And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

lørdag 9. juli 2011

The Hidden Place

The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.
- Psalm 111:2

Where is my God ? what hidden place
Conceals Thee still ?
What covert dare eclipse Thy face ?
Is it Thy will ?
- The Search, George Herbert

Pride and ambition here
Only in far-fetch'd metaphors appear;
Here nought but winds can hurtful murmurs scatter,
And nought but Echo flatter.
- The Wish, Abraham Cowley

Some of the most delightful discoveries are those which are the most serendipitous, and when one detaches oneself from the Search for something and rather let things occur, one will occasionally experience such discoveries. I consider these to be the true discoveries, for they are accidental rather than being results of meticulous investigation. My discovery of Holy Trinity Church near Goodramgate was one such serendipity. I had already, I noticed in hindsight, seen the church on postcards and walked past the sign pointing it out many times before I ventured to find it, but these observations made only sense to me after I had discovered the church and could make the necessary connections.

The reason why this became a discovery, the reason why I was allowed to make this discovery, is its location. Holy Trinity Church is situated in a little green area enclosed by buildings, and to get there you have to pass through an archway from the 18th century, an architectural feature that secludes the church very effectively. Given the fact that Goodramgate is one of York's busiest streets I suspect I was more concerned with running errands rather than to explore the street in all its beautiful detail, and so it was that it took me until one of my last weeks in York to break off the beaten path, enter the inviting darkness of the archway and follow its tunnel to the oasis beyond, as if it all was a beautiful metaphor for Eden.

For because His love is free, so are His treasures.
- Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditation

It was a beautiful day, somewhat crisp if I recall correctly, and entering this pocket of tranquility after the relative commotion of Goodramgate was a delightful transition. As a Christian and a Medievalist I have a particular soft spot for churches, and the months in England had given me an appreciation for that typical English design which was prevalent in Holy Trinity Church.

The premises were to a certain extent quite modest: a small cemetery adorned by various clusters of daffodils, an unpretentious and - given its location - unostentatious church where small groups of elderly people passed the time in quiet conversation, not unlike the daffodils. Being quite fond of anonymity and the humble, it was something of a pleasure to see this little sphere of calm so undisturbed, even on such a beautiful day.

Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.
- Psalm 122:9

Holy Trinity Church as it stands today is chiefly a construction of the 15th century, but various traces range from 12th century foundations to 19th century additions. It is not a functioning parish church, but a building taken care of by the Churches Conservation Fund, a national charity organisation whose work is of utmost importance to the cultural history of Britain, and they have, to my knowledge, done a marvellous job keeping Holy Trinity Church from fading into cruel oblivion.

The floor and the arcades are somewhat uneven, but not as uneven as the pictures suggest; I take the blame for this distorted presentation of reality. 

Entering the cool shade of the church room - for which there is no entrance fee - was very delightful, and I was immediately thrilled to have an entirely new church space to explore, and, as in most churches steeped in history, there were many things to come across. Two of its main features of interest can be seen in the pictures above: the beautiful stained glass window, which the rector of the church, the Reverend John Walker, donated in the 1470s, and the boxed pews which are the only of its kind in York.

Compared to other parish churches in York, Holy Trinity Church appeared to me as particularly wide compared to its length, a feature greatly enhanced by the arcades, and considering that the arcades do not separate the quire from the rest of the nave very effectively, the church space appears somewhat less well-structured and ordered than what is the case in similar churches. Rather than creating a focal point at the main altar and illustrating the side naves' relative autonomy, it all floats together. This is of course not void of charm, quite the contrary, and such idiosyncracy is only to be treasured in Medieval works of any kind.

Weightless magnificence upholds the past.
- Who are these coming to the sacrifice?, Geoffrey Hill

To my experience most of the stained glass windows found in Medieval churches in York are restorations, partly due to the relentless effect of time, partly due to iconoclasm following the victory of the Parliament forces in the Siege of York, 1644. Therefore it is all the more awesome to behold true Medieval stained glass, not only Medieval in essence but also in origin.

  A wounded Dragon vnder him did ly
- The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser

St. George, patron saint of England, is oddly enough portrayed with a yellow cross on his armour rather than the traditional red. I am sadly no art historian, so I can't elaborate on the subject of this occurrence.

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.
- John, 1:29-30

When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple: He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.
- Matthew, 27:57-58

I'm not sure whether the central window is meant to portray Joseph of Arimathea putting Christ's body to rest, or whether this is a depiction of all God's three aspects put together, a motif found among some Renaissance painters such as Andrea Mantegna. The latter would be more appropriate considering the name of the church, but I'm not sure if that is the case.

Irregardless I find this to be a superbly beautiful window, both because of its realism, but also of the very palpable rendition of Christ's humanity, as can be seen in the very easily-spotted navel.

In the sun lily-and-gold-coloured,
Filtering the cruder light, he has endured,
A feature for our regard; and will keep;
Of worldly purity the stained archetype.
- In Piam Memoriam, Geoffrey Hill

I'm not sure who this saint is meant to be and I ought to be careful with tossing forth suggestions on too weak a ground. Still, I would like to suggest that it might be Joseph of Arimathea who, according to Medieval legend, brought the chalice of Christ to England after the crucifixion, a chalice, as it appears, which contains such a typically English element as a little dragon. The reader should bear in mind, however, that I have no expertise on the subject, and my words should be considered with due scholarly scepticism.

At first I thought the gentleman above to be Moses, but then it occurred to me that Moses did not wade the waters, they were divided for him. I suspect the figure represents St. Christopher who, upon conversion to Christianity, made it his task to ferry wanderers across a river. According to legend he one day carried a child on his shoulders, a child who revealed himself as Christ. To prove this, He asked Christopher to put his staff in the ground and on the following day it had become a palm tree, a miracle that drew many to faith. The name Christopher means Christ-bearer and was originally considered to be understood in a poetic, spiritual way, bearing Christ in your heart. The literal meaning became a feature of his legend in the 12th and 13th centuries, as he had previously been known as a martyr.

Thou hast made me, and shall Thy work decay?
Repair me now, for now mine end doth haste;
I run to death, and Death meets me as fast,
And all my pleasures are like yesterday.
- Holy Sonnet I, John Donne

Beautie in thee takes up her place,
And dates her letters from thy face,
When she doth write.
- The British Church, George Herbert

As alluded to earlier parish churches have one altar at each side of the nave, and in most cases these altars appear quite autonomous. This is, as mentioned, not the case in Holy Trinity Church due to the width of the church room. 

The arcades seem out of proportion to the space they define, almost as if they think themselves worthy of a cathedral rather than a parish church and try to convert into one. This is typical for several features of this church: the feeling that something is slightly awry. Other manifestations of this notion are, as mentioned, the uneven floor and the relatively wide church room.

Truly there are two worlds. One was made by God, the other by men.
- Centuries of Meditation, Thomas Traherne

We have short time to stay, as you,
We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
As you, or anything.
We die
As your hours do, and dry
Like to the summer's rain;
Or as the pearls of morning's dew,
Ne'er to be found again.
- To Daffodils, Robert Herrick

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