JOURNAL., Various Contributors (May, 1895), pp.282-285.

WITH brilliant sunshine on a winter’s day, and the snow lying pure and white on the ground, as it sometimes does in Glasgow, the visitor to the Cathedral will be surprised at the wealth of colour and gilding revealed in the vaulting of the aisles of the choir and nave. And he will be led to reflect that in mediaeval times the painter had his proper place assigned along with the mason and the sculptor. In St. Bride’s Church, Douglas, the painter was called in to aid the sculptor in his highest flights – to decorate with colour and beaten gold the tombs of the famous Douglases. In Aberdeen Cathedral the oak ceiling was adorned with the arms of Emperor and Pope, of kings, bishops, and nobles. Of humbler efforts on the plastered walls the works at Pluscarden and Dryburgh may be noted, although these are of little merit, and are not to be compared with the few square feet of vigorous drawing in black and red on the walls of the dormitory at Lanercost Priory. To the almost complete destruction of the carved woodwork of screens and stalls we owe it that nothing can now be shewn in Scotland like the paintings on the Rood Screen of Hexham Abbey or the Choir Stalls of Carlisle Cathedral. Yet the records of Dunkeld leave no room for doubt that such work existed.”

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“IT is with a pleased surprise that we learn from Mr. Bonnar’s paper, read to the Edinburgh Architectural Association, that the lower church of Glasgow Cathedral was once, to his knowledge, brilliantly painted and gilded. It is true that a statement to this effect has passed in a sort of under-current, although every description of the building which has been published since the beginning of the present century, when this part of the cathedral was used as a burial-place, makes it clear that the walls were decorated in a lugubrious fashion in black and white, the white “tadpoles,” by a symbolism truly primitive, being intended to indicate tears. A careful and accurate description of the earlier decoration would be of the greatest value, and it would be interesting to have it stated on authority that the carved bosses of the vaulting, which are beautiful examples of thirteenth century foliage and scrollwork, were treated with gold and not with colour.

The artists of the whitewash period were not confined to Scotland, and probably the only mediaeval building of any considerable size in Britain which preserves the tones and shades which come with the centuries is Westminster Abbey. In many cases it is true that the whitewash had disappeared at the point of the chisel. Glasgow Cathedral, however, suffered less in this respect than many other buildings. The use of the chisel in such circumstances is to be deprecated in every case; and yet the more modern use of virulent chemicals is not an unmixed good, and the evil will be the greater if colour has formed part of the scheme of the early decoration.”

*     *     *     *     *

“MR. FALLOW in the Antiquary this month usefully registers the characteristics of a degenerate form of miracle play in Yorkshire. Until a few years ago the Sword-Actors, as they were called, constituted a genuine local and traditional institution of the West Riding, where, however, their cult is now practically obsolete. They were caught in the act some fifteen years ago by the amateur photographer, and a motley show they now make when once more called before the curtain – pictorially – in the page of our contemporary. Everywhere the parochial drama has a severely restricted groove. These Yorkshire youths had but two favourite plays, the “Peace Egg” and the “Seven Champions,” in both of which St. George was the hero. St. Andrew, doubtless to stamp him as emphatically the Scottish Saint, carries a rampant lion on his shield. Nor does that heraldic emblem exhaust his indications of national preference. Not only does he wear a cap and feather and a plaid, but, if the dimness of the plate does not mislead, he has clothed his nether person in a truly marvellous but incompatible combination of a tartan kilt, with trousers!”

*     *     *     *     *

“TO connect the Nidstaeng, or pole of infamy of the Goths, with the curious practices known as Riding Skimmington and Riding the Stang appears at first sight to be a far cry. A good contribution on these two latter English customs in the Journal of the British Archaeological Association for March suggests the probability of this connection, while admitting the slenderness of the argument for it. In early English history the epithet Nithing marked the extreme point of disgrace, the lowest pitch of degradation. Although no allusion to a pole is made in the references to that ignominiosum vocabulum, as Matthew Paris called it, this is far from a conclusive objection to a practical unity of the Gothic and early English institutions. Mr. Barrett would seem to be unaware that a closely analogous symbolic denunciation was in use on the English and Scottish Border. If a marchman broke faith – an offence against honour severely reprehended by the Border conscience, seared though it was against many other misdeeds – his unworthiness was with due formalities declared at the next Warden Court, or marchmen’s meeting. A spear was held aloft on which was fixed for public scorn a glove presumably that of the mansworn defaulter, who had pledged his word but had failed in observance. Thus was published his disgrace: he was literally “posted” as a dishonoured man whose word could not be relied upon, and he was to all intents and purposes outlawed. “Eftir this maner thay use I say,” are Bishop Lesley’s [1527-1596] words in his History as translated (Scottish Text Society, ed. i., 101), “to put a gluve upon the poynte of ane speir in exprobatione and schame of him quha crakit his creddence, rydeing of sik a maner throuch al the people schaweng it out.” ”

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” “RIDING THE STANG” was a rebuke to conjugal infidelity effected by mounting sometimes the actual offender, but oftener some one else, astride a pole and carrying him or her about the place of the parties’ residence so as to call public attention to the scandal. The connection, if there was any, between it and the Nidstaeng or its analogues must have been somewhat remote, except in so far as each was a manifestation of popular opprobrium. It was a practice known on both sides of the border, and has scarcely yet died out in England. Mr. Barrett’s article reproduces an odd representation of the performance from a brass at Lynn showing a woman borne shoulder high upon a pole by two men – a situation which naturally had its inconveniences.”

Riding the Stang

“Riding the Stang” by Alex Eeles.

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