The Church Monuments Society’s 40th birthday event was a huge success. Ann Norman, one of the founder members, gave us a nostalgic overview of the early years of the Society, illustrated by her collection of study day programmes and other literature. We have come a long way, and we like to think that most churches are now more aware of the treasury of early sculpture and the importance of even the humbler tomb carvings. We now have new challenges to face, though: bats, the increasing incidence of theft and the prospect of so many churches being closed.
David Carrington, our Conservation Cases Recorder (and himself a senior conservator) bravely faced up to the considerable changes in conservation practice over the last 40 years and the fact that conservators are now having to deal with problems caused by earlier ideas on best practice. The scope of what can now be done by new technologies is remarkable, but we are also learning that less can be better.
After lunch, Adam White gave us a fascinating in-depth analysis of references to tomb carvings in paintings by Anthony Van Dyck. Wooden tablets in the background of two of his equestrian portraits of Charles I are reminiscent of the tablets that were sometimes hung on tomb carvings. Even more exciting was his discussion of Van Dyck’s double portrait of Thomas Killigrew and (possibly) his brother. Thomas was recently bereaved and Adam pointed out that he is holding in his hand a design for a monument depicting himself with his late wife and their little son. The monument was never in fact constructed and the painting may suggest that Thomas decided against such an ostentatious commemoration, preferring a painting depicting his grief.
Finally, Roger Bowdler provided a treat for fans of the macabre with an overview of images of charnels and shroud effigies in seventeenth-century church monuments. The Christmas family of carvers specialised in tombs with panels showing jumbled skulls and bones behind charnel house grilles. Roger also looked in particular detail at William Wright’s monument to Sir John Denham at St John the Baptist, Egham. This shows Sir John rising from his tomb at the Day of Judgement. Below him, the bones of the dead are being refleshed and reanimated. Roger’s own photos of the tomb are at https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1189321 (scroll down to the Comments section).
We also managed to hold an AGM at which officers reports were read and our former President Jean Wilson was elected a Vice-President. Sophie Oosterwijk was also elected a Vice-President in recognition of her years of outstanding service to the Society. Minutes of the AGM will be on the web site in due course. And the St Albans Centre provided us with great facilities (including a substantial sandwich lunch with plenty for the vegans).
The day was a great success and we are thinking of doing something similar next year. We can’t be quite as lavish – there will be no free lunch! – but there will be lectures and a brief AGM. More details when we have them. We also hope that some at least of the lectures will be published, either as posts on this blog or as articles in Church Monuments.