Saturday, 1 April 2017

A Verray Parfit Gentil Knight

This splendid effigy of a knight is from the Church of Wimborne St Giles, a few miles north of here. I was teaching nearby recently, and popped into this church to look around. It is the Parish Church of the Shaftesbury Estate, home of the Ashley Coopers. Perhaps the most famous of these was Lord Shaftesbury, the 7th Earl, the great philanthropist. 
It is said that the statue of Eros in Piccadilly [more correctly titled Charity or Anteros] put up by public subscription in memory of the good Earl, was originally positioned so that it pointed towards his Dorset boyhood home in Wimborne St Giles.
I have no idea who this knight is - some experts believe that the crossed legs mean 'he served in the Crusades' and a lion at the feet means 'a valiant man'.
The legends are many, of gentle knights who undertook pilgrimages across Europe to the Holy Lands, in search of fragments of the true Cross, or the chalice from the Last Supper
I mentioned the other week my fondness for the Pre-Raphaelites, and how I enjoyed the P-R art work I saw at the Russell Cotes Museum in Bournemouth recently. 
Here's a tapestry by Burne Jones and William Morris, showing Arthurian Knights departing in search of the Holy Grail. They did a number of collaborative pieces on the Holy Grail theme [before Dan Brown and his Da Vinci Code were ever thought of]
I am not sure if B-J noted which knights these were - many of the names are still well known, the Frenchman Lancelot, the German Lohengrin, Welshmen Caradoc and Bedivere - but there were English knights too - Uther from Cornwall, Cerdic and Cynric, Kings of Wessex [aka Dorset!] ...but today particularly I have pondered on another local chap, who was particularly fine and noble. 
PIrrifal started his journey to Jerusalem but en route had a deep spiritual experience, and decided to stay in Turkey and help the poor and sick. He produced a book of tales about the people he had helped back to health.  The Pope canonised him 35 years after his death.  
A man who laid down his military weapons to spend his time writing about his quest. Swapping swordplay for wordplay, you might say. Well done, good St Pirrifal. [A verray parfit gentil knight, to use Chaucer's phrase]

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