Churches are a photographer’s dream

In a guest post, Julian Guffogg shares with us the joy and excitement he gets from photographing churches and the treasures hidden within their walls, be it the stained glass of an East Window, a delicately carved memorial or intricately carved stonework. Julian’s photo library is available to view on Flickr and Geograph.

“As a child both my parents were religious, so we attended church every Sunday. As I grew up. I was expected to attend every week until I was a teenager. To me, church was somewhat boring, usually cold with hard seats and lots of old people! And of course there was the musty smell that only churches seem to possess.

Occasionally we would make a trip to Tewkesbury Abbey and it was always impressive with the incense, ceremony, and the wonderful organ music.

Over the years my faith waned, and I would sometimes pop into churches as a tourist on holiday, but it was not until I started participating in the Geograph project (whose aim is to photograph something in each of the 1 km squares as seen on ordnance survey maps)  that I started looking more closely and photographing churches.

The challenge of getting inside

Most were easy to photograph from the outside, but the problem was getting inside and finding the points of interest. The challenge was intensified by the fact that many churches were locked; usually a keyholder could be found, but this was not case for all of them.

At first my interest was in monuments, especially those from the sixteenth and seventeenth century, usually showing a kneeling couple either side of a prayer desk dressed in their finery complete with ruffs and hats. Often they were shown holding a skull – what did that mean? Below the couple there were often whole rows of kneeling children, boys facing one way, girls facing the other, and even swaddled babies at their feet.

Quite often these monuments were brightly coloured and had strange Latin inscriptions (unfortunately I did not do Latin at school) and also coats of arms. A good example of this is at Saint Mary’s church, Bottesford in the Vale of Belvoir which has multiple monuments to the Earls and Dukes of Rutland.

One of my most memorable church visits was in Herefordshire. It was mid-December and there had been a lot of rain which had caused the River Wye to flood. I wanted to visit Holme Lacy church which is situated remotely, near to the river. When I turned off the main road to the access road to the church I was dismayed to find it was all flooded. Closer inspection showed that it was only a few inches deep and I could proceed with caution.

I finally arrived at the church and it was quite magical when I pushed open the door and stepped into the gloomy nave in silence. There was a wide south aisle and north transept, and at the end of the chancel was a gorgeous east window. There were also several excellent monuments from the eighteenth century complete with putti and flaming urns.

As time went by, I developed an interest in stained-glass, ranging from very old medieval glass to the most modern. I also perfected my photographic technique, as photographing some windows can be quite challenging. This is now my main interest and I have been lucky enough to photograph quite a lot of stained glass  – from the ancient windows at Canterbury (when I first saw these at the Cathedral I was in awe), to the windows of Coventry Cathedral from the 1960s.

Many stained glass windows have recurring religious subjects, and my religious education has proved helpful in understanding these scenes.

Visiting more churches

In 2015 I moved from Sussex to Lincolnshire and was able to visit more churches and take more pictures, especially of Lincoln Cathedral. The Cathedral has some very good roof bosses with highly detailed carvings. They are so high up they are difficult to see in detail, nevertheless, the artist who created them gave as much attention to detail as if they were at ground level.

Over time, one gets to recognise certain styles and periods of history, although I regard myself as still a novice. It is always inspiring to think of the work that has gone into these buildings, even the humblest church usually has an interesting history, and I can imagine the bands of stonemasons travelling round the country doing their work. Indeed I can sometimes recognise similar styles of work carried out by particular masons where those with a certain style to their work have visited.

It is great to know that the work is still being carried on by stonemasons today. At Lincoln Cathedral, and at others, there have been many new grotesques and figures added to the fabric.

COVID-19 has made it very hard to visit churches and cathedrals, but I intend to carry on adding to my photographic archive and posting images online as soon as I can. ” 

We thank Julian for allowing us to share this edited version of his article about visiting churches. Julian’s photo library is also available to view on Flickr and Geograph.

The Future of 3D in Churches and Heritage

 

In a guest post, Jacob Scott, who is part of the Events and Services Team at Rochester Cathedral, writes about new ways of exploring the heritage of churches using 3D modelling.

Our churches, cathedrals and other heritage sites of all shapes and sizes are full of beauty and intrigue, yet it is often obvious even to the casual observer that either by design, destruction or due to the ravages of time the vast bulk of what could have been seen at these places has been lost. Virtual reconstruction has given our imaginations a limitless canvas allowing archaeologists to tell the stories of sites through centuries or even millennia.

Reconstruction of Anglo-Saxon Cathedral at Rochester c. 700 AD (ctrl + mouse click to zoom).

Three-dimensional modelling of complex and unique buildings from scratch, however, remains time consuming and, thus, expensive. Photogrammetry, a process whereby a computer uses multiple two-dimensional photographs of an object taken from different angles to create a three-dimensional model, provides an opportunity for creating detailed models quickly and accurately. It has seen use in surveying for decades, but the formidable computing requirements have until recently limited its use to large commercial or academic outfits. Over the last few years however, photogrammetric software has been developed for ever improving consumer-end PCs and now even smartphones. This relatively simple process allows the creation of detailed models taking little more time than it takes the capture the photos required; which when uploaded to the internet can be viewed by a global audience. Models can also be viewed with newly released virtual-reality headsets, as well on visitor’s smartphones or tablets.

Tomb in north aisle, All Saints Church, Ulcombe.

Heritage4D uses photogrammetry alongside ‘manual’ virtual modelling techniques to aid interpretation of historical sites and archaeological data, publishing models and media from around the UK and overseas. Being based at Rochester Cathedral in Kent has allowed the construction of several thousand models over the last year from dozens of sites and several archaeological excavations (heritage4d.org/peterborough-cathedral); where every minute detail of a trench could prove useful in future analysis yet is almost always re-covered or obliterated during the course of a dig.

Baptismal Font, All Saints Church, Ulcombe.

All Saints in Ulcombe, Kent; a beautiful 12th century church containing a collection of fantastically preserved medieval wall paintings, misericords and many other features, provided a perfect opportunity to model Heritage4D’s first church. Churches offer the opportunity to create model databases across hundreds of buildings and thousands of collections. Publication of 3D models that are titled, tagged and described can greatly increase the exposure of the church online, with names of graves and tombs available for genealogy queries on search engines.

Carving of wooden misericord, All Saints Church, Ulcombe.

We are still in the earliest of days, where almost everything that can be modelled has not been. As with the early days of two-dimensional photography in the 19th century, every model that is created can serve as a valuable reference for the future; sometimes the earliest visual record of an artefact or feature. Already we have modelled artefacts and features that have since been destroyed or covered, either through excavation or development. All too often in the heritage field it can feel that we’re in a race against time; photogrammetry offers us another tool with which to appreciate and conserve our heritage.

For more information visit www.heritage4d.org or contact Jacob Scott, email: jacob.scott@heritage4d.org

A unique church in the heart of the City…

 

Greater London, DOCKLANDS, St Peters Barge

Navigating the urban jungle that is the Docklands area of London is always an interesting experience… surrounded by the huge glass cathedrals of trade and commerce and yet finding constant reminders of the areas heritage, a bustling and world’s largest trading post, with ships from around the globe gathering to trade goods and ideas.

Docklands has an interesting collection of churches worth exploring, built by workers and company owners, and reflecting a range of architectural styles.

However, right at the heart of the area, between Canary Wharf and West India Quay is a unique and yet perfectly formed church, one which both reflects the heritage of the area and provides services to its current and future communities.

St Peter’s Barge is London’s only floating church and hosts a wide range of activities and events.  It’s also well worth a visit to see the very calm and light space that has been created aboard, amongst the hustle and bustle of the area.

To find out more about St Peter’s Barge visit their website

 

To learn about the history of docklands, view this short BBC film

Virtual technology for churches

Modern technology for opening, interpreting and using churches is getting easier and cheaper to use… 

Guest blogger Chris Jones from LeicesterPhotoDesign writes:

There are three things I have a passion for, photography, technology and churches. This may seem an odd mixture but bringing them together results in opening our churches to a wider audience.

Photography has always been an interest, and since 2008 a profession, I also have been visiting my local churches and completing photography of the interiors and exteriors for my own project on Leicestershire & Rutland churches and others across the UK. In 2012 I was approached by Google to launch their Google Business Views project with 360° imagery of ‘business interiors’ using their streetview technology – basically bringing their streetview views inside.

In August 2012 I completed the first church in the UK at St Mary de Castro in Leicester giving them a Google 360° virtual tour for their spire appeal. From there I have spoken at various conferences on this new technology and its place in helping churches gain a wider audience. Since then I have completed many churches with the 360° tours and recently we created a tour for St Wulfram’s in Grantham.

We were approached by St Wulfram’s to highlight their spire appeal and to create a 360° tour of the church for embedding on their website. Because this is Google’s streetview technology we can extend it from the street and ‘walk’ to the church as below, you can also make it full screen by clicking the ‘view larger map’ for a better effect. It also appears in Google Maps, Google search results and enables anyone from around the world to get a real insight into the church.

It also is easily embedded into websites and you can start the tour wherever you want to. We also advise adding some ‘life’ to 360° church tours, so at St Wulfram’s we organised the Cafe to be open and people (all faces are blurred for privacy) to be in the virtual tour to ensure that the church was not empty.

The photography took most of the day and over 2,000 images were taken to create the tour and it was on-line within a few days, as to cost I charge less than our commercial rates for churches as I have a real interest in them. There are also new enhancements being developed which I am really excited about. Moving around large virtual tours is a pleasure but can be tiresome clicking through all the arrows, what we wanted was a method to ‘jump’ to specific parts of the tour and have pop-ups and embedded information within the tours. This has now been accomplished and we are testing some new technology which allows this. You can see St Wulphram’s with and without this new feature here. At the moment it only works on desktops and laptops but smartphones and tablets will be supported shortly.

Technology is always moving on but at this moment we have some great tools to enable anyone from around the world to look around our heritage and churches like never before. I am sometimes questioned that “surely having such a tour means people would not bother to visit as they can now view it on-line”. I disagree, so many people look for for information on-line and many of our churches are locked or not easily accessible. This allows anyone to have a real insight into their local church or places they may want to visit. Perhaps more importantly your church is accessible to the worldwide public like never before. Google recently did a tour of Ankor Wat, now I know I am probably never going to physically get there, but at least now I can get better experience of this famous landmark.

 

From the church’s point of view: Don Sission from Silkstone All Saints has previously written about Google InsideView in his church. 

NCT Grants: we have given grants to both Leicester St Mary de Castro and Grantham St Wulfram. Find out more about our grants on our website.

 

 

 

 

Churches for Communities: adapting Oxfordshire’s churches for wider community use

Churches for Communities CoverTalking to those on the front line

Guest blogger Becky Payne writes:

Last summer, I had the enviable task of visiting 25 Oxfordshire churches, dotted all around that gorgeous county.

My visits were so I could write about the physical changes made to these buildings over the last 30 years – but ended up being about so much more than merely describing the addition of a toilet and kitchen or a meeting room.

What I was especially interested in (and why the Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust commissioned me to write this book) was hearing the stories of the people who had come together to make those changes – the re-orderings, the introduction of new furniture and facilities, the creation of a modern worship space, or the efforts to provide space for a whole range of community activities and in some cases both.

I talked to the incumbents, churchwardens, fund-raisers, architects, and many other committed individuals who had been on the journey of developing a church and community building project within an historic structure. This raised not only the usual issues when adapting an historic building, but needed additional sensitivity because these buildings are viewed by many as sacred places, and are also greatly loved by their local communities – even by those who hardly cross the threshold!

Challenges faced

I asked them about not only about what they have achieved, but their vision, how they made it happen, how they worked with the wider community, how they raised the money, how they dealt with the authorities, and about the challenges they faced and the lessons learnt.

And they responded with pride, but also recalled periods of exasperation and those ‘remind me never to undertake anything like this ever again’ moments.

Many of these projects took years and involved endless meetings, fund-raising efforts and dealing with various authorities. These were interspersed with highlights such as when a project was awarded that crucial grant as well as awful set-backs such as the theft of the roof lead just after the works had been completed or the uncovering of the unforeseen additional (and very expensive) works.

I never ceased to be amazed at the huge amounts of time, energy and sheer stubborn tenacity that people gave to ensure that their churches remained open as places of worship and that more people were ‘crossing the threshold’ and making use of the buildings. Key to the success of many of these projects was the involvement with the local community. In many cases, the future running of the building is now shared with a community trust.

Special sacred space

Many of the aims of these undertakings were similar, but the solutions were always different and specific to the particular place of worship, which is as it should be. Some involved extensions, others were able to insert new facilities into a west end tower, while others created space in an aisle and, believe it or not, a good percentage retained some or all of their pews. When it works, and is well designed and crafted, the new additions enhance the beauty of the building which retains its sense of being a special sacred space. Many of these places of worship have undergone change many times over the centuries; as one church said ‘we looked into the history of our church and found that every generation had its own vision which determined how it laid out the building. We felt we were honouring this historic tradition by making it work for our generation’.  Even so, one of the major challenges faced by almost all of the churches in this book, was an initial and often strong local opposition to any proposal for change. Sometimes this came from with the congregation itself, sometimes from the wider community. Managing this required sensitive discussion over long periods of time.

Not all readers of this book will like some of the changes described, but at the very least I hope that I have explained how they came about, and showed how they are helping to sustain these very important buildings and give them a future. The intention of this book is to inspire other churches that may be about to embark on similar undertakings and hope that they will benefit from the experience of those who have gone before.

‘Churches for Communities: adapting Oxfordshire’s churches for wider community use’  by Becky Payne, is published by the Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust. All proceeds go to the work of the Trust. 136 pages, 150 colour illustrations. (ISBN 9780992769307)

It is available through all good booksellers, including Waterstones Books Online and Blackwells Online Bookshop (both of which deliver free in the UK). It is also available from Amazon.

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