Outlook Issue 25 Spring 2018
News and Views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
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The making of our church – Iron and steel
This is the second of a series of articles on the fabric of St Mary’s Church building. On first glance there doesn’t seem to be a lot of iron or steel in our church building, but look a little harder and you will see both of these materials all around you. The Iron Age (c.800 BC - 43 AD) followed the Bronze Age in prehistoric Britain. All ages since have used iron in different forms, and steel has been used in small amounts for centuries, but has been produced in huge quantities since the nineteenth century. Steel is a brilliant engineering material – cheap, strong, stiff and, most importantly, very resistant to breaking suddenly, like pottery or glass. The downside is its tendency to corrode (rust) when exposed to air and water simultaneously. Steel is used so widely that we tend not to notice it. In St Mary’s you can find some iron or steel in the chains which support the chandelier and font cover, in nails, door hinges – it is worth looking at the amazing double-forged hinges on the vestry cupboard doors (pictured above). There is a complete steel frame supporting the bells in the church tower, and a steel frame supports the relatively recently constructed mezzanine floor at the west end of the church; you are probably unaware of this, as it is totally encased in oak. So there is much more iron and steel in St Mary’s Church building than you might think. Symbol of strength It is interesting to note that in the Hindu Tradition iron is seen as a heavy, dark material unsuitable for incorporating in temples or spiritual buildings. According to the Ancient Greek poet Hesiod, the first age, at the beginning of time, was known as the Golden Age, which declined into the Silver Age; next came the Bronze Age, followed by what are known as the Heroic Ages, until the arrival of the current Iron Age, a time of selfishness, burdened with weariness and sorrow. By contrast, the qualities of iron and steel have been used as a symbol of strength – take, for example, Superman, man of steel, or Stalin, meaning ‘man of steel’ in Russian. Much of the early art of the Russian Revolution depicted industrial workers with steel girders to show that these workers were powering the revolution. A more subtle reflection on the qualities of iron is given in Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘Cold Iron’, where there is a series of examples of how ‘iron, cold iron, is master of them all’. Starting with iron in swords, then cannon balls, finally it is the cold iron in the nails that pinned Christ to the cross which is master of men all. Out of this comes, not the bombast of a revolution, but forgiveness and redemption. John Davis