Architecture, Art, British history

Looking Back

Sometimes an image will transport you to another time.

The carved bench ends of St Winnow’s Church in Cornwall take you straight back to 1520!

The same place, the Fowey estuary, but 500 years ago. A Tudor boat, like the ones they saw from the church yard, but in a heavy sea, blown by the wind god.

Local craftsmen will have been carving what they knew. Images and icons of the time, emblems, armorial bearings, monograms or, maybe an allusion to a sponsor, perhaps a guild. They were artists so there is more to the work than Christian symbolism — they capture the essence of the time.

According to Todd Gray, A Gazetteer of Ancient Bench Ends in Cornwall’s Parish Churches, these carvings of tools are images of the Passion (above is a hammer and pincers, pillar with cord and 2 whips). With my artisan’s hat on I wonder if they represent carpenters and the ceremonial truncheons — the marks of authority of maybe the constable and the two keepers of the poor-house.

You will note that some of these bench ends are better preserved than others — the church was renovated in 1874 and care was taken to preserve the ancient bench ends at that time.

This is supposed to be the symbol of the martyr Saint Catherine but her wheel should have impaling spikes to inflict her horrible death and be broken by the power of her holy spirit. Could it actually be a nod to the wheelwright who financed this particular bench end? Did he sit here?

As I get older I realise how short is a lifespan. How near we are to 1520 — how nothing changes. Here is the bench end that confirms this. Have you noticed how the archaeologists on TV are obsessed with ritual — I always look for practical explanations — is this chap a sinner or just marking the brewer’s bench?

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