THE CORBEL HEADS
The wooden beams holding up the roof of the
nave of Harby parish church each rest on a stone jutting out from
the wall called a corbel. These nave corbel stones are sculptured in
the form of strange human heads. They are illustrated on the left
and right of this text, the left hand side being the north of the
nave, the right hand side the south and the east of the nave is
located to the top of the page.
Heads such as these are commonly found in parish churches. They are
given the term “grotesques” and those making strange faces are
called “girning” from the north country practice of pulling
faces. The pulling at the side of the mouth with one or both hands is
common. There is no written record of the motives of the carvers.
Theories put forward include that these devil-like people are found
outside the church showing that evil has been banished. But they are
actually found inside as much as outside. Another theory is that the
seven deadly sins are shown on the north, the seven virtues on the
Looking at the Harby carvings, the first point is that the western
of the row on the north is so crisp that it must be a Victorian
replacement. The two most spectacular carvings are at the east end,
where the head has a left arm pulling at its mouth on the north, on
the south the right hand is approaching the mouth. Leaving aside the
Victorian head, the nine others share the eyebrows running together
at the center and down to make the nose. The expanded stone at the
top of the head to take the roof beam resembles a hat. The lips and
eyes are fashioned in the same way on all the heads, by a rim
equally raised around the mouth and eyeball. The heads stare wide-eyed out over the congregation below.
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