Wednesday 16 September 2009

St Giles in the Fields, St Giles High Street WC2

Not many inner London churches have room for a lych gate, let alone one as grand as at St Giles. It was originally built at the northern entrance, on St Giles High Street, and replaced a rather smaller brick arch of 1687.
The original gate had a curious tympanum with a vigorous depiction of the Resurrection, carved in oak by a man called Love. He was paid £27 for it.
In 1800 the gateway was replaced with a grander, Palladian structure in stone. It was designed by the architect, builder and surveyor William Leverton, who was also, as recorded in an inscription on the back, a churchwarden.
The Resurrection was clearly much admired, as an exact copy was placed in the new arch and the original hung in the vestibule of the church where it remains today. The gate itself was moved to its present position in 1865.
The tympanum depicts Christ bursting onto the world in a blaze of light, announced by angels with trumpets filling the sky.
Beneath his feet, a nasty little imp with bat's wings, tail and claws scuttles off to her master, Satan, who stands in the mouth of Hell at the bottom right hand corner (which is on Christ's left, or sinister, hand). Flames and smoke belch from the infernal regions, as sinners are dragged down to eternal torment.
All along the bottom, graves spring open and the dead arise, some as skeletons, others as rather gruesome shrouded corpses. An angel holds a naked man with one hand, pointing heavenwards with the other. Another man grasps him by the leg, hoping to get a lift to glory. Two women sing and play the harp as they arise.
It is all so busy that it is difficult to make out from the ground - most of this detail can only really be appreciated by zooming in to the digital images.

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