Thursday, March 8, 2018

Wreay, Cumbria

Pinecones and ammonites

To mark International Women’s Day, I am posting today some pictures of what I think is one of the most outstanding and extraordinary buildings designed by a woman, the church of St Mary, Wreay. Here is what I wrote about the church in December 2012, when reviewing Jenny Uglow’s biography of Losh, The Pinecone:

St Mary’s Wreay looks more like a work of the Arts and Crafts period of the 1880s than a building of the 1840s. But not even the Arts and Crafts produced a structure quite like this, covered with carvings that are far outside the usual church orbit – a tortoise gargoyle, a crocodile, a dragon, lotus buds, gourds, and pinecones (the latter symbolic variously of creation, reproduction, enlightenment, the spirit of man, and the expansion of consciousness). There are carved angels, it is true, but otherwise you have to look hard to find much traditional Christian imagery. It is as if Sarah Losh, having daringly entered the male preserve of architecture, looked at the whole business from a different viewpoint, that of a kind of pan-religious perspective, where all faiths are as one.

By describing Sarah
’s church in such detail, Jenny Uglow also describes her somewhat elusive subject, Sarah herself and her concerns. The church is an act of making and also an act of mourning (for Sarah’s parents and sister and other family members); it is both a gathering together of diverse religious symbols and a very specific act of benevolence to the village of Wreay itself, to which Sarah also contributed a school and numerous hand-outs in times of need; it is both a display of traditional craftsmanship and an artistic bolt out of the blue. Uglow's book nails all this – but does not lose sight of the oddity of the place or the elusiveness of its creator.

The photographs (credits below) show the interior of the apse and one of the windows. The window surround is carved with ammonites and pinecones, two of the building’s presiding symbols.

Photographic credits: Apse photo by The Carlisle Kid; window photo by Rose and Trev Clough, both used under CC licence CC BY-SA 2.0


Eileen Wright said...

That is really lovely. Sarah Losh produced something wonderfully quirky yet at the same time without losing sight of an aesthetically pleasing space. I love the carvings and the sense of connectivity with other spiritual paths.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

This reminded me of the rather odd church at Minchinhampton, from a similar period. Also the rather odd "Gothick" details around the (side?) door at Bridgwater, Somerset. Stylistic faithfulness trumped by creativity.

Evelyn said...

Correct me if I'm wrong but I see a Star of David also along the top of the carved mosaic of the stained glass window cornice. All those symbols would then have a different meaning in that case. To me, it is just stunningly beautiful. A lot of thought and talent went into that work. Thanks for sharing it.
The Castle Lady