Albion, Art, Don and Wen, TOLL

A side trip to Addingham – ancient symbols and modern stone

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Leaving the church at Addingham, we noticed some rather more modern stonework outside an unprepossessing building that turned out to be the church hall. After seeing Saxon stonework, we might not have bothered to go and investigate, but we were very glad that we did.

Carved panels were set into the walls, echoing ancient designs and using a language of symbols almost lost. They are the work of sculptor Fiona Bowley… as was the ‘cross’ and panels close by, and the stone at the centre of the seven-turned labyrinth we failed to see in the sodden grass… and which we may have to revisit and walk one day..

“… seven was a significant and symbolic number in the belief systems of the ancient world. The number ‘seven’ was thought of as representing perfection or completeness – as in the seven days of creation and the seven visible celestial bodies which move across the firmament (Sun, Moon, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars and Saturn). These rise at various positions in the eastern sky and curve overhead to the south to set in the west. To the medieval mind, walking a seven-coil labyrinth hinted at a life journey on Earth (here at the centre) guided by these seven heavenly bodies.” Church leaflet.

It was the ‘cross’ that first caught our eye with a ‘er…what’s that?’ but it was the three panels that caught our attention when we wandered over to have a look. Not least because the first thing we saw was the symbol of the three fishes yet again… for the third time in three days…

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The carvings use both the style and symbolism of older times; a visual language we may have forgotten but which speaks to us still. The first panel reminded us both of the carvings of fruit and animals on the ancient Ruthwell cross that we had visited almost exactly a year earlier. The second is knotwork and fantastic beasts around a sundial that introduces the element of time to the visual story, the third is distinctly Christian with the Lamb and angels. Beneath the images are lines from the ‘death song’ of the Venerable Bede… the ancient historian who had crossed our trail so often on our travels.

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“We cannot be so wise…
That we have no need to consider…
What will be decided for our souls.”

In a corner of the building stands another sculpture; a ‘cross’ or column, four sided, with each side completely different. The beautiful symbols are either similar or identical to those on ancient crosses and within the old churches. We recognised them, having seen their ancient and enigmatic counterparts so often, and had speculated on the meaning of the beautiful but often abstract patterns, knowing it was there, but often unable grasp the full import of the designs. We had long since realised that our forefathers had a visual lexicon, born of familiarity, to which we no longer have direct access.

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We do, however, share our humanity, even if our place in time is far apart. Their concerns and ours are substantially the same, the essence of the human journey, our hopes, fears and aspirations, remain unchanged at heart. We ask the same questions of our lives…and the understanding of symbols bypasses the circuits of logic and speaks direct to the heart through the imagination. It takes no genius to work out that the carvings on the Saxon crosses, such as that within the church were there to tell a story… perhaps teach…but certainly to communicate ideas. Here, on a modern sculpture, that understanding was illustrated in graphic form. Those who work with the old symbols… the artists, craftsmen, poets and dreamers who bring the symbols to life…can still access the forgotten song of the stones. Each panel of the ‘cross’ reflects a line from one of my favourite blessings, carved in stones that are set into the shape of a cross at its base… and the modern stones, with their sharp edges and clean lines still speak the ancient and sacred language of the heart.

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Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.

 

 

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