“The Pinecone”: Forgotten genius
In a remote rural corner of northern England stands a small, deceptively simple-looking church, built in the early 1840s. The church, St. Mary's in the village of Wreay, Cumbria, is remarkable for several reasons. It was built in a style -- the Romanesque or Norman, although the architect called it "Saxon" -- that recalls the earliest Christian churches but that was decidedly out of fashion at the time. (The Gothic Revival of London's Palace of Westminister, with its tower containing Big Ben, was both all the rage and regarded by some authorities as morally and theologically obligatory.) Instead of the saints, Biblical scenes and other customary motifs of ecclesiastical architecture, the windows, stone ornamentation and the wooden carvings used to decorate the interior of St. Mary's depict such natural forms as coral, flowers, birds, insects, reptiles, vines and -- in the semi-circle of high, deep windows at the top of the apse, carved from translucent alabaster -- fossils. You had to look hard even to find a cross.