East Anglian church carving traditions

Stone carving in village churches

Stone carving traditions in churches often date back to medieval times. Ornamental stonework is frequently decorative; for example the zigzag patterning around Norman round arches or the vegetal shapes (usually a combination of leaves, tendrils, and flowers) often carved on fonts and at the tops of columns. There are also very often carved shields, and occasionally sculpture as well (usually animals or people). To some extent, the patterns are determined by the material: limestones and sandstones are easier to carve than marble and granite. Originally stone carvings were frequently painted, and although the paint might now be missing traces of it can often be found.

 

Wood carving traditions in churches

Wood is generally much easier to carve than stone, and consequently often used for more intricate ornamental work. It is also much lighter, and so might be used when something needs to be hung – font covers, for example, are often suspended above the font and feature very elaborate decorative carving. Another opportunity for wood carving is the end of pews. These are often carved into leaf-based trefoil shapes, known as poppy-heads. Pew ends also commonly feature figurative work: animals, people, and sometimes even buildings.

 

Carving in churchyards

Another rich source for anyone wishing to study stone carving is the local cemetery. Because headstones and tombwork are outdoors, harder stones are often used, usually though in combination with the softer sedimentary stones, which gradually wear away.  Churchyards have all the usual geometric and vegetal border patterns, as well as heraldic work. Symbolism is notable as well - crosses of course, but also broken columns and sometimes, very poignantly, an empty chair; also anchors and trade symbols. Headstones also demonstrate different inscribed letter forms, and occasionally there are portraits and statues - people and angels are common.