Thursday, April 10, 2014
Preston Capes, Northamptonshire
It’s an experience that nearly every church crawler must know. You’re standing in a quiet country church on a dull day. Many of the windows have clear glass, with a smattering of stained glass, so the interior is not dark, but it’s not exactly bright either. Soft shadows brush whitewashed walls. Then outside the wind blows, the clouds part, and out comes the sun. Suddenly, inside, everything lights up and here and there patterns of stained glass are projected on to the stone-flagged floors and the white walls.
The moment can be magical, and when it happened to me at Preston Capes the other week the effect was so right it might have been stage managed. The yellows and blues of the glass fell beautifully on the white wall, the adjacent font, and the font cover. Not only that: the design of the glass made the outline of the two window openings clear on the wall, and their shape – tall, narrow, and with cusps pinching the top into a a tiny tear shape – roughly matched that of the tracery panels on the side of the font that was facing me.
The design of the tracery that decorates the font suggests that it’s 15th-century (the spire-shaped font cover may well be later). The font is a nice example of the late-medieval tendency to decorate architectural surfaces of all kinds with the sort of tracery patterns used in windows.* The stonework of the window might be of a similar date to the font (I didn’t check while I was there) but the glass is certainly post-medieval and not the sort of stuff one would spend much time admiring, were it not for this projection effect, that lasted for just a few minutes, before the wind blew clouds over the sun once more.
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* It’s also an example of a later tendency to cover stone surfaces with stone-coloured paint, but we’ll let that pass.