I’ve been remiss in not sharing more of my photos from this past summer in the UK. Where to start? How about with a 14th-century tithe barn:
A tithe barn was a type of barn used in much of northern Europe in the Middle Ages for storing tithes—one tenth of a farm’s produce which was given to the Church. Tithe barns were usually associated with the village church or rectory and independent farmers took their tithes there.
Back in early July, Rachel and I spent three days visiting friends in the town of Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, and a short distance from their apartment was this magnificent 14th-century barn, part of a farmstead belonging to the Shaftesbury Abbey. English Heritage calls it “a spectacular 14th century monastic stone barn, 51 metres (168 feet) long, with an amazing timber cruck roof.” (A cruck is a curved timber.)
The roof was certainly its most striking feature, along with its sheer size.
You could look straight up through to the slate tiles. As with any barn, of course, the necessity for good air circulation had to be balanced with the necessity for keeping things dry. It was interesting to see how they solved the air-flow problem with only slits for windows, and I also wondered whether the barn had ever doubled as a fortress — it certainly looked defensible.
I’ve always been kind of a barn nut. A large barn can feel a bit like a secular cathedral — and the blood rites enacted in many barns offer a further point of comparison. So I was charmed by the cross-shaped openings at either end,
not to mention the stone buttresses, reminiscent of a Romanesque church.
And the massive doors had a definite “grain in, sinners and tares stay out” kind of vibe.
Just across the river and up the hill is an actual Romanesque church dating back to Saxon times:
You can see what I mean about the similarity in architecture. Metaphors in the Bible about sheep and tares might seem quaint today, but to Medieval peasants they would’ve sounded like a direct commentary on their day-to-day lives. So it kind of makes sense that big barns would’ve looked like houses of worship — or vice versa.