As Above – Part 2 (December 2015)

 

 

Below is an unpublished sample section from As Above, Part 2

 

 

OLD St John’s Church

Grid Square: OS 7665

Location: OSGB 36   SP 764 656 (100m precision)

WGS84: 52:16.9945N   0:52.8883W

 

BOUGHTON:

Buchenho, Buchetone,

Buchedone, Bochetone (xi cent.);

Boketon, Buketone, Buckton (xii–xv cent.).

 

 

May 2012 –  January  2013

 Big ideas have most often been expressed in straightforward language (naturally I mean the direct intensity of Shakespeare, for example, not the gibberish of a lawyer or a government). But as oceans, trees and skies die in front of us, and the world and all its strange wonders are desanctified, our mission is to seek out the overfamiliar and disregarded, the rejected, marginalized and faceless even, and to load these obscure players in life with larger significance…

Field Notes from the author , 2012.

 

 

It has been almost three years since I started writing the words that became “As Above”, a set of field notes, historical anecdotes, photographs & poems that reflected upon one year’s worth of excursions into the sanctum of the church grounds of Old St Johns,Boughton Green.

I have only visited the church a handful of times since, and with winter now making its presence felt;  longer, darker, colder evenings, falling leaves, marcescant foliage, a change of light;  my thoughts returned once again to the old church, sequestered at the margins of Boughton and Moulton. Having reviewed my writings from two years ago, and cross-referencing against my original notes from the field, it appears I was very much pre-occupied with the church as a powerful invocation of the transformative, the transient, a place of change, and endless fluidity. Although these thoughts have not subsided, time and distance have tempered my initial musings, and I felt that the place now deserved further analysis, a different reading perhaps…

It is in the process of standing still, absorbing, sense-mapping a place, that it slowly begins to resonate. Sounds, smells, eerie silences, the whisper of the breeze, the rustling of leaves began to converge, murmur, cohere. 

Every step around the site fuelled my imagination, and now upon my return, I am still drawn to this place. Hemmed in on all sides by crumbling walls, the old church sits suspended amidst the  bustle of the rural landscape, untouched, hermetic, secretive;  a trove of memories.

As I made more visits, spent more time here, I became more attuned to this old church site, and elements of the place began to unfold. My first visits, crude excursions,  were like stepping into a becalmed millpond, creating ripples and ruptures in its surface. Only over time did the ripples settle, the images resolve, and the old church site began to speak…

IMG_3883

December 2015

What I now seek and sense, almost eludes description. How to be here without clouding the mirror,  without distorting the image once again?  In the twilight, all seems frail, evanescent, as if the merest intervention might wipe it clean.  It is an unusually mild midwinter evening, and the sun arcs below the treelines, and through the mesh of foliage, light is filtered,  distilled to its essence..

Standing in silent contemplation, letting sense immerse itself in the sensory.

The walls are liquid, vaporous, gently succumbing to the forces of weather, their dissolution retarded by the wave of common ivy that superimposes itself upon these crumbling remnants.  Yet the ivy simultaneously appears to hold the walls in balance, shielding them, preserving what remains with a verdant cloak that affords the crumbling masonry some form of protection from the elements, and the prying eyes of man.

IMG_3891

English Ivy, generic name: Hedera Helix, is one of a family of  invasive creepers, known in Old English as “Bindwood”, or “Lovestone”. Yet the  common name for Ivy,  Hedera Helix resonates.

Helix, a form of spiral, coiled like the double helix of DNA.   This spiral is also present in the symbolic caduceus, consisting of two coiled serpents around a wand or staff.

“As a symbolic object, it represents Hermes (or the Roman Mercury).  In later antiquity, the caduceus provided the basis for the astrological symbol representing the planet Mercury.  Thus, through its use in astrology and alchemy,  it has come to denote the elemental metal of the same name. It is said the wand would wake the sleeping,  and send the awake to sleep. If applied to the dying, their death was gentle; if applied to the dead, they returned to life. “

“Symbolically, the ivy has always been closely identified with death and immortality. Because it is forever green, it is a symbol of fidelity and immortal life..”

from Signs and Symbols in Christian Art, George Ferguson, Oxford University Press, 1954

IMG_3907

The complex, reticulated form of Ivy stems echoes the form of wires,  cables, conveyors of biologic information that well up from the earth, permeating, suffusing the walls.

Stand still for an hour or more, listen. Become a receiver.   Tune yourself in to their frequency.  Listen to their story, their song, their music; glistening in the waves of light,  hovering at the threshold of perception, (is this how the dead speak? )  then lost, swept away, engulfed by the night’s air

These vestigial traces seem to reverberate through the very substance of the walls, etched into crumbling masonry, filaments, tendrils encapsulated in the webwork of rotting ivy, decaying plant detritus, the whistle of wind through fallen brickwork, all of these components tell the story of those long dead souls, speaking the language of the unspoken..lost in time.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: this is an exploratory first draft sample of a larger body of text that will be subject to further revision and editing. It does not represent a completed work as such, but serves to give a flavour of work yet to be published.

BG Nichols 2016

Headstone Graphics, Old St Johns, Boughton (As Above)

Tree of life

As part of my ongoing investigation into the history and background of Old St John’s Church, Boughton, Northampton, I have recently been to photograph and catalogue some of the less degraded images on the older gravestones ( burials have been carried out as recently as 2011, presumably a pre- arranged family plot?)

” It is summer, and nature has once again taken its course – the site is heavily overgrown with nettles, weeds,  and bracken. I take a circuitous route around the old church site, but the going is treacherous. Thorns tear at my clothing and flesh..a warning? ..a test?  Am I desecrating this site in my search for a  clue, a story? Are those interred here willing to permit me to record their demise? “

Adapted from As Above by the author

Posy with Roses

“Here nature worships, where no psalm upflows,

With song of bird and incense of the rose;

Only the dead, who with their church decay,

Mark where the vanished village had it’s day..”

CT Yelland: “Boughton Churchyard

Lillies with Cartouche

Each gravestone tells its solitary tale. Many are scoured clean by the actions of time and weather. Mute, anonymous memorials, bejewelled with the patina of lichen and moss, leaning into diffuse sunlight . Yet somehow, the unlikely symbiosis of nature and built form creates a subtle harmony here. Where nature tends to reclaim and envelop, here it seems balanced by some unseen force, held in check, preventing church and gravestones from being assimilated into the earth once more. Some glimmer of memory preserved.

And what of the lives that these tablets silently commemorate? These brief epitaphs are simply full stops, conclusions, mineral waymarkers that merely symbolise an end-point, yet conspire to conceal whole lives lived in this village, and possibly beyond. What could these stones tell us of those nameless souls, and how they departed this world?

On our first visit, we were more captivated by the stories of loss told amongst these stones, than the charm of the church building itself. Three teenaged boys, lost in the first world war, in Italy, & North Africa, The Somme. A grieving mother follows soon afterwards presumably broken hearted, and lost in the world without her offspring.  Then a man, and his wife placed together, and another, with the same surname, a second wife maybe, or sister? We could only guess.

A writer in The Gentleman’s Magazine who visited Boughton Fair in June 1746 says that

“..having amus’d myself with the diversions of this gay and busy spot, I retired to view the ruins of a church near it in an open field, a solitary scene remote from any house. Here, I found a gravestone, which spoke to me in a pleasing tho’ solemn manner: if it pleases you as much let it speak to the world:

“Time was, I stood where thou dost now,

And view’d the dead as thou dost me

Ere long thou’lt lie as low as I,

And others stand and look on thee.. ”

Sadly, on my many excursions here, I have been unable to locate this particular gravestone. It has more than likely been erased over time, or crumbled into dust, as many of those old grave markers were made of local limestone. This poignant poem bears an epitaph that should resonate with all of us, reminding us of our fragility, and the brevity of our time on earth.

Four Flowers

“Across the churchyard, bramble and bracken threads its way across the site, a thorny cartilage that inexplicably fuses the living with the dead.

It is Spring.

The first fern fronds are unfurling amidst the gravestones, pushing through the damp humus, their mysterious curlicues, symbols of rebirth and renewal, nature’s constants since prehistory…”

Adapted from As Above by the author

Three Crocus

I am intrigued and enchanted by these gravestones, and the clues hidden within the images on the headstones. What messages are encrypted into these beautiful, elegiac carvings I wonder? What would they tell us of personalities, dramas, traumas, love and joy?

The church site was first documented in 1201, but almost nothing remains in the historical record of it as the living, working hub of a community. The only references to it in the County Records office are of the site as an abandoned, derelict, and overgrown remnant. I view this with great sadness, and hope to revitalise interest in this place once more, by decoding some of it’s secrets, and re-interpeting it’s history.

I am currently re-writing the original text that accompanied the “As Above” art edition that I released last year, an attempt to update it with fresh findings, new revelations.  As a separate project, the images of the gravestones and some historical notes will be released as a separate, but complimentary edition early next year.