint flushwork’ by John Blatchly and Peter Northeast.

The authors analyse the meaning of inscription in the fine flint panelling of Norfolk and Suffolk church towers.

But the mystery is how the pre-Reformation  messages survived. Well, maybe it’s not such a mystery; flint is remarkably difficult to damage.

In just two cases, the Puritan iconoclasts did manage to erase messages. But in both cases, they left some of the words intact.

At West Tofts St Mary, they chiselled away the superstitious messagres – ‘Pray for’, and so on. But they left the names of the donors unmolested. That was actually rather kind of them – but of course it was only the suggestion of praying for the souls of the departed that they found unacceptable. A mere record of who paid for the work was theologically unexceptionable.

However at Helmingham St Mary they left a whole line of a Marian matins text intact – “Scandit ad ethera puerpera virgula Jesse”, the branch of Jesse’s tree ascends to heaven.  They had erased all the obvious texts – Ave Maria gratia plena, ora pro bonis, and so on.

It seems that Dowsing’s Latin just wasn’t good enough to understand the matins text!

So because he didn’t understand it, he didn’t chisel it away.

That rather tickles my sense of humour.


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