Thursday, 28 August 2008

Atheists & Dolphins


If you like fonts, babies, and have one that needs Christening, then I should think it's worth getting in with the High Anglicans in Wellingborough. At first sight this Northamptonshire town doesn't appear to have an awful lot going for it, until you scratch beneath the surface a bit. And scratching around in the streets high above the railway station (a real Gothic bargeboarded treat) reveals a rather plain Perpendicular church in gingerbread Finedon ironstone with Weldon stone dressings. But to walk inside is to realise what John Betjeman meant when he said that the interior of St.Mary's is enough 'to force even an atheist to his knees'. This is Sir Ninian Comper's masterpiece of 1908-30, marooned amongst the terraced back streets of this boot and shoe town. Built with money given by three spinster sisters, you'll need to track down the key to get inside, but if you love this kind of thing then you will be overwhelmed. Golden angels trumpet over sumptuous screens, fan vaulting soars up to great heights to where Christ in Majesty presides over the nave. There's simply too much to talk about here, but the font is worthy of particular mention. We saw it on a flower and music festival afternoon, a brilliant blue and gold canopied structure completed by Comper's son Sebastian in the 1960s as a memorial to his father. And around the base is an octagonal screen swimming with gilded dolphins. So, all you atheists, get hold of the key and strap on your rubber knee pads.

21 comments:

Fred Fibonacci said...

What a stunning interior, and in Wellingborough. Who'd have thought it? I can quite see what Betjeman meant. Beautiful. If I ever got round to translating the applications, I could see quite easily see myself in front of that altar, hurling myself back into the abyss.

Talking of which, all that cat-fighting over at Ron's seems to have died down. Was it something we said?

Peter Ashley said...

Re: St.Mary's, Fred. It's one for you if you're feeling slightly melancholic.

Re: Cat Fights at Ron's. I'm just supposing they've been locked-in at the tanning salon.

Philip Wilkinson said...

That vault with its pendants – shades of Oxford Cathedral. Amazing.

Fred Fibonacci said...

Philip: how come you know the interior of the tanning salon so well?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Darn it, you noticed. I should hasten to add, though, that I'm not the one wearing the pendants.

KSV Woolfoot said...

Thanks for this. Unlikely I'll get to see it in person anytime soon - probably not ever to be brutally honest - and I would have been sorry to have missed it completely. I never miss a post now that I have found your blog.

Ron Combo said...

I'm so glad I deleted a comment last night after a shedload, about the horrors of Popish architecture when compared with the eye-watering joy of this photograph. Now I am much more balanced.
Why did God create cold weather?
So we can burn more Catholics.

Fred Fibonacci said...

Ron, do be careful. You may have forgotten: you live there.

Thud said...

horrors of popish architecture?...realy?....poor man.

A F-A said...

Another great post! As a simple atheist, what astonishes me is that, despite its relative modernity, the architecture is almost medieval. Does 'God' really only listen in the vernacular of the St James Bible, and only in appropriate surroundings? Certain sectors despise people like the Amish for this! I wonder how Paddy's Wigwam will be seen in a hundred years?

Peter Ashley said...

Good points af-a, I like to think that God is a fully paid-up member (along with Ron) of the 1662 Prayer Book Society, but suspect it might not be the case. While we have Orders of Service that read like the manuals for DVD players we will, sadly, have ecclesiastical architecture to match.

Fred Fibonacci said...

But what if He is a gadget freak Peter? Eh? Eh? Our Lord could be sitting there right now, surrounded by celestial polystyrene packaging, anxiously thumbing through His iMiracle Ver 2.1 manual for the bit about 'Frogs: Plague of, troubleshooting'.

Peter Ashley said...

No Fred, my God is tending his Gertrude Jekyll-style cottage garden, his snowy white locks disguised under a Panama hat, occasionally mopping his brow with a big red-spotted hankerchief. Whenever a motorbike roars noisily by his front gate the rider mysteriously falls off at the next bend.

A F-A said...

Whilst His garden suffers from neither Blackfly nor Carrotfly, and He is allowed to light huge autumn bonfires and can water His garden with impunity in the Summer, there was a suggestion (Stavros Stavrides, 1987) that God rides a Harley.


Quite ridiculous of course: he rides a 1968 Triumph Bonneville.

Without a helmet.

Thud said...

afa.....I can be found at paddys wigwam every second sunday....it does what it is supposed to do rather well...my fellow scousers seem rather keen on it too.

Peter Ashley said...

Good point Thud. I've always loved the exteriors of both Liverpool cathedrals, and their common axis along Hope Street, but find them somehow disappointing to a degree inside.

A F-A said...

Thud, just to clarify: I actually do like the Wigwam! Overall, in respect of any architecture, I prefer the risk of a modernist mistake to a pastiche of presumed past glory.

Thud said...

Untill recently I lived in a Georgian townhouse opposite the Anglican cathedral in hope st.In 21 years I never ceased to be thrilled by it's bulk as it loomed through the mist or occasional snow shower...inside as mentioned was a little underwhelming...paddys too.

Peter Ashley said...

Presumably Thud you will also remember the overgrown graveyard tucked-away at the bottom of the slope, like something set-dressed for Hammer Films. But what a place to live. (Your Georgian rooms-with-a-view that is.)

Thud said...

The graveyard prior to capital of culture tidy up was a great place...complete with part walled up mystery tunnel tucked away behind tombs below oratory.

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