Doors – division or welcome. Storms were rightly forecast for Sunday when we set off on our weekly adventure after an early visit on Saturday to Beverley market, already crowded with all who are convinced that early pickings are the best. I prefer calmer afternoon shopping. We set out with our picnic sandwiches, consumed sitting in the car while watching an intrepid red robin hopping along the top of a field gate. We planned to return to unexplored areas of the wetlands or ‘ings’ by the river Derwent, hoping for the repeat of a flamboyant winter sunset echoed in the mirror of the vast, flooded water plains.
Except that they had receded and the ‘ings’ were being dried out by winds about to turn into a gale. A church tower beckoned shelter as we walked through a village that, deserted even by the most intrepid dog walkers, lay silent. Its semi-circular Romanesque arch had five bands of perfect twelfth-century dog tooth, egg and dart and more decorations with a mischievous smiling face keystone at the centre, right above us if we could have entered. The plain door was firmly closed beneath the intrepid invention of masons and stonecutters, illiterate maybe but visually eloquent. There was wit and mischief in the face on the keystone, almost winking at us had we been able to enter underneath ‘shim’. Was it the not uncommon medieval fertility figure of the ‘green man’ where couples kissed before the mistletoe myth was invented? On the other side of the church was the priest’s door, much narrower but surrounded by a boldly simple motif of stone balls, with regular spaces between them, attached to the stone frame – bobbles or knots of rope, a fun surround for eyes to juggle and hands to fondle? I could imagine the priest rushing in, dodging the parishioners to aim for the vestry and enrobe, just before appearing, calm and dignified in front of the altar to welcome the expectant congregation. Thus, for centuries. So far, so familiar.
Inside, the surprise. The original large wooden thirteenth-century door stood at an angle blocking the main entrance where it had once stood. Adam and Eve began their journey high in the top left-hand corner above a mighty iron hinge splaying out over one-fifth of the door. Below, almost haphazardly, a ship – a Viking one from the shape – was afloat, but without a crew. Further down on the left was a strange motif of iron shafts in a haphazard star shape, its meaning lost in the passage of centuries. Entangled anchors? To all the mostly illiterate farm-working parishioners who, over eight centuries, passed by it to enter the church under the green man, it would have spoken intelligibly. Now it is strangely detached and preserved from all damaging elements except, perhaps, of ignorance.