Monkey on an Ass Carrying a Hare

The church of St Nicholas Barfrestone was built around 1180 – roughly the same time as Dover Castle. It seems to have been commissioned by Adam de Port, a Norman baron who lived in the castle itself. It could be that he was hoping to make money (and influence) from pilgrims traveling to Canterbury. But this remains mainly supposition.

Although churches were built by Barons and aristocrats as part of their power bases. And pilgrims were a useful source of income.

By chance, while I was studying the church, someone turned up with the key! They went inside and produced a guide book and leaflet.

We had a conversation about the church, and the middle ages, and who the peasants might have been (and not everyone was a peasant – there were also millers, smiths, carpenters, masons, bakers, sailors, miners, ship builders, weavers, merchants, knights, priests, monks, nuns and much more).

I had read somewhere – probably R.W.Southern – who made a useful observation that exactly how the Bible, ideas about God and the teachings of Jesus were presented would be greatly determined by the quality of the local priest(s) and any itinerant monks who turned up to preach.

‘That’s still the case today’, she said.

I wasn’t expecting to discover a magical wood. The entrance isn’t marked on the map. But it’s easy to find. You just follow the path. There was a lot more to discover, but perhaps it was a deliberate temptation. I shall go back, at night when woodland like this really comes alive.

Across the fields.

Past the farm. It needs further research to establish dates and what role the local landlords played in the enclosure movements.

There is no such thing as a quintessential English village. There are different historical perspectives and it just happens at the moment the dominant ideas are nostalgic for a world that never was. That doesn’t mean those ideas are correct nor an accurate expression of what actually happened in history. It generally means it’s because they are constantly regurgitated by powerful forces – right wing media, money-chasing university departments, politicians, ‘figures’ with a high public profile.

This was the real purpose of the walk, a visit to St Nicholas church. This is the south doorway. The stone carvings – and the iron work on the door – are 12th century. There are similar designs in a church in Beauvais, Picardy.

Christ the Redeemer. We might expect to find a bible in his hand and an angel by his side. Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitine may be on either side. But mermaids at his feet? And a dragon?

Technically these are corbels rather than gargoyles. They are structural as well as decorative.

Peasants sowing, drilling, working with an adze (or hammer).

Musical bears, one playing a harp, another some pipes.

A monkey on an ass, carrying a hare. There was a great deal of allegory. But of what?

There is much more about the church, but that will have to wait another day.

While waiting for the train I watched two workers in hi-viz preparing the fence for painting. The labour continues. But now rarely gets honoured in carvings on public buildings.

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