Sunday 7 August 2016

Saint and Skulls

I've been away for a couple of days walking in Cheshire with my brother and our Derbyshire/Cheshire cousin. There is fine countryside not far out from Chester - rolling pastures dotted with oak trees, quiet canals, and the occasional dramatic crag topped with a ruined castle (Beeston the most spectacular, with tremendous panoramic views). The sun shone, butterflies were flying in good numbers, and of course there were churches, including the large and handsome St Boniface, Bunbury (nothing to do with Algernon's imaginary friend in The Importance of Being Earnest).
 The above image is from Bunbury. Part of a mid-15th-century parclose screen, it shows St Apollonia, an Alexandrian martyr who has become the patroness of dentists and pray-to saint for toothache sufferers. She holds a pair of tongs with a tooth clasped in its pincers, and wears an expression of mild surprise. Her composure is admirable in view of the grisly manner of her martyrdom - which I won't go into here.
 Also looking surprisingly cheerful are the death's-heads shown below. This is an image from a notably macabre Baroque monument in Chester's 'second cathedral', St John the Baptist. The monument, to Diana Warburton, was designed in 1693 by Edward Pearce, a pupil of Wren. It depicts a standing skeleton holding up a shroud on which an effusive epitaph is written. This ends
'... Her Religion Was Not A Bare Shew Or Empty Noise But Solid Substantial Even And Uniform Humble & Patient In Her Sickness In The Midst Of Pain Without Murmuring And Despondency Submitted Herself To God And With Great Constancy Of Mind, & Cheerfulness Resigned Her Life To Him In One Continued Act Of Devout Praises & Prayers Of Heavenly Meditations & Discourses Suitable To The Entertainments Of A Departing Soul...'

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