The ground was uneven. The wall was wobbly. The churchyard of St. Mary’s Walthamstow village.

The pavement was uneven and wonky and the trees were old, their roots rising up. There was a profusely green and wild feel to the place. To the right, I glimpsed the graveyard shadowed and enclosed by more deciduous than evergreen trees. The air was dark and silent; a sort of liquid layer of moisture, all wet and rainy. And all around was a sense of something forgotten and forlorn – from the houses bordering the perimeter of the church and its grounds, to the walkways, the bricks and the stones. Indeed the graveyard is an eloquent elegy to extinction. The gravestones are so old that if there had once been inscriptions, they were not visible now. In a once relatively prosperous area, behold the graves of the profundly unknown. The stones were renouncing their role as identification structures.  But what size and bulk about these tombs, their weight and mass of stone affordable only by the historic elite of a village that is now part of greater London. Walthamstow was surrounded by forest and country until the 19th century and would have been a country parish, part of the county of Essex. Along with tombs, there were slabs that once marked the spot of a person who had once, too, roamed near this church. But so old were these slabs, that some of them had also been pushed out of the earth and were tilting upwards, ranked up precariously abutting the space above and the chill of the air here dedicated to remembrance. The stones were devoid of recognition, the cold grey stone a chilling reminder of somebody that once lived. The graveyard is on two sides of a path and bordered by a black iron fence – reminding me of a painting called Home from Sea by a Pre-Raphaelite painter called Arthur Hughes.  The path feels like an intersection between the worldly and the heavenly, as people use it as a walking cut-through from north to south and vice versa, whereas west and east are inhabited by the stones covering the dead. And while the walker walks on oblivious, we too are slowly sinking as we walk there –  along with the slabs and tombs. Without realising it, we are recognising our anonymity and the stones with now blank faces are unavoidably marking the way to our probable forgotten destiny.

I meet the gardener. I sensed him before I met him, as walking round the graveyard, I saw a shirt hanging off a lawn mower. The grass was long and growing around the stones, along with ivy and other crawling plants. Indeed the ivy was also growing, low, clumped around the stones on the ground. A graveyard of creeping forms that knows no discretion. The gardener had a lot of grass to mow and said that it was quite an upward struggle. But so wild was the church land here, that I thought he had quite a nice job. I was tempted to suggest he shouldn’t bother and let the wildness flourish. The church was closed. I had hoped to visit, as this was the church where William Morris had been baptised. I had just been to visit the William Morris Gallery which had been his house for a few years when he was a teenager. He used to spend a lot of time in the woods at Epping Forest learning all about wood and the crafts of wood as well as studying the birds and trees and plant forms that are central to so much of his decorative work. The churchyard itself is a study in making art out of a churchyard. Insouciant careless natural flora and fauna and natural forms and dishevelment but which makes the place altogether more alluring.

And then it started to rain. I began walking south down the church path heading in the direction of Vestry House Museum, a beautiful old building that used to be a workhouse, but which is now a museum dedicated to local history. I found myself, as I went, walking behind a young teenage boy. Instead of me looking behind nervously fearful that somebody was following me, he turned round, at once, I presume, reassured that I was not an axe murderer and carried on. But then he did it again. I was surprised that a young man was aware of the gait of somebody behind him at c. 11am in the morning. Yet, he was not walking along with his phone – clearly just his thoughts.
Note too the rather charming path flanked by alms-houses, called the Monoux alms-houses. That is in tribute to George Monoux, a local resident, and once Mayor of London who contributed to the re-building of the church in the 16th century.

I also noted that one of the alleys and paths that leads to the church is called Vinegar Alley. So named because vinegar was used as some sort of desperate measure against the plague and I read that the church had two plague pits here – one from the Black Death and one from the Great Plague of 1665.





St. John the Divine



view from church


entrance portal



one apse


view of the church


The church of St. John the Divine, Vassall Road, SW9, architect G.E. Street (1871-4)
So ‘divine’, but so little knowledge about this Victorian gem church. Why isn’t it better known?
BBC’s Radio 4, encyclopedic for stimulation, information, vision and imagination alerted me to the church of ‘St. John the Divine in south-west London’, with a brief reference to the art in the church. I guessed it was Kennington from online searches. I was impelled to visit  sooner than I might have done, upon hearing the view of some listeners on  Farming Today, that country parish churches should just be knocked down so that homes can be built .A rash, quickly made decision to get up and go while listening to the radio at the same time as reading Persuasion, where longed for moneyed marriages are made in reception rooms of country estates rather than ancient country churches. There was no comment in response to this view on what one does with all the grave-stones were the country churches to go. Do one parish church and its graveyard take up so much room? And so there I was unexpectedly at church in London one Saturday morning. Mass had just finished (this is a high Anglican church) and people were busy sweeping, rinsing flowers, clearing out the wax from the candle holders, while their bags and rucksacks waited on chairs for their jobs to end .The congregants who had also been on the chairs had gone.


altar image and mandorla

Part of the high altar painting is in the shape of an oval or more commonly in art history parlance an almond (a mandorla). The church is close to the Oval cricket ground, clearly marked on my now customary little A to Z which takes me to these churches so off the beaten tourist track. But if St. John the Divine was on a known track, it might make more people watch cricket. Or better than that, visit a church they had never heard of. A visit to one thing often lends itself to a visit to another. But human-kind or should I say human-herds need cues; tips, recommendations; we need to be led by the hand and foot. What is seen in London by visitors is what is written about, or heard about (thank you Radio 4). But one day just lead yourself: take two streets down, one to the right, one to the left; a diagonal over there, a turnabout over here, a corner yonder and there is always something to look at. And you will have found something for yourself. You might even find somebody there with whom you have a charming chat. Well that is what happened to me on my outing to St. John and the church divine.
The announcement on Farming Today stopped me reading Persuasion. You might think this would take some persuasion. But wait  oh novel. Visual stimulus first. Please. Early Saturday morning in London has a silence about it that is precious just because we know that precious time is not yet the fraught time of later. Its silence is not long-lasting. And as I walked down the road towards the church, I was accompanied by the mellifluous church bells of, well, none other, I had to conclude than that of St. John the Divine. I entered to the right of the main door, just as one does in Italian churches, usually signed with a large arrow, so you enter in without banging on or into the wrong door. The church before me is large, long, lofty and elegant. I look down towards the altar and a Gothic vaulted apse. This is Victorian resemblance in style to Byzantine and then their idea of later medieval church designs.  All making a delightful hotch-potch of inaccurate stylising. It is fetching and convincing. But somehow the decoration of strong and vivid colour and bold figure types in paint and stone give its period aesthetic away.
And there was the altar, the altar painting behind and some quasi-like wall paintings partly attached to the altar painting. Here is the partly enclosed, sacred space of any church where if they are going to happen at all, is the locus for visions, voices, virginal beings and the apparition of angels and celestial wings. That is, unless, beings appear before you, when you least expect them. I was in the Dolomite Mountains in northern Italy recently, sitting on a chair, quietly, sedately, reading. I was by the ruins of an old abbey in a hotel, where the crypt of the church had been made into a spa with saunas, pools and massage rooms. Above were the remains of the church and an apse with faded frescoes of St. Ursula and her virgins, old fragments of corbels, guttering, capitals, assorted pieces of stones and architectural broken off shapes and so on. Few people looked round this part of the hotel, but on this occasion, suddenly before me was a man completely naked with a towel draped over his shoulder walking around the apse with a woman, who was instead in a towelling robe. I was not having a vision. And now, as I stood before the high altar at St. John and watched a man hoovering and then by the altar, a woman dusting the altarpiece, I did not see any nakedness. Or even artful nudity. But I may have been responsible for the woman dusting having a vision. By standing there, I frightened this poor lady dusting who had her back to me. She turned round and as she recovered from my presence said that normally she had a good sense of who was around her. We started talking, mainly about the beauty of the church. The church that I would describe as Victorian Gothic, although that is not a term that is or indeed should be obvious to all. After all, churches are not just about cult style or design. And yet, I was talking about a church that it seems even the congregants do not think is that special. She spoke movingly about why she liked church spaces, but also other buildings. She said, ‘you see, I am not like Prince Charles. I like modern buildings’. She added that we all need a sanctuary and upon saying this tears welled up in her eyes. She apologised and said that she was such a soppy person and I told her in response that she was lovely. She then said ‘While we may not agree with the present government, what about the houses of parliament… and all of them that would like to see it knocked down, it would be terrible. How we need these buildings’… and in putting her fingers to her lips blew a kiss to it, once, twice, maybe a third time. How I would have liked her to be a ‘speaking’ visionary for those who do not believe that a parish church has a place in the heart of the countryside. This woman was eloquent, but gentle, firm in her views, but respectful of difference and confirmed for me that in going off the beaten track in a city that you think you know, you see that you don’t. And then, in places where there are fewer people, you start talking.


the rose garden

But what of the art? The art is, to use a cliché, truly divine. From the solidly comforting Victorian red brick with the finely pointed apertures on the tower, the brick contrasting with the stone dressings and articulations, to the shape of a small bee-hive feel apse from the south, to the rose garden courtyard to the left of the north entrance. Added to which, the building is positioned in a road of mixed housing, which in many ways is far more appealing than if the housing was perfectly formed and uniform.
The chief feature of attraction in the church is the colourful, high-relief Road to Calvary sculptures (made, the church website says by mother Maribel), exhibiting some expressive faces of grief and anguish as they witness Christ heaving the cross up to Golgotha. But the power of these scenes is conversely the fact that the faces do not feature as largely as the body types: hung, bent, huddled, stretched, convoluted and twisted. The expression is in the body, not the face. And the cross here is an expression of power. It is set at an angle or semi elevated from a horizontal position in the 12 different scenes. It looks as though it is pushing out into our space. And the heavy mood is brought out by the way in which Christ is shown assaulted and exhausted by having to carry it. The series makes a point of showing the suffering with just that carrying, heaving, and struggling. There are, for example three panels devoted to ‘Christ falling down’, as he carries. He carries and falls, falls and then carries. Falling down, once, twice, thrice. We imagine it might happen again and again. In the scene for the third time, we see a soldier bent over with his arms around Christ to pull him up again. Heads are covered, hands touch the heads in suffering, even Christ’s head is hidden, his body heaving, straining, pushing. We also see Roman soldiers with bright turquoise blue leggings on nailing him to the cross, with the nails, the tools of the Crucifixion, the repetition in all the scenes if I recall of his crown of thorns. And the overbearing mood continues as we see three of them trying to push the cross up, elevated as they are on a stone, while a soldier on the right is shown nailing him down. This contrasts with the way in which the sculptor conveys the raw grief of the females in the scenes –cast as the mourners whose bodies are bent, faces indeterminable by the headdresses and with their backs to us. Yet the images do not feel staged, so they are not acting foolishly. Finally, in the actual Crucifixion scene, there is a sort of calm as Christ is, oddly, after the previous scenes, vertical, while two soldiers, with self-satisfied faces on the left look up; their body language insouciant and triumphant, leg positions jaunty and relaxed – the job, after all, has been executed with success. The nails can now be put away. Colourful high-Victorian art may not be to everybody’s taste, but it is hard not to be moved by the laying out scene, where we see Christ in his shroud, the stone of the tomb pushed back, his crown of thorns beside and a beautiful cluster of ivy leave surrounding. Meanwhile we see Mary to the left, but completely covered in her blue robe revealing nothing but what the tension and bulk of her blue robe convey. The strength of these pieces must have something to do with the colour. And for that they are daring works of art. Quite often Road to Calvary scenes are carved in just the white or grey stone, thus making the emotional effect less visible.


Christ falling down
St. Veronica is also seen in profile, wearing a corn coloured headdress and robe of a more golden hue, as she places the linen cloth over Jesus’s face so as to soothe his sweaty brow. Christ’s face as an emblem of the ferocity of the faith that will endure is imprinted on the cloth and becomes another way in which his life is remembered. Her name is Veronica, because it derives from the Latin vera icon meaning true icon or true likeness. While she might be a legendary saint, this is a commonplace image in Passion cycles and was a narrative from the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus. It is more common though to see the imprint of the face at this event. Here, though, as seen in so many of the works here, the idea is imparted in a less obvious way. The sculptor has exploited the lack of face again, by containing the whole of Christ’s face in the cloth. On the other hand, it might also have been an effective way of not having to carve out intricate facial details! Let us hope that it was passion that she wanted to render. Grief ripples through the vista of people’s backs, their bent bodies, their drapery, and their hands on faces. It is not suggested. It is experienced, but in the most imaginative and achingly boisterous way.


St. Veronica


the pulling up of the cross


The Crucifixion


Shroud image


detail of Christ in his shroud

There is too another powerful image, a large bronze statue ensemble – of the Crucifixion, with a mourning John and a mourning Virgin below. The figures are separated from one another and thus one is able to walk around each figure. While John is usually seen standing straight supporting Mary at the Crucifixion scene, here we see him bent (as are so many figures in this church) with both his hands on his face, obscuring it completely. By contrast Mary’s face is exposed while her arms are outstretched towards the figure of Christ. Her hands do not touch, but they appear as if they are about to cup her son’s face, if she could reach, or even her tears. Her hands are not the expression of prayer or acceptance. From behind, we see the contour and angularity of the bronze cast to evoke her long robe and her grieving body. This is another strategic way in which to express sorrow and solemnity, without the sculptor being a slave to the depiction of sorrow with lips and eyes, facial wrinkles and lines. But as the technique of bronze casting is so cumbersome, this approach gave him more choice in where to stress the intricacies, such as the drapery. So delicate is the technique of bronze casting that the finer parts of any of the process are often knocked off in the casting kiln. The work was done by Charles Jagger and is called Kelham Rood (1929).




St. John – figure ensemble

As I leave the church, the sunlight falls on a widely spreading tree opposite, framing not only the white stuccoed houses it partly occludes, but also the Gothic arch that makes up the portal to the church. A perfect picture formed to end a visual feast that gripped me at the church of St. John the Divine, a truly divine church. The authors of the London Encyclopaedia give it no more than a passing entry. Frustratingly, I cannot tell you any more about this church.  Who was this unknown crafts person who made the Road to Calvary pieces? I do know that John Betjeman remarked that it was the most magnificent church in the whole of south London. I could not agree more.

Some other decorative, visual features in the church


a decorative detail



Bermondsey, SE1

Mary Magdalen, BermondseyBermondsey, SE1

The mini book of maps is being torn out. The pages are rent a sundered from the binding, the safety of its harness to other pages. Or, A is split from Z. Page 63 from page 64. Today it was a walk around Bermondsey, again with no specific church in mind. But when a page has been scoured for black crosses, I can conclude that I have walked all I want to walk in that area. Borough, Bermondsey, Southwark, Charlton, Lambeth… fascinating areas in their own right, but I am on a search for black crosses to lead me to churches.
In tearing out a page, I can also analyse the roads. The main ones marked in the A to Z are vivid raspberry pink. They are constructed at diagonals across the page, criss-crossing each other like birds in the sky. The other main ones are in green – making curves and half drawn triangles as they then join up with smaller orange roads. And in between are small white roads, and lots of lime green spaces where the housing is. It is only in walking around that we see just how residential London is – even in central areas. Some pages have no black crosses on them. And those I could just tear up and put in the bin. But many pages do as well as marks for other religious foundations such as those for synagogues. So there are many pages to dispense with before my task is through.
Today I dispensed with p. 138, the page marking the church of St. James in Bermondsey. It was closed, but rising upwards in its Greek classical revival porticoed style. There is a garden around and lots of flats which look as though they were built after the war. Bermondsey has wharves (for example Hay’s Wharf) old Amsterdam like narrow houses with shutters and balconied platforms on the first floor. But it also has a lot of cheap housing – post WW2 damage, as it is so close to London Bridge, the Thames and of course the City. Four churches to visit on p. 138, but only St. James’s detained me.

BErmondsey abbey
There is though the site of Old Bermondsey Abbey – a blue plaque marks the spot, which is now a pedestrianised area with a hotel, a bar cum cinema and about three or four cafes, where once might have been a cloister, or a chapter house. The plaque says that the abbey was founded as a Priory of the Order of Cluny (from here 1082-1538), the last date telling us so much about the fate of British abbeys and monasteries in the 16th century. The house here was granted to Sir Robert Southwell in 1541 and he then sold it to a Sir Thomas pope who pulled down most of the buildings – and built himself a new residence. Which explains why there are no ruins here. There were also abbots living in houses from St. Augustine’s of Canterbury in Tooley Street – their nice London residents, close to the river and no doubt other monastic houses. And now, the laity are back to walk on those once hallowed stones, but with the smell spell of coffee as the elixir and salvation to life, rather than by means of a monk’s words. And instead of miracle crosses dug up from the Thames (according to the legend, in 1117 the Rood of Grace was found nearby having dropped from heaven and which attracted many pilgrims), coffee is now the new wonder instant cure.
And then there is White Cube, a fantastic architectural space dedicated to contemporary and modern art on Bermondsey Street – the road snaking down from London Bridge to Caledonian market. I wander down and see a cobbled alleyway which leads directly onto a small and neat set of social housing. Its entrance is marked by a column, not with smooth or polished edges and faces, but with an amalgam of stones projecting, some of which had carvings cut into and out of the stone – here a face, there curvaceous female nude figure beside another nude, less obviously female, but with a well defined groin and tummy button. Seeing these figures side-by-side like sentinels, figure type individualisation is being probed by the chisel. A roughly cut carving following the same contours to create a body as one figure can look markedly different to the one it stands beside. Protrusions, marks, grooves, lozenge forms, zig zags, and roughly cut stone as if the vertical cliff has been wrenched away from a larger piece and left untouched. Revealing the raw and powerful strength of stone cut or un-cut. Mini arches and portals ar made with the stones, piled consciously haphazardly one on top of the other. A sharply finished stone on two sides, sinking down into two curved forms to make a heart is the wrong way up. Inscribed into the stone ‘Love’ and then on another carved heart below, ‘Each Other’. Tucked under two bulbous stones, another face, barely incised from the surface. These volumes of stone are reminiscent of Romanesque carving, which to some eyes seemed crude, unfinished, and far from the polished pristine finish of say Renaissance art. See for example this image from an abbey in Arles, Provence. http://c8.alamy.com/comp/FK7D7A/monster-or-tarasque-devouring-a-sinner-c12th-romanesque-carving-in-FK7D7A.jpg. Here you see the large oval shaped eyes, that might have been coloured, but which now stare out, piercing, intense and unsettling. But rather like African carvings (see the image above, a figure from Baule in the British Museum) Romanesque column art with capitals infused with heads, foliage, plant forms and hybrid creatures possesses something uniquely strange and hard to understand. But that is part of their charm and this column off Bermondsey Street, perhaps a totem pole, perhaps like a pineapple welcoming visitors to the housing site gave off an equally strange and alluring feel. And then as if emulating a classical architectural structure, but debunking and de-mythologising it at the same time, a rounded aperture in which is a piece of tufa like stone, some of which is painted red. Look a bit closer and the effect is of dried, congealed blood, which was originally poured out and left. Above this is a flatter piece of stone on which is another rectangular piece with the words’ Thanks’. The power of this column is that it plays around with our eyes – consciously crude, but reverting all the same to the classical prototypes of columns and carvings.
At the end of Bermondsey Street is the church of Mary Magdalen, but it was closed. Behind it though is a large garden where tombs and grave-stones lie. Now a people’s park for the living and the dead, as it is clearly being used for lunch-time sandwich eating and lounging on the grass. A plaque outside the church says this – ‘This church is open for divine service on Sundays at 11.30 and at half past 6 o’clock and for churchings and baptisms at 4 o’clock . The sacrament of the Lords’s supper is administered on the first Sunday in each month. ‘ And signed by one Lewes Tugwell.

Coda – see the picture below of a small column topped by a capital carved with a punctured edge, two circles either side of a grooved corbel topped by another circle. No, this is not a column by another church, but is part of the entrance to a branch of Sainsbury’s in Bermondsey. It has a pair and they are joined by a rather elegant looking iron railing. With its proximity to Bermondsey Abbey, I wondered if the stone was once at the abbey and was saved by Sainsbury before they went floating down the River Thames.

The Dutch church and a St. Botolph. The City. Again.


A Coade boy



The hall and the garden

Botolph, WW1

WW1 memorial, St. Botolph’s

Careful of the blood

Dedication to contaminated blood

The characteristic wait for a church to be open at the allotted time. Or the characteristic wait for a church to be open at all. But shall I wait? Shall I wait? Shall I be the accustomed church-goer looking at doors, listening to bells and foot-steps and gazing in at the light? Will the within be worth the while and the wait? And so it was today that I was waiting outside a church I had never been to, or indeed ever walked past. This was Dutch church in the City of London. I knew it existed as I had walked past the sign to the church. But the sign leads one down a labyrinthine set of alleyways conjuring their shapes in light and shadow as they curve round buildings.

The notice upon the church door says 7 Austin Friars, open Thursday 11-6. I was curious about seven – seven days of Creation, the seven virtues or vices?  The seven days of the week and a friar for each? But why the seven friars? While the church originally belonged to the Augustinan order, which was founded in England in the 1260s, there is no reference to the 7 friars in the Wikipedia entry for the church. Although the entry does say that there were about 60 friars at the church, presumably in its pre-Reformation heyday. In the 16th century, the church’s neighbor was Thomas Cromwell, adviser to Henry VIII particularly in his marriage matters and who was instrumental in the be-heading of Anne Boleyn.

Cromwell had a very large house next door to the church with about fifty rooms. He was a neighbor to a community that at the time was under threat as were all monastic houses before the Reformation. My imaginative incursion makes me wonder if he had a low opinion of monks and friars and the seven amounts to the severe reduction in number of friars as commanded by the man next door! A truculent gesture from the awkward next door neighbour – a thought I cannot resist at a time when parallels have been made with the English Reformation and its power-houses seizing control and seeking to dominate alone out of papal Europe.  This particular community was dissolved in 1538. But then Cromwell was also himself dissolved in 1540 as the hushed corridors of Henry’s houses became querulous and noisy in the end, heralding the demise of the power hiatus that Cromwell had created for himself. And by 1550 the church had been given over to ‘Germans and other strangers’ who were able to use the church for their services.
It was 10.25 am. It was hot and I was happy to wait. Outside the church a place to sit – a tilled spring- earth bed with sparsely planted plants, a pop up food tent with a man and a woman setting up the food to sell for the day – steaming vats and freshly cut salads. I sat down. I looked around and saw opposite the Balls Brothers cellar bar, an Austin Friars passageway and a statue on a building to the right, which I presumed was St. Augustine. Behind me was a ‘polite’ notice, requesting that the space be left clean and tidy. And that skating is not allowed. That would be nimble skating indeed, as there is hardly any space between flower-bed and bench where I sit and wait. Patiently. In the shade in planters by the benches the hostas wait too – waiting for some shade on a day that raged down sun. I sat and waited, and exercised patience reading and looking around me.
At 11am I pressed the buzzer to enter the church as requested. An intercom system let me in and I was taken upstairs to a magnificent space. I was not prepared for such a big space. I felt quite small all alone in this big space.  It was quite dark.  It was quite gloomy.  It was as if they were not expecting me today.
I see the hymn board with nine hymn numbers listed. Were they all to be sung in one service, or were they rotated alternatively each week, so that the hard choice of which hymn did not have to be faced? Choice is a curse of our times. The bells started to peel. I went downstairs to the ‘Dutch Centre’ – where I read that King Edward VI granted a charter to the Protestant refugees from the Low Countries in the former Augustinian church that I was in so that they had somewhere to worship. Hence, the association between the Dutch and the Augustinians – who were like all orders then a Catholic order. In its later history, we see how the church provided a conduit between the Protestants and immigrants. Austin Friars became a house of welcome for foreigners in a turbulent time.
Another church I visited also testifies to the importance the Church has played in welcoming strangers and the poor. This is the church of St. Botolph without Bishopsgate, one of many churches dedicated to St. Botolph, although he is not that well-known as a saint. But he was the Anglo-Saxon patron saint for travelers and travelling. Sometimes these travelers are known as ‘wayfarers’. He died in 680 AD and is thought to have come from East Anglia, where you will also find many dedication St. Botolph churches.  The ‘without’ in the name must refer to the fact that these Botolph churches were originally built outside the City walls. And even at the dissolution of monastic houses, the church was converted into the Bethlehem Hospital for Lunatics – so continuing the tradition of churches offering help and succor to those in peril and need. In 1413 a female hermit lived in the churchyard, living on a pension of 40s.  It is hard not to make another parallel with our times, noting that while the Conservative manifesto rejoiced in their rejection of social division, unfairness and inequality, it is really only the Church that has provided a constant message and place for those in need.
St. Botolph’s church is also famous as being the baptismal place of John Keats.
There is a colourful plaque too as a dedication to those who have suffered from contaminated blood. Note too the alms box in the wall, so shiny and spruce that you can make out a reflection of me taking the photo of the box with my phone.
Then there is the stunning tiled and gold tesserae plaque, a memorial to those who fought and died in WW1, which is flanked by two angels with massive pleated wings stretched across the top of the plaque. One is holding what looks like a quill as if writing the inscription, the other holds a martyr’s palm.

many hymns

hymns for the many, the Dutch church

Churches reap surprise upon surprise, all of which is made in the glory of imaginative, bold, sophisticated visual imagery which knows no limits. And the church space is always such an excellent space in which to convey memories, memorials, dedications, commemorations, inscriptions and make known to us the riches of people and their lives.
Look too at the cute little pedimented brick building outlined with white stone blocks and a rounded portal. This is the so-called church hall, with a pair of Coade figures of a boy and girl in niches on the façade. It is not really the church hall, as the building used to house a little school – the children in the niches a reference to ‘charity’ children.  I walk up towards the hall passing a group of young men as I did so, taking a smoking break. They looked up, traced my foot-steps with their eyes, consternation as to why I would want to look at a building that I supposed they sat by every day at smoking hour. The facings of the church are crisp and clean and white and even the pathway around the building is inter-lined from paving with the white. And there in the church’s garden is a man preparing the soil. I recall the encounter between Jesus and Mary Magdalene – the ‘noli me tangere’  (John 20: 17)when Magdalen meets Christ  after his resurrection and he can be shown holding a hoe or spade. John remarks that at first she mistook him for a gardener. Sadly, this gardener with his green cap on was oblivious to me. I could not cast myself into anything but a passer-by.


St. Botolph looking tall