TAKE A LOOK AT... (in Derbyshire)

This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 26th January 2004 (p.2 & p3), reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting.

TAKE A LOOK AT: TYMPANA

In architectural terms a tympanum (plural: tympana) can refer to a carved slab inserted in the vertical area between a door lintel and the curve of an arch, filling what would otherwise be a semi-circular space.

Circular arches and arched doorways are distinguishing features of Norman ecclesiastical architecture, often left intact in churches which have undergone subsequent alterations and rebuilding. Whereas a number of Peak District churches have Norman entrance doorways, only a small number of tympana survive.

That of St. Peter's church at Parwich was rediscovered together with other 12th century stonework about 120 years ago when the old building made way for the new. Cleaned of a layer of thick plaster and whitewash the tympanum was re-erected above an outer door below the tower. It is a fine display of a style which was intended to present a pictorial text to all who enter the church. The slab is incised with 'Agnus Dei' or Lamb of God, a three-toed creature devouring its own tail, a stag, a wild boar, a pair of entwined serpents and a bird. The symbolism of the sculpture is fully explained inside the church.

A similar theme decorates the gritstone tympanum over the south door of Holy Trinity Church at Ashford-in-the-Water. It has been suggested that the well-defined illustration was inspired by Psalm number eighty in which it is said of the vine, or 'Tree of Life' - 'the wild boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it'. A realistic bristly wild boar is seen rooting at the trunk of the tree, whilst a wolf stretches up to tear at the branches on the other side.

A human figure, dressed in a tunic and carrying a book and shepherd's crook, is central to the simple incised tympanum at St. Bartholomew's, Hognaston. At his right hand the Lamb of God carries an encircled cross, the animal's stance almost identical to that at Parwich. The picture is completed by wild beasts and birds of the air.

A DARKER STYLE

The south door of Tissington church of St. Mary, together with its tympanum, is protected by a porch. Bordered by chevron and dog-tooth moulding, the central semi-circle consists of rows of squares sculpted in differing depths of relief, all plain except for five of dog-tooth design which form a Greek cross. A pair of quaint human figures occupies the two lower angles; three-quarter length and bare-headed with arms akimbo, they seem to stand guard over the main entrance.

Now protected by the new extension to St. Helen's church at Darley Dale, a stone bears faint traces of an animal which has been almost obliterated by eight centuries of weathering. A sketch made during the 1870's showed it as resembling a deer and at that time still being pursued by a grotesque winged beast with a forked tail, now no longer visible. This stone was rebuilt into the west wall long ago and may be the only remnant of a tympanum, possibly representing a darker style sometimes found over the 'Devil's Door' in the north wall of a church.

North doorway tympana are something of a rarity and none are believed to have survived in the Peak District.

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 26th January 2004.

Articles by Julie Bunting are reproduced with her kind permission.

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