In 2015 the medieval chapel of St. Nicholas’, King’s Lynn was refurbished.

During that time I was asked to photograph the 15th century hammer-beam roof from scaffolding installed up to the full height of the building.

Every individual hammer-beam was fashioned into life-sized angels.

I spent two days there, mesmerised by their magnificence, carefully studying their form with fleshy nose against wooden cheek. Walking along the scaffold platform created an inherent reverence to these angelic hosts, dipping and bowing under each figure as I moved through the building heights.

Places like this have the ability to engender feelings of awe and wonder. The power of such buildings, in shaping the way we think and act, is produced through a rich compost of layered history, combined with space, light, structure and symbolism.

These places are caddies between the realms we inhabit and the spaces that we dare to dream. At St. Nicholas', I saw glimpses of heaven through the coat-tails of angels.

Each angel was beautifully detailed from the finely carved hair curls to the neatly clipped toes.

The oldest figures had mellowed with age, some deeply gnarled with ligneous skin: fissured and cobwebbed; some had missing parts, or had been completely replaced with Victorian interpretations which were better fed, square chinned, Pre-Raphaelite.

On the afternoon of the first day of photography - a divine comedy - they started playing games with me: one sneaking a quick cigarette, another playing hide and seek and another baring his pants.

Some of my time was taken up with photographing along the wall-plates where a series of smaller angels had been fixed onto the timber in relief.

During one particular moment, I had my eye fixed into my viewfinder, walking sideways in front of the wall-plate, creating a procession of divine beings through my lens - until an aberration made me pull away. I’d found the presence of absence: a ghost angel - a darkened, leathery outline of a missing, perhaps even fallen angel, revealing several hundred years of residual existence leached into the timber.

On the second day of photography there was a growing realisation that these pieces of dead wood, by taking on angelic forms from earthly hands, had become super-charged collaters of emotion - spiritual sponges - absorbing millennia of glances from broken mothers and hopeful lovers.

With the passage of time, what struck me most about these celestial renderings was the feeling of intimacy that emerged - a percolation of the form, detail and original intent which had the power to create a felt sense of presence; or maybe, even a glimpse of heaven on earth.

Not, perhaps, a glimpse of the heaven of traditional lore.

For me, heaven lies in the hands that made this, and the minds that conceived it. It is in the lives that allowed it to survive and also in the people that help it thrive. Holiness is in the the earth-song of the peeling paint and the arborescent echo from the fissured faces, and sanctity is in the rhythm of the truss, the pattern in the bracing and the unmappable outpourings of human endeavour held within these walls.

St. Nicholas' Chapel

is a remarkable building, full of the life of the community taking place beneath the gaze of heavenly angels.

St. Nicholas' Chapel

is a remarkable building, full of the life of the community taking place beneath the gaze of heavenly angels.

The Churches Conservation Trust cares for places like St. Nicholas', King's Lynn and they need our support now more than ever - to keep the voices of the past pocketed within the folds of a carved piece of wood or the feathered outline of a fading ghost angel.

Andy Marshall

is an architectural and interiors photographer based in the UK.

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