Mischa Park-Doob
Art H 150, Seidel


Two Spaces on the Fringe of the Architectural center in
"A Month in the Country"

          The medieval church of Oxgodby defines itself as an architectural space in a variety of ways: its thick, unadorned stone walls give the impression of intense permanence and conservatism, which lend themselves well to the community of devout churchgoers that periodically come to be enclosed in the church's vaulted central chamber. But as a foil to the rigidly regulated main chamber and its rigidly conservative pastor, the church also contains the lonely, un-cared-for belfry, and is surrounded by a deserted grassy field. These two fringe areas are both a part of the ensemble making up the church's architectural space, yet they exist outside the influence of the symmetrical rows of pews and Reverend Keach's regularizing hands—it is in or near these fringe spaces that the original painter and a man named Pierce met their deaths and became excluded from the secure church community. In these same spaces Mr. Berkin and Mr. Moon find peace from their war memories while staying outside the church's strangling dogma, and by their actions they symbolically bring peace to the troubled souls of their medieval counterparts.

          The original painter of the fresco fell to his death shortly before finishing his work, and the church later rejected his efforts by covering them with whitewash. We might not immediately assume that he was rejected by his community, but O'Conner specifically links Berkin's realization of the painter's fall with the image of Pierce being pulled to hell in the fresco, drawing a parallel between the two. Hundreds of years later, Berkin works in the same high, removed place, standing on artificial scaffolding rather than the actual church floor, which separates his actual ground from that of the community members observing him below. From here, as well as from the even higher and further removed belfry, Berkin observes and scoffs at the dogmatic displays of piety below, and creates a space all his own, into which he is reluctant to allow outsiders. Within the security of his vertical separation, he retraces the artist's work and learns minute details of his personality and physical form, so that by removing the whitewash he in effect becomes the artist and repaints the fresco for him, finally redeeming a centuries-old wrong while simultaneously losing his stutter and coming to peace with his traumatic wartime experiences.

          Just as Mr. Berkin inhabits the sight of the wrongdoing against the painter, Mr. Moon inhabits the sight of the wrongdoing against Pierce: Pierce is buried in a hidden, unmarked hole in the field outside the graveyard, and Moon likewise buries himself in a hidden hole, which he inhabits like the living ghost of the man whose bones he's been hired to find. The crescent pendant around Pierce's neck and on his forehead in the fresco symbolizes his status as a pariah (perhaps because of his religious beliefs—it's not entirely clear), and Moon's homosexuality likewise casts him as an outcast among his modern peers. As a kindred spirit, Moon unearths Pierce's bones, undoing the dishonor of being buried apart, but forever adjacent to, an unwelcoming community, and saves the pendant from the greedy fingers of Colonel Hebron. His discovery of the foundations to a Saxon chapel suddenly increases the sacredness of the ground outside the church's graveyard, easing the pain of Pierce's rejection while also bringing peace to Moon's traumatic memories as he reclaims his worth as an archeologist.

          While the painter and the man named Pierce had very different experiences at the hands of their church community, O'Conner draws a link between them, and between there common redemption, in the scene where Moon and Berkin simply sit together on the field, enjoying the last days of summer and reminiscing on how they have changed.