Friday, 14 April 2017

St. Mary Ecclesfield - The Exterior

The south elevation of St. Mary's church in Ecclesfield

Approaching St. Mary's church in Ecclesfield from the war memorial, which is set within its churchyard, the structure appears to be very uniform in appearance - with its windows, castellated parapets and pinnacles being typically Perpendicular Gothic in style.

A view of St. Mary's church from the south-east

The original church dates back to c.1220, but all of the visible external fabric was reconstructed between 1478 and 1500, to form an exceptionally large mediaeval parish church with a cruciform plan. This reflects the importance of St. Mary's church in mediaeval society as the centre of administration in Hallamshire, which was once one of the largest parishes in England.

The east end of St. Mary's church

A closer look at the general masonry, when walking around the exterior, shows that the stonework is consistent in colour and texture with no obvious signs of any extensive restoration – both Victorian remodelling or essential repairs – except for the renewal of the tracery to the west window and a few other dressings, where the sandstone is lighter and more uniform in colour.

The west end of St. Mary's church

The massive sandstone, although possessing a dark grey patina, is yellowish in colour and medium grained in texture, with cross bedding apparent where softer beds have been differentially weathered. Its block size and physical characteristics clearly differentiate it from the sandstone seen in the vernacular architecture in Ecclesfield and, although there is no supporting documentation that I know of, it is probable that the stone was brought downhill from the quarries in the nearby village of Grenoside.

The porch at St. Mary's church in Ecclesfield

It is the porch that provides the most interesting feature of the church, with its half-detached angle buttresses linked to the main structure by tiny flying buttresses, which are adorned by a variety of finely carved grotesques.

Details of the porch at St. Mary's church in Ecclesfield

Although some of these have been eroded to the extent that their original form has been partially or totally lost, there are others which clearly depict some very frightening creatures – including one that reminds me of the work of the Irish artist Francis Bacon.

A detail of a grotesque at St. Mary's church in Ecclesfield

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