Yesterday I went on a field trip with the Institute for Medieval Studies (of which I am kind of a member) here at the university. We visited St Mary’s Church at Lastingham, which was at one point an abbey but is now a parish church, and then Rievaulx and Byland abbeys, which are both Cistercian ruins. These pictures are from Lastingham. (Family: The names of the places we went are links if you feel inclined to click them.) Also, the University of Sheffield has some really thorough information about Cistercian abbeys in Yorkshire here. These pictures are from Lastingham.
Check out the apse of this church, the apse being the round bit, and yes I did look it up on Wikipedia just to make sure that’s the correct term for it. It looks pretty old, right? Here is a nice close up of those little figures lining the top of the apse.
Classic Norman/Romanesque figures, right? WRONG! If you look more closely at the close-up picture, you will notice that the stone changes form just a couple rows below the figures. You may also notice that the stone around the windows on the apse is different from the stone surrounding it. This is because of those Pesky Victorians, who thought, “Let’s make this old, time-worn church look like what we think it should have looked like seven hundred years ago!” So they borrowed a few themes and motifs, slapped them on to quite a lot of medieval English churches, and fooled us all.
For example, the little dude second from the right of the non-rounded part of the apse, who’s balancing on his elbows, is actually an edited Victorian version of a Romanesque figure (I think it’s Romanesque; I could be lying, and if I’m wrong do correct me). But this figure would actually have been a sexy dancing lady: thoroughly provocative and not even a little bit acceptable to delicate Victorian sensibilities. So the architect, John Loughborough Pearson, just cut it off and made it look extra weird. Also, the fourth one from the right looks like Popeye. Just saying.
So now, when you are visiting English churches, check the architecture to see if it’s really as old as you think.