Thursday, 31 March 2016

San Anton and Mosta

Wild fennel and thyme growing on Malta's cliff tops
Hidden away at the back of a cupboard are boxes of colour slides including one which shows a photograph of me as a young girl in the gardens of San Anton. The image may not be readily to hand but the memory is crystal clear. It was the very first time that I had walked in a garden filled with exotic flowers usually seen growing under glass in England.  Curiously many of those very same flowers that I saw growing then now thrive very happily outside in my own garden too!!!
San Anton Palace was built during the late 1620's as a summer palace for Grand Master Antoline de Paule, a French knight of the Order of St. John, who  personally supervised the layout of the formal gardens that surround the palace. During the British time in Malta it was used as the Govenor's summer residence, and in 1882 British Govenor Sir Arthur Burton decided to open up the major part of the gardens to the general public, a practice which still continues today. Filled with wonderful paintings and fine decorative works of art, the palace is now the offical residence of the president of Malta.
Naturally the palace itself is 'off limits' but there are no restrictions to strolling around the outer corridors 
and visiting this small beautiful palace chapel built by the Grand Master for his own use
which shows the white cross on a red background of the Order of St. John on the ceiling
Zantedeschia - arum lily
Hibiscus - family Malvaceae
Erythrina - coral tree, flame tree
As this is the penultimate post I can't leave Malta without showing you the Rotunda of Santa Maria Assunta, Mosta. It is extraordinary that such a small island should be home to the third largest unsupported dome in the world. The Rotunda sits in the middle of the island and when travelling in any direction it regularly comes into view.
Based on the Pantheon in Rome it was built without using any interior scaffolding. During World War ll, a German bomb pierced the dome and fell right through into the church. The fact that the bomb did not explode and nobody was injured was considered by the islanders to be a miracle.
Inside the church preparations were underway for the Good Friday parade through the streets of Mosta when the churches statuary is carried on the shoulders of local men in a similar manner to a post I showed here of Easter processions seen in Spain.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Easter's Gold

There must be very few small countryside parishes in England that can boast two special churches, one Norman the other Arts and Crafts. As an added bonus at this time of year, Kempley along with it's neighbours Dymock, and Oxenhall in Gloucestershire, are home to our native wild daffodil, Narcissus pseudonarcissus, which flowers all along their grassy banks, hedgerows, woods, fields, and churchyards - the area is known as the golden triangle.
The wild daffodil is small and has distinctive pale yellow petals with a darker central trumpet, but it is rare to see these daffodils flowering in such profusion. The wild daffodils in the Lake District immediately spring to mind where they inspired Wordsworth to write his immortal words.....
"I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills, 
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze
St. Mary's Norman church has some of the most important and well preserved C12th wall paintings in England. Nine hundred years ago, the manor of Kempley belonged to one of the most powerful men in England - Baron Hugh de Lacy of Longtown Castle near Hereford, he was the trusted counsellor of King Henry l. It is thought that he built Kempley church, commissioning the remarkable wall paintings as a memorial to his father, Walter de Lacy, a Norman baron and veteran of the Battle of Hastings. 
 We sat in the churchyard to eat our lunch whilst admiring the church when suddenly....
this little fellow joined us - he's licking his lips and asking for some more, but we resist - his owners may not be too happy!!!
The timber framed porch was added to the church during the C14th - unfortunately it makes the doorway tympanum difficult to photograph
The entrance to a Norman church was a focal point for symbolic imagery. The carved tympanum at St. Mary's depicts the Tree of Life, a symbol of Christ's salvation
The west door leading into the tower is one of the earliest doors still in use in England. The timber for it was felled around 1114.
The old parish chest in the tower is later, and has been dated between 1492 - 1522. Used to store villagers' valuables, it is simply constructed from a hollowed-out oak log with an elm lid
In the 1990s tree-ringing was carried out by the Dendrology Laboratory at Oxford University on the timbers from the church roof, hidden above a C17th ceiling in the nave. This revealed that it was built around 1120, making it the earliest and most complete Norman timber roof known in this country. Unlike later medieval roofs, its roof trusses were held together with collars and struts, rather than tie beams spanning from wall to wall

It must be remembered that in the C16th all of this Romanesque C12th paintwork was hidden with a covering of whitewash during the Reformation, and was not rediscovered until the C20th. Church paintings were used to educate the congregation who would not have understood the Latin services. They offered moral guidance and taught a Christian understanding of the world.

On either side of the chancel walls rows of apostles sit gazing up at....
Christ in Majesty surrounded by angels
and Seraphims
An early pope
If you are interested you can take a virtual tour of St. Mary's here, there is too much for me to include. The nave has later C14th frescoes, one showing an interesting wheel of life.
A short journey along the narrow country lanes brings us to 
The brick pier in the middle of the lych gate is a coffin rest
The far side of the church fits in well with the surrounding countryside resembling many of the vernacular tithe barns nearby. It was described by John Betjeman as "a mini-cathedral of the Arts and Crafts movement".
This extraordinary window is known as the 'jam tart'
The church is built of local red sandstone obtained from the Forest of Dean. The architect was Randall Wells who acted as William Lethaby's resident architect at Brockhampton's thatched Arts and Crafts church which I showed in a post here.  
Wells designed three sculpted stone reliefs  which were carved by the village carpenter, Walter James
The hands of several distinguished Cotswold Arts and Crafts designers are much in evidence within the church. This stone font with its oak lid was designed by Ernest Gimson - note the symbolic wavy 'lines of life', and the circles to indicate people.
The lectern and the candlesticks came from the Barnsley Brothers Daneway workshop, and were designed by both Ernest Barnsley and Ernest Gimson then made by Peter van der Waals. The inlaid mother-of-pearl is typical of Arts and Crafts symbolism, signifying faith, charity and innocence. If you are interested in the Cotswold Arts and Crafts Movement then these names will be familiar to you.
The carved rood beam that carries the figure of 'Christ Triumphant' on the cross - so called as there is no pain depicted in the body. The carving of Christ was done by David Gibb, the last remaining carver of ship's figureheads in London. The Virgin Mary and St. John are on either side. It has been suggested that Randall Wells' earlier travels in France, where similar carvings occur in churches in Brittany, influenced him.
Finally, the altar cloth showing Kempley's wild daffodils
For those living in the UK, BBC 1, Countryfile, will be featuring these Glouchestershire wild daffodils on it's programme at 7.00pm tonight