In some churchyards you might discover these black, bulbous balls growing on trees.
They’re known as King Alfred cakes, cramp balls or coal fungus… because a king possibly burnt some buns in the 9th century, they warded off cramp and because they’re good firelighters.

#thread
The nickname King Alfred cakes comes from the legend of how, in a bid to escape the Vikings, King Alfred fled to the Somerset Levels, where a peasant woman gave him refuge.

2/
Unaware of his majesty, the woman tasked Alfred with keeping an eye on some buns as they baked. Alfred was a bit preoccupied, forgot about the buns… and they burnt!

🖼: King Alfred burning the cakes, Sir David Wilkie, 1806

3/
It’s not a far stretch to see these black botryoidal fungi as charred cakes. Tho, it’s uncertain whether there’s any truth in the burnt buns story, as the first written evidence for it dates to a hundred years after Alfred’s death.

4/
These fungal swellings are also known as cramp balls. In the Middle Ages, they were carried as charms to protect against cramp and fever. 

5/
Perhaps most interesting, isthe fungus’s role in prehistory as a firelighter. An archaeological excavation of a 7,000-year-old settlement in Spain found remains of this ‘coal fungus’, which was used as kindling. 

6/
The botanical name for these prehistoric protuberances is Daldinia concentrica. It is a saprotroph – that is, it lives off dead and decaying wood. When cut open, the silvery black interior is formed of concentric rings. 

📸: björk s...

7/

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More from @friendschurches

6 Apr
Have you seen #TheTerror season 1?
It’s a gripping portrayal of 19th century Arctic exploration, and the true tragic events it’s based on are linked to this deeply moving memorial in St Mary’s church, Hardmead ...

#thread Image
If you haven’t watched (or read the book), Sir John Franklin leads an expedition in 1845 to complete charting a North West passage through the Canadian Arctic. When the ships become ice-bound, the crews battle the elements, disease and starvation (& other-worldly terrors).
The historical ‘Lost Franklin Expedition’ was an infamous example of Victorian exploration and bravado, and its tragic outcome is still shrouded in mystery and horror.
Read 11 tweets
5 Apr
Grandson of a king called “superbus tyrannus”, 7th-c Cynhaiarn lost his brother and father in battle. Another brother was mauled by animals but pieced back together like Frankenstein’s Monster…

To escape, he paddled out to the middle of a lake and built a cell there...

#thread
We know very little about St Cynhaiarn. He was the son of Cyndrwyn. His brother was Cynddylan, who plundered Lichfield monastery and slaughtered “book-clutching monks”. Upon Cynddylan's, his sister Heledd wrote Canu Heledd – a series of short poems describing her loss.

2/
After this tragedy, Cynhaiarn and some his brothers turned to God. And to learn, they went to none other than St Beuno.

St Beuno was a popular guy. To get away from pupils and parishioners, he used to wade out into the middle of a river at and kneel on a stone to pray.

3/
Read 8 tweets
3 Apr
We’re delighted that roofing works at St Mary’s, Long Crichel, Dorset are complete. Long overdue, works included repairs to the oak wall-plate, renewing handmade plain clay tiles, installing new hamstone eave slabs and ridge tiles, and reinstating the angel in the apse.

#thread Image
The roof at St Mary’s is a king-post truss design, and ranges from 15th century in parts to 1850s in others, as the church was largely rebuilt after a fire in the early 19th century. We found the wall plate to be decayed in places, and new sections were spliced in.

2/ Image
When the builders started stripping the roof, they found that a vast number – far more than anticipated – of the clay roof tiles were cracked, disintegrating, defective. We ordered new handmade clay tiles, and managed to reuse about 50% of the existing tiles.

3/ Image
Read 7 tweets
25 Mar
Around the font at St Mary Magdalene’s, Caldecote, you’ll find small circular hollows where the stone was ground out. The stone dust was mixed with wine or water, and drunk as medicine, a small cure all – or ‘poor man’s aspirin’ as it was known on the continent.

#thread
Medieval graffiti expert, @MedievalG, recently wrote an excellent blog on the etchings all over the walls, floors and doors of this weather-beaten, diminutive church. When writing his blog, he explained to us about these curious dots.

2/
Matthew explained how the ground stone dust from a consecrated building, and thus carried God’s blessing, and when mixed with liquid, was a general cure for all ailments.

3/
Read 6 tweets
24 Mar
A bird's eye view of St Mary's, Mundon in Essex.

This wonderful brick and timber medieval church has been in our care since 1975. Before we adopted it, its fate was a race of how quickly it could collapse or be demolished...

#thread
We've undertaken many phases of repairs over the past 45 years, but with damage from an errant V-bomb in 1944, dereliction and vandalism in the 1970s, and the unstable soil, this is a church that needs a lot of care.

2/
St Mary's will always be a work in progress.

We’ve just completed repairs to the woodwork: windows, beams and boxpews. We've also installed monitors throughout to help us understand how, why and when the church is moving, so we can develop a plan for structural repairs.

3/
Read 4 tweets
19 Mar
The mountain oak used to form the trusses at St Brothen’s, Llanfrothen were felled in the 1490s. At eye-level, they create a diminishing diamond shape. They form a continuous roof over the nave and chancel. It runs to 73ft (22m) and it takes 14,500 slates to cover it!
#thread
The church building dates to the 1200s, but the arch-braced roof trusses and cusped wind braces form a late 15th – early 16th c roof. They’re still doing their job perfectly. 
The site slopes from east to west, and until the 19th century, the church was part of the seashore.

2/
We’ve recently re-roofed the entire church. This was the first time in about 150 years the roof had been overhauled. A combination of slipped and broken slates, and nail fatigue meant we had to strip everything back and create a watertight covering.

3/
Read 7 tweets

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