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tracery and arch moulding gave place to straight lines, groined roofs were enriched by extra ribs, and panels of elaborate work covered the plain surfaces of former times; the very key-stones of the vaulting became pendants, and the springers branched out like palm trees, forming that rich and entirely English variety of groin called “ fantracery,” such as we see at Sherborne, Eton, King's College, Cambridge, and Henry VII.'s Chapel at Westminster. “In other respects,” says a modern writer," the architects of the fifteenth century were very successful. Few things can be seen more beautiful than the steeples of Gloucester Cathedral and St. Mary's, Taunton. The open roofs, as for example, that of St. Peter Mancroft, Norwich, are superb, and finally they have left us a large number of enormous parish churches all over the country, full of interesting furniture and decoration."
The fact is, that this was the last expression of Gothic as a living art. The builders and beautifiers of the English churches on the eve of the religious changes spoke still a living language, and their works still tell us of the fulness of the hearts which planned and executed such works. It is somewhat difficult for us to understand this, when living in an age of imitation, and at a time when architecture has no longer a language of its own. “Imitation," writes Mr. Ferguson, “is in fact all we aim at in the architectural art of the present day. We entrust its exercise to a specially educated class, most learned in the details of the style they are called upon to work in, and they produce buildings which delight the scholars and archæologists of the day, but which the less educated classes neither understand nor appreciate, and which will lose their significance the moment the fashion which produced them has passed away.
"The difference between this artificial state of things and the practice of a true style will not be difficult to understand. When, for instance, Gothic was a living art in England, men expressed themselves in it as in any
other part of the vernacular. Whatever was done was a part of the usual, ordinary every day life, and men had no more difficulty in understanding what others were doing than in comprehending what they were saying. A mason did not require to be a learned man to chisel what he had carved ever since he was a boy, and what alone he had seen being done during his lifetime, and he adapted new forms just in the same manner and as naturally as men adapt new modes of expression in language as they happen to be introduced, without even remarking it. At that time any educated man could design in Gothic Art, just as any man who can read and write can now compose and give utterance to any poetry or prose that may be in
" Where art is a true art, it is naturally practised and as easily understood as a vernacular literature of which, indeed, it is an essential and most expressive part, and so it was in Greece and Rome, and so, too, in the Middle Ages. But with us it is little more than a dead corpse, galvanised into spasmodic life by a few selected practitioners for the amusement and delight of a small section of the specially educated classes. It expresses truthfully neither our wants nor our feelings, and we ought not to be surprised how very unsatisfactory every modern building really is, even when executed by the most talented architects as compared with the productions of our village mason or parish priest at an age when men sought only to express clearly what they felt strongly, and sought to do it only in their natural mother tongue, untrammelled by the fetters of a dead or familiar foreign form of spcech."
To any one who will examine the church wardens' accounts of the period previous to the religious changes, the truth of the above quotation will clearly appear. Then, if ever, ecclesiastical art and architecture was the
'History of Modern Architecture, pp. 37, 87.
living expression of popular feeling and popular love of religion, and the wholesale destruction of ancient architectural monuments throughout the land, the pulling down of rood and screen and image, the casting down of monuments sacred to the memory of the best and holiest and most venerated names in the long roll of English men of honour, the breaking up of stone-work and metal work upon which the marks of the chisel of the mason and graver were yet fresh, the whitewash daubed over paintings which had helped to make the parish churches objects of beauty and interest to the people, the ruthless smashing of the pictured window lights, and the pillage of the sacred vessels and vestments and hangings, which the people and their fathers had loved to provide for God's service-all this and much more of the same kind, the perhaps inevitable accompaniments of the religious change, was nothing less to the people than proscription by authority of the national language of art and architecture, such as they had hitherto understood it. And never probably had the language been more truly the language of the people at large. For reasons just assigned, the work of church building and church decoration, and the provision of vestments and plate, the care of the fabric and the very details of things necessary for the church services, were in the hands of the people. The period in question had given rise to the great middle class, and here, as in Germany, the burgher folk, the merchants and traders, began literally to lavish their gifts in adornment of their parish churches, and to vie one with another in the profusion of their generosity.
It is somewhat difficult for us, as we look upon the generally bare and unfurnished churches that have been left to us as monuments of the past about which we are concerned, to realise what they must have been before what a modern writer has fitly called “ the great pillage" commenced. All, from the great minsters and cathedral
just assation, andabric and ices,
churches down to the poorest little village sanctuary, were in those days simply overflowing with wealth and objects of beauty which loving hands had gathered together to adorn God's house, and to make it the best and brightest spot in their little world, and so far as their means would allow, the very pride of their hearts. This is no fancy picture. The inventories of English churches in this period when compared, say, with those of Italy, reveal the fact that the former were in every way incomparably better furnished than the latter. The Venetian traveller in England in 1500 was impressed by this very thing during his journeyings throughout the country. He notes and comments upon the great sums of money regularly given to the church as a matter of course by Englishmen of all sorts. Then after speaking of the important wealth of the country as evidenced by the silver plate possessed by all but the poorest in the land, he continues : “But above all are their riches displayed in the church treasures, for there is not a parish church in the kingdom so mean as not to possess crucifixes, candlesticks, censers, patens and cups of silver, nor is there a convent of mendicant friars so poor as not to have all these same articles in silver, besides many other ornaments worthy of a cathedral church in the same metal. Your magnificence may therefore imagine what the decorations of these enormously rich Benedictine, Carthusian, and Cistercian monasteries must be...I have been informed that amongst other things many of these monasteries possess unicorns' horns of an extraordinary size. I have also been told that they have some splendid tombs of English saints, such as St. Oswald, St. Edmund, and St. Edward, all kings and martyrs. I saw, one day being with your magnificence, at Westminster, a place out of London, the tomb of that saint, King Edward the Confessor, in the Church of the foresaid place West. minster; and indeed, neither St. Martin of Tours, a church in France, which I have heard is one of the richest
in existence, nor anything else that I have ever seen, can be put into comparison with it. The magnificence of the tomb of St. Thomas the Martyr, Archbishop of Canter. bury, surpasses all belief.”
Our present concern, however, is not with the greater churches of the kingdom, but with the parish churches which were scattered in such profusion all over the country. An examination of such parochial accounts as are still preserved affords an insight into the working of the parish, and evidences the care taken by the people to maintain and increase the treasures of their churches. What is most remarkable about the accounts that remain, which are, of course, but the scanty survivals from the wreck, is their consistent tenor. They one and all tell the same story of general and intelligent interest taken by the people as a whole in the beautifying and supporting of their parish churches. In a very real sense, that seems strange to us now, it was their church; their life centred in it, and they were intimately concerned in its working and management. The articles of furniture and plate, the vestments and hangings, had a well-known history, and were regarded as-what in truth they were—the common property of every soul in the particular village or district. Such accounts as we are referring to prove that specific gifts and contributions continued to flow in an ample stream to the churches from men and women of every sort and condition up to the very eve of the great religious changes.
From these and similar records we may learn a good deal about parochial life and interests in the closing period of the old ecclesiastical system. The church was the common care and business. Its welfare was the concern of the people at large, and took its natural place in their daily lives. Was there any building to be done, a new peal of bells to be procured, the organs to be mended, new plate to be bought, or the like, it was the parish as a corporate body that decided the matter, arranged the