I’ve been thinking quite a lot about Romanesque stone carvings recently so decided to take a trip into East Yorkshire to seek out a couple of sites. My previous brief explorations of Romanesque East Yorkshire were inspired by a series of images taken by John Piper so once again I allowed Piper to be my guide. Scrolling through the Tate’s collection of his photographs I found an image of a font in the church at Langtoft. A combination of the image, and the Scandinavian sounding name of the village, gave me a destination.
A diversion into Prehistory
Driving into the Wolds I passed through the village of Duggleby. I stopped briefly to say hello to the Great Barrow of Duggleby Howe, formerly known as Odin’s Howe.
Dating from the Neolithic, the Great Barrow sits at the centre of a concentric ditched enclosure with an external diameter of 370m making it one of the largest Neolithic monuments in Britain. The enclosure was discovered in 1979 is only visible as a cropmark.
Back to the Romanesque
Moving on to Langtoft I arrived at the lovely church located on the outskirts of the village and was greeted by one of my favourite signs ‘Church Open’.
The church is very nice, Nikolaus Pevsner tells us that the tower is early C13 and that the church was thoroughly restored in 1900-3
To be honest I wasn’t here to admire the church, I was here to see this gem, a drum shaped baptismal font. The font came from the nearby deserted Medieval village of Cottam. All that remains of Cottam are a series of cropmarks and a ruined brick-built church.
Pevsner describes the carvings on the font as primeval, I like that. Rita Wood describes this panel as a complex threefold tree (probably a Tree of Life, the heavenly reward)…In this tree, two parts rooted in heaven, entwined with one standing on earth. The tree of life or world tree is an archetype which occurs in almost all major belief systems. It generally represents a link between different realms, a cosmic axis.
This scene depicts the fall of man, Eve is tempting Adam with forbidden fruit while the serpent looks on.
This carving represents the crucifixion of Saint Andrew on his X-shaped cross.
Rita Wood tells us that this is a carving of a combination of a bird and a snake. I think it could just as easily be a Wyvern. The combination of a rooster and a snake is known as a Cockatrice. The Cockatrice is mentioned in the bible, it is said to have the ability to kill with just one look, the only animal immune to its glare is a weasel.
This carving depicts the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence. Lawrence was martyred by placing him upon a large iron grid set over hot coals. Whilst undergoing this horrible procedure Lawrence is reputed to have said to his torturer, “you can turn me over now, this side is done”. For this the catholic church made him the patron saint of cooks and comedians.
The final carving depicts St. Margaret of Antioch bursting out of the gut of a dragon. Margaret survived being swallowed by the beast because she was wearing a crucifix. The cross irritated the beast’s gut causing it to split and expel the saint. Margaret was finally killed by beheading.
I took a walk around the outside of the church. During the restoration of the church, most of the original stonework was redressed I was however able to find a few bits of graffiti including one possible Marian mark. The overlapping Vs of the mark are thought to represent the Virgin Mary.
John Piper’s photographs of Yorkshire
Duggleby Howe aerial view via Google Earth
The Archaeology of Yorkshire. An assessment at the beginning of the 21st century. Yorkshire Archaeological Society Occasional Paper No.3. 2003
The Buildings of England. Yorkshire: York & the East Riding. Nikolaus Pevsner & David Neave. 1997
Romanesque Yorkshire. Rita Wood. Yorkshire Archaeological Society Occasional Paper No.9. 2012