The sixth of November, 2010: Templum pro Tumulo

I know pretty much nothing about architecture and a particularly tiny amount about church architecture. So today’s (retrospective) post is all about church architecture. Let’s learn together, eh?

The church of St John the Evangelist in Leeds caught my eye today while I was awaiting a bus. There’s a blue plaque (I managed to contain my excitement, knowing that blue plaques in Leeds can commemorate some very tedious things). So I had a wander round its exterior, and wondered what was so remarkable about it. Having looked it up, I’m still not sure what’s remarkable about it.

It was consecrated in 1634, which I suppose is slightly remarkable, and bankrolled by Leeds fleece mogul John Harrison. Restored in the 1860s. The exterior is largely in the Perpendicular style (it says here). The Perpendicular style (it says here) is a school of Gothic architecture prevalent from the late 14th to the early 16th centuries. I suppose this makes the church of St John the Evangelist a bit daringly retro.

I noticed that the churchyard is paved with gravestones, which always seems a bit mad to me, though Pevsner thought it was “a moving…and pleasing device”.

One interesting thing about this church is that a local vicar properly slagged it off in 1814:

“At this period, architecture, especially church architecture, was at its lowest ebb. The highest effort of church builders was to produce a clumsy imitation of our ancient churches, no whit better than the works of their tasteless successors of the present day. This church in particular is a most unhappy specimen of this taste. In defiance of all authority and example it consists of two ai[s]les only, with a single row of columns up the midst; the windows are copies of two distinct, or rather remote periods; the tower is placed almost at one angle of the west end, and the east end has two parallel windows of equal rank and consequence. There is no change or break in the arches to indicate a choir, in lieu of which a kind of clumsy screen, consisting of degrading terms, which have been reverently copied of late by the Wyat School, is thrown across, so as to intersect one of the arches. Its inconvenience (from the circumstances of the minister being placed against the north wall,) is at least equal to its inelegance; in short, St John’s Church has all the gloom and all the obstructions of an ancient church without one vestige of its dignity and grace.”

So maybe I wasted my time walking all the way around it and trying to look thoughtful. I suppose the place isn’t helped, these days, by being hemmed in by some of Leeds’ premier uglies: the redbrick Santander building on Merrion Street,  for instance.

Two epigrams. One, from the tracery of the Harrison window, is an epigram by Harrison: Templum pro Tumulo, which I gather means Temple for Burial or similar. That’s what you get for letting a woolmonger write your tracery epigrams. The other one is from over the church door, beneath a sundial of some sort, and isn’t much better: So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Psalm 90:12, that, Bible fans.

I now feel a bit bad for so lightly condemning Mann’s Patent Steam Cart & Wagon Company,  Dewhirst’s wholesale haberdashery and Frank Kidson MA as very tedious things. Sorry. Maybe I’ll look into them some other day.



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