Adults with an interest in creative writing gathered to take part in a Writers’ Retreat. They were invited to St Edmund’s Church and, after a short guided tour, took part in guided writing activities or sat in front of the monuments and soaked in the inspiration.
Feathers bright with tears,
The wonder of what is before me,
The future …
Is there a consciousness?
Is there form?
Will I remember and weep?
Or forget and weep?
Enfold me with your wings,
Protect me from fear
I will listen,
And step forward
Into the light,
Be surrounded by knowledge,
The essence of what I am.
Written by Angela Gaye
The thread of life unwinds,
Becomes entangled with diversions.
There are many paths to travel.
Some are straight,
Winding around danger
There are routes which go far,
Dead-ends are frequent
And barriers to tackle.
Knitted, knotted and twisted,
The thread continues.
A long journey can cause it to fray
Breaking when time wears it out
But rogue or chance visits
May present a sharp edge
And sever the perfect thread too early.
Written by Angela Gaye
I have threaded my needle
From the unwound spool
And start to stitch.
Even though my thread is long
It may become knotted
I may struggle to continue to sew
And plead for a shortened line,
Or be forced
To make a final cut,
The continued line lost,
A mystery never revealed,
My history visible on the sewn cloth
Which can be unpicked,
But never disappearing in full,
Needle pricks show the path of my existence.
Written by Angela Gaye
Isn’t it beautiful? When you stand before this monument, are you moved to shed a tear for a woman taken before her time, or to grieve for her motherless children and mournful husband? Does it rekindle your own losses or act as a timely remind of the frailty of mankind, a hot truth writ large in cold stone?
Take a closer look. Can you discern the subtler meanings in my work? Your knowledge of the Classics does you credit. How clever and wise you are. Let me say, that I, the creator of this monument, appreciate your part in its presentation. I’m glad you’re moved by the story I’ve told. That is what I was paid to achieve, after all. Yet there’s more.
I hear them, you know. ‘Oh, he’s a sculptor’, they say, as one might dismiss a man who herds cattle. An artist, they assert, works with his soul, interpreting visions with delicate brush strokes coaxed from a palette of emotions. It is a gentle pursuit carried out with finesse and refinement, yet delivering such richness of feeling that the viewer is inevitably led to the right conclusion.
An artist, they has fingers stained with colour. My hands are not tinged with ochre or Prussian, but with dirt and scars where the wounds from my labours have healed, time and again. The softness of the fabric you so admire was woven not from the ether with pure nobility of intent, but with hard work of brain and brawn. What I have created is art and craft.
Written by Julia Thorley
Meanderings and Moments
In an ancient landscape sits this ancient church that has known many secrets; shared the lives and the loves of the living – the ones who built it on this hill, in this place. Holds sacred moments of life captured in marble within its grey stones in such stillness.
The sulking dark trees of the churchyard huddle close to its cold stones but the fretful wind that howls around their branches, never disturbs the pale grey marble shapes within.
The stone figures lean in, whispering of lives now carved in Cararra by clever hands and hard metal. Beautiful figures that give life to long dead beauties, tell tales of heroes, wealth and fortune – and now the world turns to see….
A woman of stone, gazing forever with sightless eyes at the house that was once her home. It’s there, through the sunlit window across fields with avenues of trees that mark the way. But she can never return – her flame has been snuffed out.
Another woman, daughter of an Earl – renowned for good works and charity – is not here: an angel points to where she has gone while those left behind look on and mourn their abandonment.
Yet another woman, widowed and parted from her Duke for a short time in life – a Generals daughter, brave, proud and alive to all she governed – her life’s thread cut short – now dust.
And the man, so beloved and lively – known by many names; John the Comic, John the Duke, John the General, John the Planter – remembered always by the sculptors skill, in a portrait in profile, perhaps a sideways look at the visitor.
In a quiet English village, amidst sheep grazed fields, stands this old grey church, enfolding in its old grey stones these priceless, world class marbles, protected and unsung for over three centuries. Revealed now in glory to my wondrous gaze.
Written by Tricia Kirby
First a Frenchman, then a Dutchman, fleeing persecution, seeking freedom to worship without fear, leave the troubled continent and separately land in London with their tools, their charmed chisels, that unlock memories , emotions, curves and crevices, textures, folds and feathers, from monumental blocks of Italian marble.
From their masons’ yard they travel north a hundred miles to serve the great and good whose birthright blesses them with wealth and power enough to make them immortal.
And there in a country church, those characters, careers, and charitable deeds are commemorated for posterity.
Personal grief and regret of wife, daughter, husband and divided sisters contrasts public praises of widows, orphans and fallen women who fear the end of succour.
And now, two hundred years and some, have passed; admirers come and hold their breath at such skill and beauty, that even now still speaks across the years.
But who do they come to revere; the doers of good deeds or the immigrant recorders?
Written by Gail Christy
Van Gelder’s Brief
As you know, Roubilliac is dead, and a monument needed to complete a family set.
I have barely the time to dash off this brief letter and I hope you will be quick to catch on – I hear whispers that your foliage is receiving accolades, and I am sure that a few weeping widows will not prove too difficult.
The work is needed presently (or a start made, at least) and I’ve no time, teaching as I do and with so many notables departing in this cold winter we are having. You will have to make a start and I will provide guidance; oversee your work, inspecting it as soon as I am able. Expect me.
Just this week I have met with the Montagues of Northamptonshire. They wish for a memorial to their dear Lady Mary Montagu, whom it seems was a charitable soul. Her memorial is to invoke a scene of pity and benevolence. You are to create a tableau, a gathering of desperates. Expose breasts, incline brows at despairing angles, gape wide the piteous mouth of poverty. You know the sort of thing. In all you do, beautify the late lady’s works. It is these she is to be remembered for.
There are specifics, but even if I had time to write them, you know as well as I do, they won’t eventually matter. The gist is the thing. Let one scene stand for all.
Far be it from me to force your hand, but the mournful few (who will pay your fee) must be delighted. Nothing short of a crowded scene will sate their considerable grief, so fill the frame. Let this be an ode to charity, a hymn to virtue, a song to selflessness. Tend to the biblical, and don’t spare the sentiment.
This is a coup for you, Van Gelder. You will have heard the rumours of Westminster? It will be an earner, and don’t think that this is the last of the work that I shall put your way. Try not to forget that when you are grafting in the winter months. This is your chance to really make something of yourself.
My warmest wishes, Robert
The light was slung low across the graveyard when first I arrived at the village. A storm had been and gone, leaving in its wake a tangle of elm sticks strewing the path to the church door. The shelter of the church was solace and warmth for the briefest of moments, before the chill of an English December sank its teeth into my Dutch bones.
The Roubilliacs. Exuding their majestic perfection in the quiet of St Edmund’s nave, suddenly there they were, in this most humble of settings. Worthy of a crowd, they posed for me alone and I drank in the work of the great master. Those faces threw down the gauntlet before I had even taken my tools from my bag. Why had I come? The only answer I could give myself was that you had written to me, and so of course there I was.
The empty alcove was an impressive space. I didn’t mind that it was tucked away at the top of the nave, the pride of place having already been accorded to Roubilliac of course. Bathed in the last remnant of winter light, the space under the window awaited my best efforts. My labour of love.
Robert, I did not stint. I wanted to make you proud. I lavished my skills upon the crowded scene you demanded in your letter. Weeks turned into months before the two main figures were done, then it was just a matter of adding some standard puttos to complete the scene. It was around this time that your absence was beginning to irk me. I thought that you would come, my teacher, my benefactor, to oversee my work. I longed to hear your words of praise and these were all I thought of as painstakingly I wrought careful wreath after careful wreath upon the alcove wall.
But you did not come. In the cavernous silence I spent many hours imagining what you might say, until I could feel your breath on my neck as you leaned in close to examine my work: you the teacher, and I, your protégé.
The workmen who delivered my materials gave rough words of praise, of course, as did the Rev. Morgan who visited daily and gave kindly encouragements laced with promises of prayer. How I longed for the confident echo of the iron latch; the brisk, sure footfalls of my teacher’s approach in the weekday quiet of the church.
It was not to be. It was around this time that I began the final figure of my monument to Lady Mary Montagu.
The lifelike angel had always been in my plan, from the early sketches I had made the day I received your letter. Why had I left him until last? Until my energies were depleted, my fingers calloused over with the months of cold work? The angel was no afterthought. No .I needed to be sure of the space. It was what you had said on that first day in your London studio. So, only you could understand, Robert, why this was so important to the success of the finished piece. I had to begin by living with the space that he was to settle in: light as a single snowflake, heavy as the avalanche that could squeeze a man’s breath from his body. My angel was to take up exactly half of the recess.
I began to shape him from the block of expressionless white stone. Gradually, time lost its form as I became absorbed in my labours. The vicar’s jovial remarks died away when they were met with rude quiet; I had no time for pleasantries, lost as I was in my work. Even by candlelight, the formless carrara was as cold as ice, splintering into shape in the near dark as I worked. Only the dull thuds of St Edmund’s clock marked the passing hours, and so absorbed was I in my craft that the first hour of a new day was often followed by the sixth.
As I created, so I destroyed. More and more of my marble tabula rasa lay, chipped into shards around my feet as the strength of my arms gave birth to him. Those sharp marble splinters often pierced my skin, my blood smearing his emerging features. Each careful stroke of my L’Unghietto took me further and further away from possibility and closer to my finished piece. I didn’t need to consult my sketches, I simply half shut my eyes and felt his lines, his frame of stone with its lustrous opalesque flesh. I felt him come right under my hands. I felt him pass from the strange, the angular, to the soft and familiar body that I loved. Sometimes, dear Robert, my lashes were wet with tears as I worked, Lady Mary Montagu quite forgotten. It was my own memory I walked in those hours, and my angel quickened there, half-alive even as my own heart’s pulpy beat sank to half speed in the February night. Together we stood a chance of being human.
Was it noontime or twilight when he was finished? I could not say. By now, the light seemed not to come through the window dominating the Eastern wall, but from within the angel himself. It was remarkable. I fell to my knees on the floor of the nave so that I might better gaze up and admire him.
His hair curled thickly at the nape of his neck and I saw that I had not made some solid wig, but instead each individual curl sprang alive about his shoulders. I think I had captured the delicate strength of his arms, the slender grace of his frame and the curve of each muscle as he bent towards the forgotten widows and children. One hand, outstretched like that of a temple dancer, seemed to gesture at their plight – only I knew that the hand reached for the warmth of another’s body, beckoned a shy student to come close enough to hold.
The drama of my angel’s height added a supernatural presence; his stature enough to turn every head and arrest every eye. He towered over me, his perfect marble beauty squeezing the breath from my chest. In the folds of his supple belly lay the kisses I had squandered, visible only to the giver. The final detail, the ruched sheet he gathered around his sex, like one disturbed too soon from the cup of his lover’s damp thighs. God forgive me for making our bed here, in the nave of this house of worship.
When it was finished, I took my cloth to wipe away my blood from the broken tulip of his face. Then I left him there, pale as moon, white as milk. Een gebroken tulp. Mijn.
I did what you asked of me, Robert.
I made the Montagues a fine Adam to provoke their weeping.
You wanted me to make something of myself. It seems you will never see what I, Van Gelder, made of you.
Little is known of Peter Mathias Van Gelder, the sculptor whose work completed the Northamptonshire Montagu Monuments. Born in 1742, he was at least 40 years younger than the artistic heavyweight, Louis-Francois Roubilliac, who designed the work in the first three alcoves of St Edmund’s Church, Warkton. An outstanding student, Van Gelder attracted much attention in his twenties when newly-arrived from his native Amsterdam. It is only known that he was connected to the great architect Robert Adam. Sources credit the monument to Lady Mary Montagu as being ‘part designed by Adam’. The rest of my story, is, of course, a work of fiction. (Ref: The Henry Moore Foundation)
Written by Kate Beresford
Veil of Time.
Through a tear in the veil of time,
We see these marbled souls
Poised in the glimmering light of eternity,
Where the thread of life has been cut.
Their silent secrets entombed in sculptured stone.
Their detailed shapes entwine,
Their stories quietened now.
Atropos, Clotho, and Lachesis focus on their fatal work.
They cut, they spin, and decide the length of lives
Of those who now are frozen in the sight of Boughton house.
Written by Shusha Walmsley