Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Arch and the Zodiac

After almost one thousand years, as you might expect, little remains of Bispham’s Norman heritage. However, if you look closely enough, you might just be surprised. Take the entrance to All Hallows church, for instance, which has to be one of the finest examples of Norman craftsmanship you’re ever likely to see.
Nowadays the arch is generally locked away from prying eyes, being it surrounded by a much later porch. However, when the church is open for business, it’s well worth taking a look.
Here’s what the Victoria County History has to say about it: “The Norman arch appears to have stood untouched till 1883, when it was pulled down, the stones numbered, and rebuilt again in its original position.”
The illustration below details the left hand side of the arch, with the signs of the zodiac running around it. (Cheers to Chris Clayton for sneaking into the church during a wedding one weekend and taking the photographs for us. Unfortunately, as you’ve probably gathered by now, I’ve currently mislaid said photographs, so you’ll just have to trust me that the illustrations supplied with this article are fairly accurate representations. Also, I’d like to extend my apologies to the unfortunate bride whose wedding photographs were all horribly ruined by Chris’s enthusiastic clicking and flashing in the background.)

It might be an idea to quickly run through the symbols for those not familiar with astrology. From the bottom left corner of the illustration to the top right then, we can see: Aries the Ram, Taurus the Bull, Gemini the Twins, Cancer the Crab, Leo the Lion and Virgo, whose job description speaks for itself. The blocks above them are all carved with typical Norman chevrons.
Nothing is ever straightforward with Blackpool’s history, however, and, whereas the chevron blocks are undoubtedly original, the County History continues: “Unfortunately in the rebuilding the whole of the stonework was re-chiselled and the Zodiacal carving was entirely re-cut.”
Exactly how close the carvings we can see nowadays are to the originals we’ll probably never know, the Norman originals having, apparently, been lost. Some of the modern replacements, however, also seem to have taken a battering, most notably Taurus, Cancer and Aquarius. The Victoria Country History mentions that the Norman versions of Cancer and Taurus were two of the least defaced. Whether they were considered worthy enough to leave alone, or were replaced and have since deteriorated, we couldn’t honestly say.
The next illustration details the right hand side of the arch. Again, for any of our readers not familiar with the astrological symbols, from top left to bottom right the signs are as follows: Libra the Scales, Scorpio the Scorpion, Aquarius the Water Bearer, Capricorn the Goat, Sagittarius the Hunter and Pisces the Fish.

The more observant amongst you (possibly the more fanatically ‘New Age’) might have noticed that the carvings are not in their usual order. Exactly why this is the case we don’t know. It’s possible that, during the arch’s rebuilding, several blocks were simply repositioned incorrectly.
Whatever the reason, the Victoria County History has this to add about the re-chiselling: “The carvings are very good specimens of modern sculpture, but the loss of the original 12th Century work is greatly to be deplored.”
Leaving the rehash of the Zodiac aside, the remainder of the arch, consisting of fourteen stones, ‘the two outer orders spring from circular shafts with cushion capitals and moulded bases’, is certainly Norman.
Unfortunately, there’s also some dispute as to whether or not the arch has always belonged to the church. Reverend Bulpit takes up the story in his ‘Notes from the Fylde’: “The Rev. C. S. Hope told me that there was a tradition that the Bispham Zodiac arch had been brought from elsewhere.”
Records verifying Reverend Hope’s assertion, however, don’t appear to exist, so it’s highly possible that the tradition originated from some cynical local historian refusing to believe that anything relating to Blackpool’s Norman heritage could still be found.
So that’s that cleared up then. No wonder we couldn’t find a single photograph/illustration of this ‘grand old piece of local history’ in any books. Speaking of which, here’s one last drawing to round this article off, whilst I go and tend to my flagging soul with a bottle or two of Holy Spirit courtesy of ASDA:

30 comments:

Andrew said...

Totally irrelevant to the post, but how is Wyre pronounced? I heard something today that indicated that is not pronounced how my head does it.

Jayne said...

Those are great photos :)
But I'm puzzled as to why a church has the zodiacs signs - isn't that considered pagan-ish or blasphemous or just not the done thing?

Jon Eaton said...

Zodiac signs out of their usual order rings a bell. I am pretty sure that I have come across another example of this in an ancient context. Possibly a mosaic? In the case I am thinking of the unusual order of the zodiac had a specific meaning. I will try and rack my brains for it.

chris2553 said...

What's with these wild and wholly unsubstantiated accusations that I was flashing in the background? What you do in your spare time is a matter for you, but dfon't drag me into it :-).

chris2553 said...

Andrew,

Wyre is pronounced in exactly the same way as "wire".

Brian Hughes said...

Andrew,

I refer the client to what Chris just said. Wyre's pronounced 'wire' as in telephone 'wire' or 'wire'-less.

Jayne,

A lot of our old churches (Bispham obviously being one such case) predate Christianity (or at least Christianity as we'd recognise it nowadays), which didn't really start to emerge until the Emperor Constantine made it offcial in the the third century. Even after this, in Britain Christianity gained ground in fits and starts, emerging as a combination of Mithraic and other Pagan beliefs coupled with Christian doctrine.
If you follow this link (or copy it in sections and paste it into your address bar at any rate) it'll explain a bit more about how gargoyles and pagan adornments on British churches came about...hopefully:

http://wyrearchaeology.
blogspot.com/
2008/01/more-fun-and-games-with-
st-helens-chi.html

Jonathon,

I didn't know that. I just assumed that the carvings had been replaced in the wrong order. If you could remember the 'why, what and wherefore' of the case you're refer ing to and let me know I'd be fascinated to read it.

Chris,

It could have been worse. You could have been flashing at a funeral. See you nice and early Saturday morning...and leave your dirty brown mac at home.

John said...

Excellent post, as almost always.

You've mentioned the zodiac before, haven't you, in relation to another church? Something is ringing a bell, besides the usual ringing in me head.

Anyways, Jon may be on to something... I read on the web somewheres (http://www.sacred-destinations.com/reference/zodiacs-and-labors-of-months.htm) that Medieval art used both the Zodiac and the Labours of the Months to odiac Twins of Gemini. Hunting coincides with the Hunter, etc. If valid, imaginations didn't need to go far to justify usage of the pagan symbols.

Then again, some labourers not paid by the hour may have just placed the stones wherever they fit, just to get the job done.

There's a mystery here, for sure.

In my head, Wyre is pronounced Weer, as in "someone who wees". No disrespect, but I simply can't change that to "Wire" because that just sounds ridiculous after 8 years of pronouncing it "Weer".

Cheers, or is that Chires, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...

John,

You're quite right about mediaeval depictions of agricultural activities being combined with astrological symbols. There's a stained glass window in the Butler Chapel at St Michael's church dating to fifteen hundred and odd that depicts a couple shearing sheep. At the bottom is the word Junius (meaning June), and a crayfish representing the astrological sign of Cancer.

The zodiac and astrology, of course, goes back to time immemorial and were a standard part of the prehistoric Pagan kit. When Christianity began to establish itself in Britain it was common to mix the two beliefs together. (In case we forget, the wise men followed the star to Jesus' birthplace...a 'borrowed' part of the gospels the roots of which are actually in Mithraism.) It wasn't until much later when Christianity became more fundamental that the Pagan elements were corrupted into 'superstitions' and those people still practicing their ancient beliefs were ostracised as witches and warlocks.

As to why the zodiac in Bispham church is out of sequence, I think I mentioned that, when the arch was updated, the blocks were numbered and put back in their original positions...which indicates that it wasn't a mistake that was made during the reconstruction. Jonathon's definitely onto something there and he's got me intrigued now.

By the way...you'll need to chop that link up into sections for it to work...these comments boxes are bit naff and the don't really accomodate long words or joined-together phrases.

John said...

I've been researching on the web, and it's incredible how many nutcases you get when you type in 'zodiac' on Google!

What i did find, though, is that much of what was done in Medieval times was deliberate, and unlikely something was done off the cuff like that. What is also interesting is that the mix of zodiac and labours was spread throughout Europe, as if there were a central dispatch telling everyone what to do. Also, it appears that, as your example suggests, the zodiac symbols and the labours were placed in a deliberate manner, and according to the months.

So... why are they out of order here, when, as you say, they were numbered to avoid such a fate? Are there any other examples that follow this 'order', or another 'disorder'.

Questions everywhere, but where are the answers?

The games afoot, Indiana!

JOHN :0)

Jayne said...

Oh I knew that Christianity borrowed many pagan festivals, beliefs, buildings, etc that were already established, I just thought they would have destroyed the zodiac signs as their continued presence might "encourage" those shocking Druid priests prancing about in their night shirts!
From what I've Googled, the zodiac signs have been put into order of the elements -Fire, Earth, Air, Water, Fire, Earth, Air, Water, Fire, Earth, etc, more in tune with the changing seasons, farming, etc.

Ozfemme said...

I thought it was "weer" too. Oh, the confusion! I have to go lie down now and calm myself down.

chris2553 said...

ozfemme,

That's the beauty of our English language. If you want to find a river pronounced "weer" in the UK, you need to look in North-east England where, near Sunderland, you will find the River Wear flowing into the North Sea.

JahTeh said...

Well finish it off Fleetwood. How is 'Fylde' pronounced? Then all us convict descenders can sound like real Poms.

As to the signs being mixed around, Dan Brown hasn't been sighted nearby, has he?

Brian Hughes said...

John,

"...it's incredible how many nutcases you get when you type in 'zodiac' on Google!"

Who'd have thunk it?

Agricultural practices and the knowledge thereof, of course, would have been handed down through the farming generations for...well...forever...along with astrological knowledge. Druids themselves, and previous to that the shamans, were all very well educated in such matters. And then there's Virgil who records in his 'Georgics' the best dates and phases of the moon for planting seeds and sacrificing goats etc.

Jayne,

That's interesting. I'll have to try that for myself. I wonder if the people who built the arch in Bispham were Earth, Wind and Fire fans? (I wonder if anybody's an Earth, Wind and Fire fan?)

Bella,

The 'Y' has a hard vowel sound...obvious really. You Australians just have one track minds, that's all.

Chris,

Let's not forget our other local idiosyncracies when it comes to pronunciation, such as a pool being a stream or river and a grockle being someone who's ready and prepared to be fleeced. We're an uncommon bunch o' dialectical wassacks 'as speaks Lankytwang an' no mistack.

Witchy,

Fylde, like Wyre, is pronounced with a hard 'Y'...as in "Fee, fie, fo, fum, I smell the blood of a Yorkshire Bum." Therefore the pronunciation is 'FIE-ELD'...not 'field' as some historians have mistakenly reported. It derives from the Norse verb 'Fyllen' which means to 'Fall in Battle'.

As for Dan Brown, he wouldn't be able to fight his way out of an under eight's puzzle magazine. I wouldn't mind meeting his agent though. Anybody who could promote that rubbish as bestseller material and get away with it must be a genius.

Jayne said...

The Fie-eld and Wire Antiquarian....hmmm, that spelling makes you look like a hay and grain supply :P

Earth,Wind and Fire!!!
EECK!
Give me the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band any day !

John said...

Oi, leave off the Yorkies, why doncha? Can't we all learn to get along? Heck, if you can put up with an American (albeit a witty, charming, an dintellectual one), then surely you can learn to get along with your neighbors, and my ancient ancestors?

That's interesting,that is, about the earth, fire, wind business... but does it pan out? Aquarius and Pisces are water, but everyone else seems down to earth. No fire, unless the goast has eaten chili peppers.

Still, amazing how something like a hidden stone archway above the door of a remote village church can get a handful of people away from the telly and into an honest to goodness thoughtful discussion!

For that, medals and titles all around: the club is a success!

Chires, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

I'm in total agreement. Neil Innes and Viv Stanshall rock...despite the occassional urban spaceman.

John,

I've nothing against Yorkies. They're good, solid, chunky chocolate and provide a sustaining snack around eleven o'clock in the morning.

JahTeh said...

Leo is fire, I'm one.

I thought I spoke English but apparently not so now I have to practise Lancashite English. Bloody Poms.

Feral Beast said...

I wonder if the real one's were stolen as a little reminder or to be sold for a lot of money.

Brian Hughes said...

Witchy,

The Lancashire dialect tends to be a mixture of the usual Saxon, Latin and French stuff, combined with strong elements of Celtic and Norse. Even us Lancastrians have difficulty understanding most of it.

Mr. Beast,

They're more likely to have been stolen to prop up a dodgy lintel in somebody's garage.

Jayne said...

Ahhhh!
I did wonder at the stone ram on Zeus' loungeroom mantle last time I popped in for a salad...

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

Round these parts it would probably have been recyled as feeding bowl for one of the local famer's favourite sheep.

Jayne said...

Doesn't every farmer have a favourite sheep?!
Oh...wait...you're not talking in the "New Zealand favourite sheep" kinda way....or are you?!

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

I'm saying nothing. I need to keep on the right side of our local farmers if they're going to let us dig up their fields. Grand bunch of blokes, they are...all of 'em.

John said...

I've got nothing new to add, but thought it was really cool that there were 24 comments here. My blog gets that many in a year, and most of those are my Dad telling me to get to work.

Now I'm depressed. JOHN :0(

Brian Hughes said...

John,

Have you actually read the comments here? With the exception of one or two intelligent remarks...well...what can I say?

Even worse, most of the inane and stupid comments are the ones I've written.

John said...

Brian,
Obviously, there is a gap somewhere... something missing... perhaps it's the summer rerun season, but people are looking for a place to belong, a place to feel needed, and a place where they can contribute to something bigger than themselves.

Let's face it... you may be starting a new religion! Or maybe a Cult of Archeology?

You've got a good thing going here... just be careful doling out the Kool-aid, will ya? :0)

Yours faithfully, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...

John,

There is a gap. The fact that nobody (by which, of course, I mean the rest of Britain) seems to have bothered with the archaeology of the Fylde and Wyre ever is what's created it. Not that I'm complaining. It just means that Wyre Archaeology's got tons and tons of stuff to go at. It's more fun than shopping all weekend and the company is good...what more could anyone ask for?

Ozfemme said...

Yorkies are chocolate? Good heavens, where's my passport! I'll be straight over!

Brian Hughes said...

Bella,

That might be stretching the definition of chocolate a bit far. Animal fat mixed with coco produce would be the correct European Union description.