Sunday, 20 March 2011

Sunday Sermon Parable

Cro has just posted a picture of a wonderful medieval church which is a few miles away from where he lives in France, and I was struck by the height of the main roof over the transept, which reminded me in turn of the Saxon church in the town of Bradford on Avon, a few miles from Bath over the Wiltshire border.

Long after it was built - around 900 AD - this church didn't so much fall into disrepair as became totally ignored, which is what saved it. I wish many other fine buildings had been ignored in the past, then this one wouldn't be so rare.

Over the years following the Norman invasion, the church was built up against on all four sides to form domestic dwellings. The main body served as a schoolhouse for many years, surrounded as it was by medieval additions, and you can still see the joist-holes where a floor had been added halfway up the walls, lowering the ceiling to a more manageable height.

It is a tiny little church, and when they hold weddings here, most of the congregation has to stand on the grass outside - but without a flat-screen projector to show them the action on the inside.

The reason (I believe) that the main tower is so high was to inspire a sense of loftiness in the congregation, who were used to very low ceilings and very small doorways and windows - not because they were all midgets in those days, but because it was a lot easier to heat houses during the long winter months. This is why four-poster beds were invented - you could keep the grand, lofty ceilings in your huge manor house, but have a dedicated, enclosed space to sleep in at night without freezing to death.

In 1871, the vicar of the church just over the road, looked up to see some ancient architectural features peeping out from the medieval rooftop abutments that surrounded the building in those days, and - correctly - guessed that there was an ancient church nestling in amongst them. The church acquired the property, and he set about demolishing the medieval parts of it, until a wonderful jewel of a Saxon church miraculously appeared from within.

It is one of the few churches that remain open to the public all day during daylight hours, and services have resumed there on a regular basis. Well worth a visit to Bradford on Avon - especially if you combine it with a trip to the medieval Tithe Barn just down the river, and the ancient bridge with a 'Blind House' prison which straddles it, in the centre of town.


  1. I think Somerset/Cotswolds has a lot in common with here. Maybe there's a 'Hundred Year's War' stonemason link somewhere.

  2. That church is lovely. I remember you doing a blog post about it a few months back. I looked it up on Google again. It's called the Chapel of St Laurence and was restored by Canon Jones in 1856. I love old buildings. It looks as if more work has been done on it recently. Glad it wasn't destroyed like most of them were.

  3. Delightful churches Tom. Love the one in the photograph - pity there has to be a modern bungalow so near, but still impressive. I always understood that high spires were to impress the congregation that they were nearer to God.

  4. Those churches and many buildings in the part of the world that you live in, have so much character and old world charm that it's amazing that they have been preserved so well! Luckily they have escaped harm and demolishion by war or any fashion. They are a priceless link to the past in a wonderful way!

  5. Oops... I seem to remember already posting something about this church a few months ago, as Molly said. Sorry.

  6. Nooooo! Both posts are good! It's just that I like old buildings and remembered the other one! As soon as I flipped 'Post Comment'I was thinking I'd gone and put too much information out again like I do! And if I have - sorry from me.

  7. No, that's fine Moll - I had a sneaking feeling that I'd already done a thing on this, but I have done so many posts over the last few years, that I had gone all senile and forgotten about it. The trouble is, I'm too lazy to trawl back and have a look.

  8. practically how many could be crammed into to the space?
    did the church have a big congregation?

    In the village of Henllan near to my brothers' home the church tower is seperate to the church itself ( which I believe is rare)
    I read that the reason for this could be that the bell tower needed to "reach" the ears of a wide hinterland so was situated in a better acoustic area.....


  9. In fact, John, the Saxons used to have an annual competition to see how many people they could cram in, and the last recorded effort was 1,834, but they had to stand on shoulders.

    This old tradition is where the fad for students cramming themselves into phone-boxes came from. Sadly, it has now all but died out, as they all have mobile phones.

  10. Ionce went on a tour of the main sheffield cemetery. The record number of bodies in a grave was 96 as I RECALL

  11. Maybe some students might try to improve on that!