Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

St Michael And St Mary, Melbourne, Derbyshire

It was a very gloomy day. After lunch it rained like buggery. But for a few minutes in the late morning the sun came out and those few minutes just happened to occur when I was standing outside St Michael and St Mary, Melbourne with my camera pointing up at the tower.

Only there's no such thing as chance.

It isn't clear why this tiny Derbyshire town possesses such a grand church. One theory has it that the bishop of Carlisle built it as a home from home at a time when the northern parts of his diocese were being overrun by marauding Scots. Another argues that it was built by Henry I to serve his nearby estate. The proportions are those of a small cathedral- but it was never more than a parish church.

The exterior has been modified down the years- though not so much that you can't see what it was originally meant to look like- but step inside and everything is thoroughgoingly Romanesque. I don't know if I gasped audibly but I rather think I did.

If I were a dismal purist I might object to the coloured lights that have been artfully dotted around but I don't suppose I can be because I love the way they sculpt the arcade pillars.

A lot of original carving survives- most notably on the capitals of the pillars supporting the central tower. The guide books say the figure on the right hand capital is a Sheelagh-na-gig but I don't think it is. Sheelagh's don't have pointy ears. Nor, usually, do they have vegetation sprouting out of their mouths. Finally, if it's a Sheelagh why are the genitals hidden? I reckon it's a devil or woodland spirit- and most probably male.

This is the view looking up into the central tower- where the bells are hung. The upper part of the tower was rebuilt to accommodate them in the early 17th century- hence the un-Romanesque battlements visible in the exterior shot. I suppose the circular frame is for spacing out the bell-ropes so that the ringers have plenty of elbow-room.

One thing that isn't Romanesque is the absence of plaster. The Victorian restorer (Sir George Gilbert Scott) stripped it off to serve his vision of the early Middle Ages as rugged and crude- which in some ways they were- but not when it came to interior decoration. One section of plaster that survived- because it had a memorial plaque fastened over it- carries a very jolly late medieval wall painting- which shows two women with devils on their backs being loomed over by the demon Tutivillus. The guide books have no idea what sin it is they're committing, but I'm going to hazard a guess. I think the circular object they're holding between them is a small mirror- and they're witches and they're scrying.

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