Santa Maria (G6)

I feel after my last couple of Genoese* posts it is time for something a little more salubrious, and so staying in Maddalena, let’s step into the church itself.

The full name is actually “The church of St. Mary Magdalene and St. Jerome Emiliani ” but to all and sundry it’s known as Santa Maria Maddalena, and as I mentioned it is located along what was once a Roman road running through this area, though when the church appeared is unknown.  The first record of a structure on the site dates back to 1140 when there is documentation detailing a fire.  Presumably there was then a 12th century version, but the current structure was begun in the late 16th Century and continued into the mid 17th.  It’s easy to understand why it took so long to complete a small church when you step inside.  Despite the decoration has been update and retouched fairly constantly ever since.

Oddly there are three aisles, totally unnecessary in a building of this size, which apparently were installed in a blatant act of plagiarism inspired by the nearby San Siro.  A Catholic order called the Theatre Fathers had abandoned Santa Maria in favour of  the larger San Siro just before the current structure was built.

As a result of this design there is less light; frustrating for me as a photographer as I was en route elsewhere and didn’t have time to start unpacking a tripod, but I put it down to a deliberate policy to preserve the work inside.

The vaulting over these aisles, the central dome, the walls above the peripheral altars… there are frescoes everywhere, so much so that they become overwhelming and instead it was something else that caught my eye.  The gilding.

I was to see it elsewhere in Genoese churches, but it took my breath away here.  I don’t recall as much of it in other Italian churches that I’ve visited, but perhaps I have and those memories were overwritten by Croatian interiors.  As a result of this, and the dome providing my major light source I ended up developing what is rapidly becoming my signature shot.  Remember something like this in Castle Howard?

*I find it hard not to laugh whenever I use the term Genoese – too many hours spent watching the Great British Bake-Off I think.  I could adopt the Italian spelling (Genova) and refer to Genovese, but that how many readers would give the extra syllable?.  I wonder if I’ll have reconciled this dilemma by the time I finished this series of posts?

Grin twins

It’s about 16 years since my youngest daughter Holly was baptised, and for the most part all went well; parents and god parents said their piece, the baptismal waters weren’t to cold for Holly’s liking, and the priestly double act of Ken and Jen created a memorable service (unless you’re Holly!).

There was one slight problem however.  Partway through the service the liturgy was punctuated by a sharp thud, followed by a slight hubbub and shuffling.  Young Liam, who was only two or three at the time, had slipped of the kneeler and tipped face first into the pew in front, cleanly removing one of his front teeth.  Ouch.

Fast forward to this evening and I was photographing Liam, his sisters and his cousin.

His baby teeth are all long gone, but he still has a gap in his smile (which he’s hiding here).  Thankfully he’s still a good-looking lad (confirmed by Holly) and his twin sister Hannah can more than make up for the smiling…she’s a dental nurse!

Near the bendy spring?

The village of Bywell in Northumberland was once a busy medieval market town, yet little remains of the settlement now.  I was told many years ago this was due to the plague, though I haven’t been able to confirm this by any recent research – it may have been cleared by the landowner for agricultural purposes at some point in history. What makes the place remarkable is what does remain.

The medieval market cross still stands atop a stepped plinth but where shops and houses may have crowded together behind it there is now just green fields.  A little way to the north lies the 15th Century gatehouse tower of Bywell Castle, but it is to the South and West of the cross that you may find something extraordinary for separated by no more than a few yards you will find not one, but two churches with Anglo-Saxon origins.

St Andrew’s has the more complete features of the period; the high pointing roof, defensively thick walls, and the best Anglo-Saxon tower in all of Northumberland.  It is no longer used as a church though the building is conserved.  Although improved and extended in the medieval period its origins go back to the mid ninth century.

St Peter’s was the reason for my visit today as I will be photographing a wedding there very soon.  It was probably built even earlier than its neighbour and is believed to be the site where Bishop Egbert of Lindisfarne was consecrated.  There is less evidence of the Saxon church left here, it having been substantially altered in the 13th Century.

Trying to understand the meaning of old names is often a challenge.  I grew up in a part of Sunderland (another Saxon settlement originally) called Fulwell.  Some would tell you that this means exactly what it says; that there was plentiful water there, whilst others would say that it derived from “foul well”, meaning that the water was poisoned or unclean.  Two very different interpretations!

Bywell is not quite so extreme, but good old Wikipedia states that it means “bend in the river”, which would make sense since it is situated precisely at such a location, where as others take it more literally to mean “by the spring”.  Personally I would question the latter  – why would a spring have such significance with the river so close at hand?

Anyway back to St Peter’s where I was meeting bride and groom to look at the possibilities for photography that the church provided.  This would have gone very smoothly… had we not activated the security alarm as soon as we opened the door!  There may not be many people in the area, but they all knew we had arrived!  Just as the alarm reset itself we were joined by Maddy and Joe who will be singing at the wedding.  They rehearsed a couple of songs and were doubtless glad not to be accompanied by the wailing of the alarm.

They will sound great on the day.  Maddy’s voice is as beautiful as her smile, and Joe’s guitar playing is as understated as his!  I can’t wait to hear more.