A gentle reminder to keep an eye on these sculptures and buildings


Ideas and Images in Twelfth Century Sculpture : 

Transmission of Ideas and their Visual Images 1st - 12th C. 

[foreword and afterword by Gillian Greenwood].

includes illustration on 12th century font at Eardisley see Plate 48
(Copy at Hereford City Library)   734.22


The following introduction was written by the editor and compiler:

This book is a study of the intriguing ancient sculpture which survives on fonts, over doorways and elsewhere dating from 900 up to the end of the twelfth century, when the old Alexandrian Ransom Theory - which for a thousand years had been accepted by the Church as the explanation as to why God became incarnate - was abandoned and replaced by Anselm's doctrine of the Atonement.

The Ransom Theory was based on the assumption that a deception had been practiced by the Devil upon Adam and Eve which led them to commit the original sin of disobedience to God's command, in consequence of which the human race fell under the absolute power of the Devil.  God's love for his creatures determined that their ransom must be paid, but the price of their ransom required by the Devil was nothing less than the blood and body of the Son of God.  Since divine justice must allow this claim, it might also allow a method of quid pro quo in the form of its payment.  Thus by a divine strategem the Deceiver himself was deceived, and brought upon himself his own destruction.  God being the fisherman with Jesus as the bait, the Devil, unaware that the human flesh offered was divine, was caught like a fish on the "barb of divinity".

Mary Webb explores the Ransom Theory and shows how it was expounded by Gregory the Great in his lengthy Commentary on the Book of Job, the Moralia in Job.  Being so unfamiliar to us today, the carvings depicting Gregory's account have been widely misinterpreted (for example it is not generally known that Christ was not uncommonly depicted with wings, or even shown as a vulture).  Gregory's description of the Ransom Theory was illustrated according to the imagination of the illustrator;  for example on the Alton Towers triptych in the Victoria and Albert Museum we see Leviathan being hooked like a fish on the barb of divinity, whereas carvings show Christ as a warrior in combat with Leviathan. The versions differ but were widely understood.  Yet over the centuries the Ransom Theory has been largely forgotten.

The Ransom Theory was not the only link in the long chain of intellectual developments to be abandoned at the end of the 12th century.  The sculptured evidence of a much older cosmological theory is still to be seen on Anglo-Norman font bowls and tympana, although its meaning has been forgotten.  These wonderful geometrical designs (for example in the church of Stone, Buckinghamshire) are cosmological schemata whose ultimate source was Plato's Timaeus, their general purport being the harmony of the four elements and humours in the Macrocosm and the Microcosm.  This too is explained in the book, which has been described as a 'scholarly and fascinating read'.  

Mary Webb expresses her concern that many carvings are at risk either through erosion by the weather or by the risk of their dispersal and loss in the event of church closure through redundancy.  They are all very rare and precious, so it is greatly to be hoped that those who are now responsible for the fate of this ancient heritage will acquaint themselves with its unique historical importance, and will take urgent steps to ensure its preservation for posterity.  

Privately printed 2010 by MW’s daughter Gillian Greenwood and revised 2012 by GG in digital format.

Book can be accessed at The Society of Antiquaries of London and elsewhere (list available on request.)

Printed version available from Gillian Greenwood  gillyflower123@googlemail.com       (also on CD).

One source of the illustrations Ghent University's encouragement much appreciated by the author


Another champion for the survival of these works is Lionel Wall 

the following words appear on his site: 

   "Locked churches are now commonplace. Increasing numbers have to share clergy and celebrate services on some kind of rota. The problem is not going to get any easier. Yet churches such as Shernborne and Toftrees, as we can see here, house architectural treasures that should be regarded as nationally-important works of art. If the churches close what happens to these treasures? The Churches Conservation Trust can’t take all redundant churches over! Nobody surely would suggest that Norman fonts and other treasures would be allowed to decay within abandoned buildings? To remove them from their original homes to other churches might be a pragmatic answer, but what a dreadful notion it is to remove the oldest symbol of a villages heritage to another site.

   "This seems to me to be a time bomb for a part of our national heritage that is not obviously on anyone’s radar except the long-suffering Church of England and its clergy and churchwardens. Some cathedrals, controversially, now charge admission either directly or via hefty “suggested” donations. This obviously is no answer even for the most famous of parish churches - the “footfall” can never be sufficient and charges might well deter what few visitors many churches get."

Visit his site and see wonders.