This article is a part of the Eustace collection - aimed at helping others create counter-narratives to threats to our historic environment.Learn more about Eustace
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"The dull mind rises to truth through that which is material"
Abbot Suger (1081-1151)
There’s always an air of anticipation when I enter a new church, but this time, at St. Lawrence, Gumfreston, it is different.
Before I enter, I notice a sign that says ‘THIS CHURCH IS CLOSED.” Below these words somebody has written ‘PLEASE RE-OPEN’; and above them there is a sticker that says: “Don’t forget to drink from the spring it’s filled with iron!”
It all adds to the sense of unease as I crack open the door.
I can smell the space before I can see it. It is dark and dank, and it takes a while for my eyes to adjust to the gloomy interior which reveals itself intermittently in swags of sunlight dropping in from behind the clouds.
I close the door behind me and walk into the centre of the nave. There’s plaster underfoot, rot in the pews and lime green mould upon the walls.
"I close the door behind me and walk into the centre of the nave. There’s plaster underfoot, rot in the pews and lime green mould upon the walls."
Time stands still here, and because of that, despite the dereliction, I am drawn up into the saturated 12th century walls. Redundancy has placed such a stark line between the past and present, that it really does feel like I’ve travelled back in time. I’m stood within a space that wouldn’t intimidate my medieval forebears - other than the leaky roof.
Amidst the decay, there is a bitter-sweet beauty. It feels as if this place is being gently reclaimed by the earth. But, as I walk towards the chancel arch, and set my camera up in front of the pulpit, I’m reminded as to why the survival of this place is so important.
I place my camera upon the tripod and cup my eye to the viewfinder.
It feels snug and safe. My eyes detach from my earthly self and wander around the space through the conduit of my lens. They float around the altar condiments and hover over the cracks in the wall, until they stop with a start. There is another eye looking straight down the barrel of my lens.
There is a face peeping out from behind the flaking limewash.
It sparks a yearning empathy with the building - as if a window has opened up into the soul of the place. It takes some time to realise the gravity of what I’m witnessing.
The face embodies a glimmer of hope amidst the gloom, poised to ignite the monumental effort, against all odds, of saving this place. Friends of Friendless Churches have taken on the mantle, and managed to raise funds towards the repair and conservation of the church. It will enable future generations to connect with those eyes, and gaze into the depths of time.
Smothered by circumstance and freed by happenstance, the face embraces, within the artful strokes of a medieval hand and the decay of a crumbling wall, the paradox of the human condition: our unceasing pursuit of the sublime to light up our lives and find beauty amongst the shadows.
Photographs and words by Andy Marshall (unless otherwise stated). Most photographs are taken with Iphone 14 Pro and DJI Mini 3 Pro.