Thirsk Church Graffito

I actually found some graffiti in our chapel a Sunday back. Someone else was preaching, and I like to sit in different places when not in the pulpit. Someone had carved their initials into my pew. It was probably done eighty years ago, so the prospect of offering them a good hiding is pretty small. Yet when I visit old parish churches, I enjoy searching for old graffiti, much of it dating back centuries. I found this little piece at Thirsk in North Yorkshire, which seems to have been overlooked in the guidebooks and online forums (above; and below, top right). Is it a man or skeleton with arms on hips, lips pouting, trousers baggy? Or a haloed angel with wings, singing God's praises? It is fair to say that the artist was unlikely to graduate from art school. One may even dispute whether it is a depiction at all, and not just a series of lines upon which my mind has projected form and order. He is situated by the left-hand shoulder of a fifteenth-century angel’s head (below), which a zealous puritan has seen fit to literally deface. 

I suspect that both artistic offerings were meant to be of angels. One was made by a master craftsman, the other by an untrained guy with time on his hands and a simple blade. One we might consider a work of serious art, the other a quaint historical footnote. Yet both of them (assuming both are in fact portraying angelic beings) fall short of reality. The illuminous fiery spirits of the eternal dimension do not conform to our imagination’s standard. Now, we see as through a glass darkly. A child’s immature scrawl is not much less accurate than our well painted strokes when it comes to picturing eternal entities. If today we marvel at the physical creation, how much more shall we gasp with delight when we see the spectacular array of spirit-creatures the Lord made!

Bless the Lord, O my soul!

O Lord my God, You are very great:

You are clothed with honour and majesty,

Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment,

Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain.

He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters,

Who makes the clouds His chariot,

Who walks on the wings of the wind,

Who makes His angels spirits,

His ministers a flame of fire.

Psalm 104