St. Augustine lies upon the Walland Marsh in the hamlet of Brookland, Kent. My first site of it was from the north road. Against the sun, its silhouetted mass was struck by the most remarkable C13th angular bell tower. Its detached status gives it an air of testament.
I’ve heard it called a medieval vanity project, but, after photographing the interior, I think it’s more than that.
This structure is a cathedral to the vision and vernacular art and skill of human beings. These people drew up out of the boggy marsh a symbol of adversity against all odds. It’s a structure that has sat in the slip and heave of Walland Marsh for over 700 years.
I’ve seen many marvels in my time, but I was breathless whilst firing off my first photos of the interior. I had to stop, sit down and start again. I had to commune with the sheer magnificence of the space. Beneath the timbers I could sense the weight of the enterprise – the magnificent struts are visual stress corridors (structurally phonetic) carrying the heft of the roof into the marsh.
The people that built it felt the weight of it too – and it’s evident in the ancient beams. The principals are dotted in dark marks, shaped like candle flames. They’re apotropaic – evil warding – thought to inoculate the building from fire. Adjacent to some of the charred symbols are other evil warding marks etched into the timber as if to double up the impact.
Whatever the beliefs of our forebears, this place cast a spell over me, and I’ll never forget the joy of bringing my lens to honour this vernacular cathedral to the people of the marsh.