The second post on our visit to the Abbey in St Albans a few years ago.
The first post can be found here.
Where do you start? If the fabric of the building is made of fifteen hundred years and more of stone, then the sight that greets you as you step inside St Albans Abbey reflects a thousand years of art and craft and two thousand years of faith. Even the quotation etched on the very modern, inner glass doors… though biblical… is intriguing and unusual.
The nave stretches… or so it seems… almost to infinity, which is, I suppose, the point of the two hundred and seventy-six feet of arches, dating back through time to AD1077. Glimpses of mediaeval wall paintings between the columns take your breath away and carved kings look down, as they have for the past seven hundred years, watching your progress… and you can only see half the inner length of the church from here.
The very first of the stained glass windows is already intriguing. Although at first glance, it seems a fairly normal Annunciation window, closer inspection reveals it to incorporate a Simeon panel, along with the Nativity and a rare scene showing Jesus as a boy at work with Joseph’s tools, learning his trade as a carpenter. The next window goes on to show panels of the Baptism and some of the parables we have found of particular interest… almost as if, as soon as we had made it through the door, the building was reassuring us of its relevance to our research and adventures.
Above the great west door is another of Grimthorpe’s huge windows. Originally there was once a fifteenth century window there, but unlike Scott, Grimthorpe was less sympathetic in his restorations and imposed a window of his own design on the western facade.
This one is now filled with stained glass designed by another old friend, Ninian Comper, who was commissioned by the town to create a memorial in glass to those from the Diocese who had died in the Great War. It shows the arms and flags of Allied countries and some of their patron saints, including St Alban in the foreground of the second panel from the left, holding the distinctive disc-topped cross that is his symbol and which is rather reminiscent of the Egyptian ankh.
Beneath the second window of the north side is the font, a pale marble basin carved with the shape of the baptismal shell and winged heads. Its simplicity seems somehow at odds with the ornate font-cover suspended above it, carved with gilded figures of the evangelists, yet this disparity seems a common thread within the Abbey.
The simpler forms and styles of a thousand years ago sit quietly beside the ostentation of later centuries. The political grandeur of statement seems gentled by the ghosts of prayer from the old Benedictine Abbey. The extremes of religious architecture sit easily together and the atmosphere is one of peace and beauty, unfazed by the passing of time or the overlay of fashionable extravagance. The Abbey doesn’t seem to mind… its changing face has seen fashions come and go, but at its heart, only the faith of its pilgrims seems to count.