Thursday 21 March 2019

Saint Giles Church, Cheadle

For many years I have longed to visit 'Pugin's gem' St Giles Church at Cheadle. Having read a great deal about the splendor of this stunning place, and seen it mentioned on Gothic Revival documentaries, I knew this incredible feat of architecture and design was not something to be missed. Finally last year the opportunity arose to hop across the border to Staffordshire and at last see Pugin's gem in all its glory.

Upon arrival in Cheadle the churches location and exterior didn't really prepare you for what lay within. Some nice carvings, an opulent door, but nothing out of the ordinary really. Its not until you venture in that you see this masterpiece in all its glory. A service had just finished so the relatively newly installed lights were gleaming away illuminating every nook and cranny of this amazing, unique place. But usually you have to pop some money in the meter (in quite a novel fashion), as we did several times later when the lights timed out leaving us with only the natural light to illuminate the church.

St Giles is utterly off the scale in terms of grandeur and decadence. Pattern and artwork covers every square inch of the walls, with intricate motifs changing every so often and a different colour taking centre stage for a moment, but Pugin consistently sticks to his signature palette. Deep red, indigo blue, dark green, mustard and gold. Lots and lots of gold.
As far as churches go St Giles is honestly nothing short of perfection. As a former print designer, pattern and art are everything to me. So those things utterly covering a Gothic revival masterpiece is a dream come true.
Hand painting walls in this manner is an art and part of our heritage which is largely lost these days. But it is something which has long fascinated me and I always desired to treat the walls of my own home with such dedicated perfection (probably one of the reasons I've always wanted to convert a church.). Pugin's obsessive nature with the detailing, craftsmanship and perfection of St Giles is something I can honestly relate to in myself. And I can think of no better thing than living within that temple to your own creativity and vision.

St Giles is a truly overwhelming place. Everywhere you look there is something to see and every tiny detail has clearly been meticulously planned by Pugin to create the harmonious union of patterns across many different surfaces and media. The stained glass, the furniture, the candle holders, even down to the floor tiles. The man that Pugin was and what he aimed to create is evident in all of these elements, as well as the church as a whole.

I do feel a sense of sadness for Pugin that he never fully realised his dream and saw the church complete as he intended it with a spire in place. Ultimately it was just too costly and ambitious for the project. But I do hope that if Pugin could see his great gem today and the legacy his vision has created he would be truly proud. St Giles stands as a testament to the glory of gothic revival and its incredible impact of the history of British architecture and aestetics.

Friday 15 March 2019

Holy Trinity Church - Washington

Hidden beside Washington Old Hall lies an overgrown and forgotten, lonely looking graveyard. When exploring the grounds of the house I found myself repeatedly catching glimpses of this moody looking graveyard. Over walls, through gaps and just about anywhere. There it was silently waiting. Its probably largely down to my incredible ability to sniff out cemeteries everywhere I go, a morbid gift I seem to have acquired over the years.

After an enjoyable visit to the ancient family residence of George Washington (though he never actually set foot there) I eagerly rushed off to see the shady churchyard which it turned out belongs to the Holy Trinity Church next door.

The graves in closest proximity to the church were well tended, tidy, trimmed and mowed. As you moved into the darker recesses of the graveyard nature had taken over, with nettles and ivy lining the floor and trees taking over wherever they can rest their limbs. Often this is the type of graveyard I love to see the most. Nature taking back what is rightfully hers. Interacting with the stones which are all that's left to represent the people nourishing from below. The relationship between the stones and the trees certainly made for an interesting and unusual photo opportunity, which of course I grasped with both hands.

Monday 4 March 2019

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is one of those strange, mythical places that until relatively recently I knew very little about. Of course I'd heard of the Lindisfarne Gospel (as a long time illuminated manuscript fanatic) but honestly I knew little else about this distant place.
A good friend of mine recommended visiting Holy Island and sang its praises as an amazing place to visit. Also, after watching the fantastic TV series 'Vikings' I gained a little more basic knowledge about Lindisfarne and its role in history. A few documentaries later and a bit more basic reading later and my appetite was suitably wetted.

Nothing had in actuality quite prepared me for Lindisfarne. I wasn't expecting what this incredible place had to offer or how it would make me feel. It was honestly nothing short of magical. And in reality, I cant wholly explain why.
The approach across the miles of causeway was in itself an unusual experience and felt like the beginning of an adventure. Knowing that the times of the tide are crucial and how quickly the causeway is lost to the sea there was a mixture of fear and excitement about it all.

The landscape itself was increasingly breathtaking the further from the mainland you go. This incredible swathe of low land which looks as though it could be washed away in an instant. Sand that goes on for miles, but you know it wont be that way for long. And there it was, on a mound of land erupting from the sea, Lindisfarne Castle. Everywhere around heather and wildflowers dance in the breeze and the grass which is pale as straw seems to sway with the sea. The sandy shores seem reflected in the buttery stone of the old ruins of the Priory which the Vikings plundered centuries ago.

I can't deny that Holy Island had a special feeling. Ancient, deep rooted, celtic. At the edge of England and the farthest North I've ever travelled in the UK I felt strangely at home. This rugged coast line is not something a landlocked Nottinghamshire lass gets to see very often, and it was just perfection. 

And to top it all off, as with most great places people have lived, there was a lovely graveyard. Perched behind the Priory ruins surrounding the quaint little church sit many graves of varying age. Looking out to the sea almost surrounding it I never fail to see some beautifully poetic, hopelessly romantic aspect about being beside the sea for all eternity.
Seaside graves are always interesting. 'Lost at sea' 'Died in a great storm' 'Shipwrecked' are often some of the untimely deaths recorded, and generally stones decorated with anchors and ships pepper the cemeteries, showing the importance of the sea to these people, in life, and death.

My only regrets regarding Lindisfarne are that I did not visit this otherworldly place sooner, and that I did not get to spend more time in it on this occasion (down to the timing of the tide unfortunately). Lindisfarne was one of those rare places that before you have even left, you're planning your return. I desperately hope to make it back to Holy Island in 2019 and explore more of this breathtaking place.

For me The Holy Island of Lindisfarne felt like my own little Summerisle, only, I'm no Sergent Howie ...