It is difficult for our modern eyes to imagine the colour that would once have been present within our oldest churches. The carved and decorated facades, often covered with statuary, would have been brightly painted. Walls that we are used to seeing in mellow stone and whitewash, touched by the ochre ghosts of medieval paintings, would once have gleamed in the flickering candlelight as the frescos borrowed life from the flames and processed through the shadowed aisles.
It is in the great cathedrals that we can still get a glimpse of the light and colour that provided such a contrast to the homespun world when dyes were expensive luxuries reserved only for the wealthy. At St Davids, a high, painted lantern still crowns the arches of the Crossing, drawing the eye ever upwards to the heavens.
Delicate traceries of contrasting stone mark the vaulted ceilings of the chapels, punctuated by highly coloured shields and bosses displaying designs both armorial and symbolic. In the 13th century Lady Chapel at the Easternmost end of the cathedral, I saw a symbol I recognised, the three hares who share their ears.Each hare has two ears…yet only three ears are depicted.
In Christian terms, it symbolises the Trinity, though it has older and other meanings that include and transcend the artificial barriers that we erect between our various cultures and religions. It is a symbol I frequently wear, reminding me of a much-loved friend whose physical presence is far across the ocean yet who is never far from my heart. Other bosses in the little chapel show the Dragon, the symbol of Wales as well as demonic creatures apparently devouring the unholy or perhaps just those who are tempted…
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