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.

Church exploring with our camera

In this special blog post from one of our Friends, Ros Patrick described the joy she and her husband get from exploring and photographing local churches.

My husband and I moved to England from Australia six years ago. One of the first things we noticed was the beauty of the countryside and the next was the incredible age of so many buildings. We live in Wales so we’re in the perfect place for both.

Within thirty to forty miles of our home we have so far visited over 160 churches and we have found it’s a wonderful hobby to photograph them and read their history. This includes finding them in the first place as many are quite isolated and up narrow country lanes. We’ve walked to quite a few for the last mile or so as driving on a road barely wide enough for one tractor is a bit nerve-wracking.

Whole villages must have disappeared as the size of the church is completely out of proportion to the size of the hamlet where it is. Other churches have been surrounded by buildings and parking can be difficult.

As we’re in the Welsh Marches a lot of the history is pretty bloodthirsty, and some families have a sad reminder in the graveyards of the members who died in battles.

We have been lucky as we only rarely find churches which are locked – I feel we should give a special thankyou to the men and women who must open and lock them each day. Some of the locks require a very large and ancient key.

We have found several churches which have workmen doing repairs and maintenance and it must be very expensive to keep such old buildings in a good condition. We have met a lot of people who enjoy their beauty and history and I hope will do so for many years.

You can explore some of Ros’s beautiufl photographs in their flickr photostream.

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