Friday, 4 February 2011

Medieval golgotha

This carved skull is part of the "golgotha" preserved in the church at St Andrews Cullompton.  This is the church where my parents go in the evenings -- I sometimes go with them but I usually leave it at one church service per Sunday these days.  The church in the sense of the people is very different from the church in the sense of the building: the former is lively, modern, concerned with spirituality rather than aesthetics; the latter is very old, full of memorials to past generations, truly beautiful in a number of styles which harmonise despite spreading over centuries.  Maybe what they have in common is a presence in the community.  The huge tower of St Andrews can be seen all over Cullompton, and the people of St Andrews do a lot of community work in this rather troubled and shabby mid-Devon town.  I think it's fair to say that I love them both, and it saddens me that the people don't love the building much.  In the evenings they often hold the service in the church hall, so as not to be distracted.

Anyway, maybe some time I'll post properly about the building, which is really very beautiful, but I just thought I'd put up this one striking picture.  It's the middle of a single massive oak trunk, carved in the late middle ages.  In medieval art Golgotha, the place of skulls, was often symbolically represented as the place where Adam's skull was buried, so making a link between humanity's fall and its redemption.  That's Adam's skull there, and you can see the socket where the cross would have gone.  There are also platforms on either side which presumably held statues of Mary and John the evangelist.  The statues are long gone, obviously, but the base remains.  It's held to be a unique survival.  It was placed above the rood screen, apparently, for the congregation to look at.  Now that only the rough ground survives, carved with skulls, pelvises, and other bones, it's quite a morbid object, but when it was entire those skulls would have both emphasised the terrible scene above and been a counterpoint to its meaning.

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