Forest of Galtres Society

Mr Fyles looks for Clues

February 20, 2008

The Forest of Galtres Society February 2008 lecture to members brought knowledge and information, in an entertaining manner, when, on 14th February, Mr Fyles explained to us a microcosm of English History as seen in church monuments. His particular interest, which could have been subtitled 1066 and All That Marble, elaborated on a fascination born when he was a schoolboy.

Churches were usually open, and Joseph Fyles became unable to resist the tombs and monuments. Their shape and their inscriptions, the story – was it all there or was it edited to present the view to posterity preferred by the recumbent during his lifetime? Have you noticed how the framing of the monument can reflect the architecture of the time? English history shaped in marble and English architecture framing the effigies. The tombs are a statement of continuity and the piety and virtues of those personified. Early Royal tombs would bring revenue from pilgrimages, however worthy or otherwise had been the personage.

A tomb comprised an effigy on a chest. Medieval effigies are idealised gentlemen and their ladies. The Percy Tomb in Beverley Minster is an architectural conceit to frame over and above the tomb chest, mirroring the tracery patterns or architectural design in current usage. Those who could afford it, endowed a chantry chapel and priests to pray continuously for their soul, to shorten the road to heaven. The churches suffered upheaval when Henry VIII changed the liturgy from Latin to English, and sold off the church land – its wealth – and the new owners acquired greater status and power through their financial speculation. Lawyers and nobility had been commemorated, but now, the new landowners commissioned tombs with Tudor Renaissance elaboration and complex architectural expression.

Mr Fyles’ audience had by this time come to understand this close correlation of a tomb’s appearance and architectural design for buildings. The classical idiom of columns and entablature caught on as houses themselves ceased to be so intricately decorated with arches and obelisks. The grandeur of Exton’s tombs exhibits great wealth and family continuity. Tombs show elegant persons in dress of the time, or antique, or Roman and demonstrate the Taste and Learning of the person not their piety.

Mr Fyles came closer to home, and with Mrs Woods’ commendation showed us two of Coxwold’s Belasyse monuments. The 1604 monument is a tomb chest with effigies and arches and obelisks and colour. The adjacent eighteenth century monument is in white statuary marble with columns, putti and two figures, one of whom died fifty years previously and wears a wig with Roman dress, and the other, his grandson, has wig, dress coat and earl’s coronet. The tomb is making a political statement and the symbolism is all about status and achievement. In the nineteenth century few burials took place inside churches and far fewer monuments were erected apart from war memorials.

Mr Fyles offered many fascinating images and tempted us to visit more churches. We hope you enjoy this image of Coxwold church’s monuments as much as we did his entertaining words on Mortality to Marble; Tombs as Clues to English History.

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