This morning I sat quietly in Chapel, the back row today, as my normal usual seat taken by a visitor who had arrived earlier (this is good).  The sunlight was bright, low lying today and as I relaxed, contemplated the stillness and the beauty around me I happened to glance up.  And there it was - the Chapel’s wooden panelled roof I have seen so often before.  But today, because of the sun-stream, another feature I had not seen before stood out.

Let me share the roof with you: it is 14 panels long, rising 4 panels high either side joining above the congregation to the apex of the slow gothic arch that is the chancel arch at the front or the organ gallery window at the back.  Each panel (112 in total) - they are a dark mahogany stained oak, I think - comprises broadly 6 equally sized planks - all conjoined by a crossing link beam up and down. It’s simple, it’s fine quality and it’s solid. Reassurring.


These panels are in turn supported by 8 strong, yet simple, bold wooden arched beams. These beams, holding the roof up, rest down onto the strength of the building either the pillars or the solid wall between windows. This is well built classic mid-Victorian gothic architecture.

But below these roof panels - and this is the bit I have never notice before - is some coving, and then a deep carved plank. Almost like a skirting board between roof and wall. On this ‘skirting board’ are cut or carved deep into the wood are eight quarter foils.  To be precise, there are eight quarter foils on each panel length.

And as I sat there, seeing them illuminated by this brief, glorious low laying sunlight, I realised I have never noticed them before.  They are simple and add wonderfully to the design.  Indeed, in the gap between seeing them and typing this - the light had ducked, danced elsewhere and dropped - the quarter foils now almost invisible.  

8 quarter foils carved in each panel length, 7 panels on both sides of the Chapel, and so 112 in the two matching lengths of the chapels roof support. Exactly the same as the number of roof panels as well – this is clearly no accident. Antiqued.  Settled.  Beautiful.  Charming, all are hiding and perched like wise-owls above me.  Ancestors, former worshippers, even former Elders perhaps.  

And seeing them today, gave me cause to stop, pause and think - what else have I missed here, around me, above, beneath and perhaps even within me?  And as I rush these questions through my mind, drifting away from the service I pause and smile. That's fundamentally why I come here and thanks to the peace of his place it works for me.  To ask and seek answers to this question.  What else have I missed, here or in my life?

Come and look at our Chapel. I hope the sunlight allows you to see something for yourself as well.

Ed Fordham, Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, London,NW3.