27 September, 2013
Christ Church in Penrith was built in 1850, originally as a chapel of ease, which is odd, given that the parish church is a mere 10 minutes walk away. Its architecture seems to have been influenced by the neo-Gothic style being championed by Augustus Pugin in the early Victorian period, which means that it has more interesting external features than the other four churches in town combined, although according to the Visit Cumbria website, noted architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described the church as ‘dull’. It is anything but.
Of note are the mouldings surrounding the doors and windows, each of which is terminated by a small carved head, many of which are men wearing crowns:
Some of the heads are decidedly non-regal, however, although it is difficult to judge from a casual inspection whether they were intended to represent scholars or artisans:
Some of the heads are of women, and where this happens the woman is always on the left, which I assume has something to do with right (dexter) having a higher status than left (sinister). In a real situation, the male partner would be on the woman’s right, so that he could have his sword hand free to protect her if attacked, but here he is on her left:
There is another question. All the heads are different, so it is legitimate to speculate whether the original stonemasons used models when creating these carvings, or whether they were the products of imagination. It is also reasonable to ask whether they were intended to represent real historical figures.
However, the church’s most fascinating feature is its gargoyles, the points along the eaves where rainwater from the roof is fed into drainpipes and thence into the sewers. My first thought is whether these fearsome creatures are products of the stonemason’s imagination or whether they represent the members of some mediaeval bestiary, each of which has a name—Astaroth, say, or Moloch, or Beelzebub.
I have therefore included below photographs of all these monsters, starting at the near corner of the church in the first picture above and working anticlockwise. I have deliberately increased the colour saturation and cranked up the contrast for dramatic effect:
There is one other observation to make: dozens of people walk through the churchyard every day—it’s a convenient shortcut—but I suspect that few notice anything strange or unusual about the architecture, even though the through path takes one within a few feet of the church. This is a shame, because it would be easy, and rewarding, to spend an entire afternoon on a single circumnavigation of the church. I recommend it to visitors and Penrithians alike.