Friday, 15 October 2010

St. Nicholas, Barfrestone

     Given that St. Nicholas - though not the oldest - is arguably the most famous church in Kent, and that hardly any publication on English churches fails to give it a mention, I find it hard to believe that it took me three years to get around to photographing it.  Here, truly, is an absolute gem, so different to anything I have ever seen, and as I drove up the narrow street through the village I can only describe my first view of this unique little 12th century church as stunning.  There before me, resplendent upon a slope above the road and overflooking a picturesque valley, stood a building comparable to a mini Roman temple in the Kent countryside!

     Being Norman, it is a simple two-cell structure, but unlike most other original Norman churches, has had no later enlargements or additions, thus still consisting of just a nave and lower chancel.  The lower walls are of flint; the upper half and all of the dressings of Caen stone; with a beautiful 'wheel window' in the east end of the chancel and, remarkably, the whole thing is less than fifty feet in length.

South Door
      The focus of most attention, and the object of prodigious esteem throughout the architectural fraternity, is the celebrated south door.  Apart from several mass dials, above the semicircular arches of the doorway are original eight-hundred year old Norman carvings depicting Our Lord in Glory, with medallions of the signs of the zodiac and labours of the month.  The fact that these carvings are so relatively well preserved is largely due to the fact that they were protected from the elements by a porch that was only removed during the 1839-41 restorations.  The Victorian restorers, when virtually rebuilding the chancel which had slipped on its foundations, obviously recognised this buildings matchless qualities.  They made every effort to put almost everything back without disturbing the surface of ashlar masonry, and full marks for the first class job they made of it.

     On the north side of the church is a doorway which has some intriguing graffiti, circa 1700 (which shows that todays urban street 'Picassos' haven't had it all their own way), and the church bell hangs on a rope in a Yew tree.

     Much of the interior is the result of the restorations, but it is the Romanesque  exterior that it will always be exalted for.  How fitting then that Jasmine Cottage - which sits above the church - should have once been the home of England's most celebrated sculptor, Henry Moore, during the early part of his career.  I left, having taken my photographs, feeling totally uplifted by what I had seen, and wondering whether any other church could ever affect me in quite the same way again.


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