Tag Archives: Crowland

An Unusual Bridge and an Unusual Word

I’m afraid this is another post about Crowland, but I hope you will bear with me. It will be worth it if you are a pontist, or possibly a gephyrophile.

Pontist is used to denote someone who is very interested in bridges. Gephyrophile, though translated from the Greek, and therefore a very respectable scientific word, is not, in my opinion, as easy on the tongue. It is also a term used to describe people who have a compulsion to cross bridges. This is not quite the same as merely liking them.  The other thing against it as a word is that it sounds rather to close to a term you might use for someone who likes people called Geoffrey.

My preference would be for pontophile, which is easier to say and spell, and is a word people are likely to use. In fact at least one other person has suggested it on the net. I know it’s a mix of  Latin and Greek, but that has not stopped us using the word television, and if it does irritate a few classical purists so much the better. After enduring (or resisting) both Latin and Greek at school I see this as a continuation of my youthful rebellion.

As a result of a mistyped search I can also tell you that a ponyphile is not someone you would like to have in the family and that pantophiles like everything.

Anyway, if you follow this link you will see, about an inch to the left of Bridge Hardware, a three-pointed shape. This, as the shop name implies, is a bridge. Due to it’s three points it is known as Trinity Bridge. It was built to cross two streams that joined at this point. The earliest mention of it is in 716, and it was rebuilt in stone between 1360 and 1390. The figure on the bridge is believed to be either Christ with a globe or King Ethelbald with an orb (possibly removed from the West Front of the Abbey) or sometimes, more frivolously, as Cromwell with a bun.




The Faces of Crowland Abbey

While we were in the Fens on Wednesday, as you already know from previous posts, I took a few pictures of Crowland Abbey on the way past. A photogenic ruin, stone faces and a graveyard – hard to resist.

The Abbey was founded in memory of St Guthlac early in the 8th century but destroyed by Vikings in 866, an earthquake (1118) and three fires (1091, 1143 and 1170). It wasn’t all bad though, the isolated Fen location kept it safe during the civil disorder of the Middle Ages and allowed it to accumulate considerable wealth.

St Guthlac is depicted in this photograph – he’s holding the whip he used to drive the demons off the island (which is what Crowland was before the drainage of the Fens).  That’s not a blemish in the archway by the way, it’s a Jackdaw flying by.


St Guthlac -right side, second tier, statue on left


This is a cropped and enhanced piece from the picture above it, showing a close-up of St Guthlac, now protected from birds by netting.

The West Front, with its fine selection of statues was completed between the 12th and 14th centuries. Given time I could probably identify most if not all of them. I could also date statues and heads from the fashions they are wearing. That, however, is a project for the future. I need to know more about church architecture before I start on fashion of the Middle Ages.




Wrecks of Ornamented Stones

We gaze on wrecks of ornamented stones

John Clare, Crowland Abbey

I’ve run out of ideas for titles, so I’m drawing on the poetry of local “peasant poet” John Clare.

This is  Crowland Abbey. It’s now the parish church of the town of Crowland in south Lincolnshire but it used to be an important religious community with large property interests. This came at a price, including a Viking raid, riots and law suits (often featuring the Abbots of Spalding and Peterborough) before Henry VIII finally dissolved it in 1539. This wasn’t something unique to Henry, as other countries had also seized monastic assets, including Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland.

Having already been used as the parish church for years, parts of the building were set aside as a church, whilst the rest was demolished and reused. Sorry I can’t be more precise, but as I can’t tell a nave from a narthex I’m obviously going to have to brush up on church architecture.

The quatrefoil shows scenes from the life of St Guthlac. He was a soldier and a member of the Mercian nobility who retired to the monastery of Repton at the age of 24. Two years later, in 699, he gave up this life to live at Crowland as a hermit.  He wore skins and lived on bread and water, passed his time praying and battling demons and, eventually, died in 714.

Eventually a cult of St Guthlac developed and the abbey was built. A cynic would say that the two things were linked, as saints were big business in those days. If they could attract more people, they could attract more donations.

What is now the church was originally the north aisle. The other bits have gradually decayed, probably having suffered from Parliamentary bombardment in the siege of 1643. Oliver Cromwell is often blamed, but he wasn’t actually in command that day and as a I do feel that he gets blamed for more destruction than he actually accomplished. As it was 1720 before the nave roof actually fell in, it’s likely that time did as much damage as cannon balls. Let’s face it, the Victorians did more damage to churches than Cromwell ever did.

Despite all this, it’s still an imposing building, and much more dramatic with the ruins than it would be if it was just a neat and tidy church.