Sunday, September 13, 2009

Three Hares in a Window

At Long Melford in Suffolk there is a magnificent church, interesting in its own right and truly magnificent for what is no more than a small village. Those who know the area won't be surprised to learn that it's a wool church, and it owes its size to the two merchant families of the village who competed with other in ostentatious piety over several generations. The stone is inlaid with flint, which is also typical of the churches of the area.

It was built in the 15thC but the tower was badly damaged twice and the currently visible structure is from the late 19thC. It actually encases the old tower rather than replacing it, so the stairway that takes you up to the bells and the roof is part of the 18thC tower which replaced the original. It has eight bells on the frame, again a very large number for a country church, and both the bells and the frame are original. There is a large Lady Chapel, built later on the end of the church, in a different style and slightly separated from it. A bit strange, it looks.

The views from the roof are worth the climb, and some of the stained glass is very interesting. It includes the only known example of the three hares symbol in stained glass. The following is pinched from Wikipedia, which seems to sum it up pretty well:

The symbol features three hares chasing each other in a circle. Each of the ears is shared by two animals so that only three ears are shown. It has a number of mystical associations and is often associated with fertility and the lunar cycle. However, its precise origins and significance are uncertain, as are the reasons why it appears in such diverse locations.

The earliest occurrences appear to be in cave temples in China, which have been dated to the Sui dynasty (6th to 7th centuries). The Three Hares also feature in 'roof bosses' (carved wooden fixtures) in the ceilings in almost 30 medieval churches in Devon, England (particularly Dartmoor), as well as churches in France and Germany, in 13th century copper coin, found in Iran, dated to 1281.

I don't know why it's there, nor what it's supposed to mean. A reference to the Trinity, perhaps. But it's quite small, like a saucer, and the hares are not complete, nor is it part of any narrative. It's just on its own, another curiosity in a curious building.

No comments: