Four Views of a Saxon Tower

by Briggs Nisbet and Christian Crumlish

We had just come from the magnificence of Kings College Chapel where, goggle-eyed under the soaring stone arches of the Gothic ceiling we struck neck-wrenching poses to stare at the jeweled glass paintings of the windows above us. All too grand, and painful, for my taste. I instead turned to inspect the stone carvings and intricate sculpted wood panels nearer to eye level. These decidedly secular images were more appealing to me because I recognized the story in these characters and symbols. There was the outsized Henry, bulging from the wall in the satiny patina of 400-year-old oak, his jewels and ermine turned to ebony. And beside him his queen (his third one), the fetching (and some say bewitching) Ann Boleyn with her head still intact and still quite obviously the apple of Henry's eye. Too soon she would be the thorn in his rapidly expanding side.

The happy couple sat entwined by delicately carved roses, the stylized single-petal "eglantine" or wild rose of the English countryside. But these were no ordinary roses. A slight variation in the petal shape, one squared off, the other rounded was definitely meant to distinguish between the Red Rose and the White Rose, symbols of the houses of York and Lancaster and the most famous power struggle of English history - the Wars of the Roses. I noticed then that adorning each limestone pillar of the chapel walls was a platter-size rose, its stone petals unfurling from the wall as if just blooming.

We were thirsty and walked toward the nearest pub in the late autumn afternoon. After a pint of bitters and ale we stepped out into the cobbled street across from the little church. Though the sky was still blue, a crescent moon had appeared above the rooflines and slowly rose to the height of the weather vane on the church tower. A curious shape, the twisted form appeared to be some long-necked bird, maybe a heron or stork. It looked out of place on top of the stodgy square tower. The church hardly seemed to exist, huddled on its little corner, in the shadow of the grand edifices of kings and queens. But these lumpy walls of crudely packed rocks and mortar had seen a lot of kings and queens come and go since the eleventh century when the tower was built by the ancestors of King Wenceslas.

on impulse, I asked Christian for his sketchpad and leaned against the walls of the pub. Penning the outlines of the church door I noticed what I hadn't before - a tangle of leaves framing the arch of the rough wooden door. In the falling dusk they gleamed like garnets against the stone, the blood red petals of an English rose.

  1. Side

  2. Closer

  3. Vane

  4. Tower

Copyright © 1997
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