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A FALLING ROOF.
to make one of the congregation; we started on one side. The rector took matters more philosophically; he was used to that sort of thing, we were not. 'That's nothing,' he remarked to us; 'bits will keep falling. See, here are two huge figures of angels that came crashing down the other day.' And mighty blocks of carved oak they were, over six feet in height; let us hope that no more wooden angels will come down upon the heads of the devoted congregation. It is a pity that such a glorious roof should be falling to pieces and decay thus, but the village is poor, and money for reparations-I use the word advisedly in place of the abused term 'restoration' -doubtless difficult if not impossible to collect.
Next the rector called our attention to the 'plough-light' gallery. We had never heard of such a thing before, and its purpose was unknown to us; the rector explained, however, that once a year in times past a plough was brought into the church to be blessed. According to the custom then prevailing here, the plough, gaily decked with many-coloured ribbons, was placed beneath the oak carved gallery in question. Round this gallery an inscription runs in old English, but difficult to decipher because of the curious forms of many of the letters, and because some of them (and here and there even whole words) are worm-eaten more or less away. However, we managed after much puzzling to read as follows: God spede the plow and send us ale-corn enow our purpose for to make: . . . at ye plowlight at Sygate. Be mery and glade: Wat good ale yis work made.' It will be noticed that the supR
posed modern American way of spelling plough plow' is employed in this ancient inscription, as it is in old works of the period. The Americans have simply retained the past-time method of spelling certain words, as existing when the pilgrim fathers were by force of circumstances driven from their English home, and changed these not (as they became altered in the land of their birth), owing to the little communication between the far-away countries in those distant days. Ale-corn' is manifestly meant for barley. A propos of this inscription we were informed that even to this day a 'Plow' Inn exists at Sygate, a village near, and it was to this very inn that, after the service of blessing the plough, the congregation went and mostly got gloriously drunk. A strange mixture of religion and worldly pleasure!
Then the rector called our attention to the very fine rood screen. This, as may be gathered from what decoration remains on it, was once richly coloured and gilt, and must have been gorgeous to look upon. Even the narrow upright pillars have tiny niches with canopies over for miniature images of the lesser saints, images that have been carefully removed long ago; these small niches, it would appear, from broken pieces still existing at the sides here and there, were covered over with talc. The base of the screen is reserved for paintings of the apostles and other saints; the figures are well drawn and skilfully coloured, though all are damaged, some by time and long neglect, some purposely. There is a curious representation of St. Matthew, with what looks like
A MEDIEVAL SAINT.
a large pair of spectacles on; the effect of this is startling, and would be laughable were it not for the manifestly serious purpose of the painter. Then the rector especially called our attention to a saint whose name and merits were totally unknown to us, St. Schorn to wit. He is drawn holding a boot under his arm, and apparently squeezing out of it a queerlooking little red devil. A unique saint this surely -whatever could he be about? 'Oh!' exclaimed the rector, noticing our questioning look, 'that is the saint who used to cure the gout; he was highly esteemed at one time, and much prayed to.' Looking at that painting, one doubtless of many others of a similar superstitious nature that formerly existed in this and other churches, intended to impose upon the credulity of the ignorant for priestly gain and priestly power, I felt at the time that I could almost pardon Master Will Dowsing' for the destruction that he caused to be wrought amongst such superstitious articles-pictures, images, inscriptions, and the like, even though in so doing much that was beautiful was lost to us for ever. Beauty can be purchased too dearly at the cost of religious freedom, and priestly despotism is the worst of all tyranny.
It is sad and strange to trace how the Church, once the only friend of the poor, the ready champion of the oppressed and weak against the strong, gradually, as she grew more prosperous and powerful, became tyrannical and intolerant. The primitive creed (all-sufficient for the age), became darkened by ignorance, superstition combined with a pompous ritual took the place of a simple faith (a beautiful
faith because so simple and satisfying to an unquestioning generation); the churches became more and more splendid; mighty poems in stone, the culminating glory of Gothic genius; with wonderful windows of tinted, traceried glass, glowing in the sunshine like molten jewels; with frescoed walls, picturing the strange meaningless miracles performed by the later saints-stories on stones these for the benefit of the poor and ignorant; with soaring vaulted or carved oak roofs, and with high altars ablaze with many lights and sparkling with rare gems; anon mysterious and dim with incense, before which chanting priests in gorgeous robes made low obeisance. Very effective, truly impressive, most poetical, and enchantingly romantic all this, but really not religion at all. The wealth the Church accumulated, her unlimited power in a credulous age, made her in turn arrogant, selfish, grasping, and finally tyrannical; the priests, instead of being the servants of God, had become the willing slaves and tools of ambitious kings and designing statesmen.
Not on them the poor rely,
Not to them looks liberty,
Who with fawning falsehood cower
To the wrong when clothed with power.
Yet once, the same poet, Whittier, writes:
the priesthood, like a tower,
Gone, thank God, their wizard spell,
As those bearded priests of old.
AN ANCIENT FRESCO.
But I am digressing, and intruding into the province of religious history. Such history leads me on to disputable ground, and I do not care to tread this overmuch. Let us get back once more to the interior of Cawston church. Here on one of the walls we observed the fading remains of a former fine fresco. This represents the Blessed Virgin Mary, with a grey dove-probably once white— descending from the clouds and placing a ring on her finger; before her in adoration bows a priest clad in mediæval vestments; from his person issues forth a scroll, and on this is written in old English letters, barely legible now: now: Hail, May Mary, Heaven's Queen, Mother of that blissful food that died on Rood.' The rector next pointed out to us the finely carved end of a miserere seat; this is sculptured into the form of a dragon swallowing a kid, a wonderfully well-executed bit of fanciful art work, such as only a medieval craftsman could conceive and carry out. Sir Gilbert Scott, we were informed, when shown this, declared it to be the finest bit of carving that he had ever seen. Then we were taken to view a little sacristy chapel, now used for occasional services, and this finished our inspection of the interior of this magnificent and interesting old church, all the more interesting to us because we had come upon it accidentally, and had not been prepared beforehand for its neglected beauties by a laudatory guide-book account.
Going now outside we glanced at the stately tower, a grand specimen of fourteenth-century The ancient doorway, at the foot of this