After Burtons Elephants on Tuesday Gwladys reminded me of their friends across the road, the Sad Cherubs who decorate the pillars around St Algege’s church.
These poor characters have been part of my image of Greenwich for as long as I can remember – they are one of my earliest memories of the place. Their faces eaten away by years of pollution – first from the coal fires and smoke from Greenwich’s industrial past, more recently from the incessant car fumes, these poor little creatures haunt me whenever I think of St Alfeges – horrific yet somehow tragic. Almost as if they have some kind of caul across their faces they appear to writhe and struggle to get out from their stone prisons, gasping for air.
I can only assume that they are the same age as the church itself. I have always been a bit puzzled by the end of the church that presents itself to Greenwich Church St – where you would expect to see a door, there is a portico and a lantern – but a blank wall and railings supported by those cherubs. A rather odd face to show the world – the real entrance is round the ‘back’ and the altar is behind the cherub-wall.
Gwladys tells me that the cherubs remind him of that bit in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the naughty Nazis open the Ark of the Covenant and all the evils of the world come out, and I can see where he’s coming from, but for me these creatures are more pathetic than that. I see no malice in them – just melancholy.
Where I do agree with Gwladys is that they are in urgent need of attention – but perhaps it’s already too late. Short of recarving them and putting the originals out to pasture I can’t see that they are repairable ( a foriegn friend once referred to something as being “immendable,” which I think is an excellent word for these pitiful putti.) They are part of Greenwich’s past – both cultural and industrial – and I cherish them as they are.
Something to look out for on those railings, BTW. There are often small flyers attached to them advertising concerts and recitals at St Alfeges – usually the only way I get to know about these lovely events…