Riddles of the Night – Templar Shadows (1)

Sue and Stuart opening the Riddles of the Night weekend at Baecca’s Well.

It began at Baecca’s Well…

Sue and Stuart have run many successful weekends in the course of the Silent Eye’s short history, but the start-point for this one had a rather mundane location, given the ancient and exotic hill-forts for which they are best known.

“We’ll meet at the far end of the Recreation Ground on the Matlock road just out of the centre of Bakewell…”

Recreation ground, I remember thinking, with a smile, when I read it. Which just goes to show how wrong you can be…

*

From Baecca’s Well

Via All Saint’s Spire

*

To a rocky height

That holds initiatory fire…

*

We’d never done this before: used clues like a treasure hunt to seed the next location in the ‘chase’ for knowledge. It worked really well. At the well, Stuart and Sue gave out the first envelope to be read, the text is above.

We were all standing around the stone edifice that marks the site of the ancient Baecca’s Well as we considered the words. The first clue was relatively easy, given that we had been told that the Friday afternoon was to be within Bakewell, the geographic base for the Riddles of the Night weekend.

Derbyshire is famous for its annual well-dressing festivals at the end of June each year. This ancient tradition goes back beyond recorded history; and its origins are not often discussed by the locals. Baecca’s Well is one of the sites used. Its location is only mundane from the perspective of its modern proximity to the large recreation area that borders on the large cattle market site. Between them, they cover many acres, so the visitor to Baecca’s Well is left standing in a far corner of a huge open space and beside a main road. The local council has done its best to offset this by surrounding the well with a stone-enclosure, with small garden.

The Derbyshire town of Bakewell is an absolute gem. In early December, with its lights twinkling all day, it feels as ‘Christmassy’ as you can get. If you run a workshop at this time of year, you have to allow for adverse weather. Bakewell offers some wonderful diversions (tea and Bakewell tart parlours, for example) which can make up for inclement weather… or you can just tough it out on the hills…

Fifteen minutes later, still on foot, we were climbing the hill towards Bakewell’s famous parish church. All Saints’ is built on Anglo-Saxon foundations. The present church was begun in the 12th century, but our two guides focussed us on developments in the 13th, when the present tower was constructed. We were pointed at that tower as a first clue by the use of a leminscate (the infinity symbol, resembling a figure 8)

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The eight-sided tower of All Saints was added in the 13th Century, and is very unusual…

The symbolism of the tower was to be the key to something very special about All Saints’: the use of eight-sided symmetry. The tower was the heart of the rebuilt church in the mid-13th century, a time of much speculation about the fate of the vast Knights Templar organisation, whose full wealth has never been traced, following their supposed extermination in France in 1313. Stuart’s latest post, here, goes into more detail using his usual excellent graphics.

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The church of All Saints was restored under the sponsorship of Sir Godfrey Foljambe and his wife. A monument to them is dated 1377, which fits well with the Templar theories. Their coat of arms, below,  adds to the evidence for a prosperous French connection.

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The crests combine the fleur-de-lys motif of the French Plantagenet house with the shells associated with the Templars’ protection of pilgrim routes to holy sites, such as Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela.

Another unusual feature of the church is the use of St Michael in place of St George in the ‘dragon-slaying’ story associated with early English history. Additionally, the spear, which normally just touches the dragon, has it pierced in such a way that it pins the ‘beast’ to the inner frame of the enclosing wheel.

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St Michael ‘pierces’ the dragon’s mouth, pinning it to the enclosing circle.

The ‘dragon-slaying’ motif is part of a spectacular reredos work, engraved in wood. We have studied this, before, and found it to be a very mystical image. Christianity has largely lost touch with its mystical past, but in images like this, the intimate sense that something deeper than a morality play is being taught is very strong.

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The reredos, upon which the crucified Christ rises from the ‘slain’ dragon within the circle. The Christ figure is supported by the higher dragons…

Were the elements of All Saints church all there was of these strange associations, the weekend’s search would have ended in Bakewell, but the many ancient sites around the town held some startling surprises, as our next clue hinted:

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But that next stage in our understanding of the Riddles of the Night would have to wait until the following morning… Saturday. For now, the lights were coming on all around the town, and our evening meal beckoned.

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End Part One

© Copyright Stephen Tanham

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