The Parish Church of St John the Baptist
This beautiful 12th century church lies at the heart of the village and is well worth a visit, with its wonderful south door, an excellent series of windows, a 15th century font, and a tower of exceptional interest.
The church was originally constructed in the 12th century, with various modifications being made through the centuries as a result of fashion, disrepair or fire. The last major modifications were made to the Tower in the early 1950s, when repair work to the lead flashing on the roof caused a fire that destroyed the upper part of the Tower. Around this time several of the bells were re-cast and re-hung in a steel framework - a major operation for such an old church.
There is also a finely detailed 1/40-scale model of the Church, with a roof that lifts to reveal an immaculate model of the current interior.
In 1922 a warden of the church composed a small book about the history of the church. Click on the link to the left to browse through the book. Much of what is written below is extracted from the book.
More about the church can be found on the 'Great English Churches' website, where Mary Curtis Webb has written an interesting article about our church.
This is of exceptional interest as it consists of three sections erected at three different periods. By the end of the 13th century, the need was felt for a larger Chancel. The old one was not however taken down and the walls were used as the base of a Tower, a new Chancel being built further East.
The old Chancel walls were heavily buttressed, and on them the new middle section of the tower was built between 3010 and 1315. This was surmounted by a wooden spire covered with lead, but after 300 years fell into a state of decay. In 1622 it was taken down and the third section of the tower erected. This was built to incorporate a peal of bells. The peal of six bells is considered to be a very fine one, and somewhat heavier than the general rule for village bells; the tenor, 4th and 2nd are dated 1697.
The base of the tower now contains the organ and an exceptionally detailed 1/40-scale model of the Church, showing how it now exists. Two years in the making, the model depicts the church as it was at the turn of the Millennium. Its stunning interior is revealed as the model's roofs rise to the sound of organ music.
The south doorway is well known to church archaeologists and is part of the glory of this church. It is notable for its rich ornamentation and carved Tympanum that has an allegoric design. This has been explained as the animal creation adoring Holy Trinity, the eye representing the Father, the Cross (the Son) and the dove (the Holy Ghost). On either side is an animal, one of them having five horns or ears, both appearing to be rearing up. What animals they represent is difficult to say but one idea is that they may have been crudely carved to avoid the choice of any particular species of animal. “Oh all ye beasts and cattle, bless ye the Lord…”
Most recently scholars well versed in Celtic art have put an alternative explanation forward. According to their theory, the animals are sacred beasts of the Celts known from evidence elsewhere and the bird is a goose, a sacred bird of those times. They are all paying homage to the new religion represented by the cross.
The North door was blocked up many generations ago and now forms a recess which contains the brass memorial commemorating the men of the Parish who fell in the two World Wars. The outside has a wood-mould of two courses; the outer is plain and the inner of cable-band ornamentation, together with another Tympanum, which, having no porch to protect it, is much weather worn. The carving contains, as the central figure, Our Lord holding a cross in his right hand, at the lower end of which presses the head of an animal representing the Evil One. The left-hand is extended over the figure of person emerging from a sort of cave. The idea seems to be of Our Lord releasing a prisoner after subduing Satan, sometimes called “the harrowing of hell” and based on Peter 3 v 28 - 20.
The porch appears to have been erected in the 15th century. Its stone benches serve to remind us that similar seats lined the three walls of the Nave, before the introduction of pews. Most of the worshippers had to stand, but the elderly and delicate could find seats on the stone benches. This gave rise to the saying “the weakest go to the wall.”
The Communion Plate contains a chalice and paten cover dated 1776. There is a credence paten of 1719 and a communion flagon dated 1684. A pewter plate belonging to the Parish Church of Beckford was discovered in the Church of a Mynachlog ddu in Pembrokeshire, although nobody could say how it got there. Enquiries revealed that it had been there since the end of the 19th-century. In 2000 a member of that Church, following a visit to this area, decided to try and arrange for the plate to be returned and this became our millennium project with a successful conclusion and plate is now permanently back where it belongs.
The earliest part of the church is the Norman nave with its 12th century highly ornamented south door. The style of its carved decoration suggests the middle of that century and it is believed to have been built around 1130 in the form of a simple parallelogram – i.e. without side isle or transept. The lofty walls still remain intact after nearly 900 years. As originally designed, the nave probably ended in an apsidal chancel since it could not have stopped with an arch leading nowhere and there is a blocked up window above the arch, which formerly must have let in the light. The nave has a magnificent high-pitched, pointed roof, which contains some wonderful oak timbering. This was revealed once again when the church underwent major restoration in 1911 and the plaster ceilings above tie beams were removed.
The windows form a comprehensive series of window architecture, and it is interesting to note the sequence extending over 300 years. On each side of the nave near the West end, there is one of the original Norman windows and the remains of others can be seen in the west wall. Near the south doorway there is a two-light window of the Early Decorated period and on the North side is a two-light Early English window, whilst nearer the front, on the south side, there is an example of Early Perpendicular style. To complete the series, there is a five-light Perpendicular west window.
There is only one old specimen of stained glass and that is a piece in the Norman window of north side of the nave. It is said to be Dutch of 17th-century and portrays Christ bearing the Cross. In the north wall there is a window that contains some Spanish glass.
The font is again 15th century, octagonal in shape. The panels are decorated with encircled quatrefoils, having centres of four-leaved flowers varying in shape. The pillar has trefoil headed niches corresponding with the panels above. The pedestal and base show traces of the paint which formerly adorned them.
Between the Nave and the Tower, the 12th century Norman arch briefly mentioned previously is worthy of a more detailed study. Concave hood moulds can be seen and recessed orders with zigzag or chevron ornamentations and there is also a string course very crudely carved in cable and zigzagged as though some useful apprentice had been trying his hand. On the outer column of the North side, there are two demoniac heads and a centaur reaching out his hand to grasp a spear. The latter is said by some writers to the part of the badge of St Stephen. Also on the north side, is a blocked up recess which at first suggests a squint and in the angle of the North and East wall can be seen a walled up doorway which gave access to the Rood Loft. The removal of a large section of the column of the south side is said to be a vandalism of the “Three-Decker” period, and was done to make room for the Clerk’s Seat, part of the then popular three-decker pulpit probably erected in the 18th-century. During extensive restoration carried out in 1911 out at a cost of £600, the three-decker was removed and replaced by a more modern pulpit that has since been transferred to the North side, leaving room for the choir stalls which were originally under the tower opposite the organ.
Before leaving the nave it is interesting to know that embedded in the south wall near the Perpendicular window, is an elegant column with a carved capital of Norman decoration. This has baffled the experts, but could mark the site of an early window.
Each month, the Parish Magazine is distributed to the parishoners for a nominal fee. It may be of interest to see what the Parish Magazine used to be like...
In 1923 a church warden compiled a small booklet about the history of our church. You can turn the pages of the book, just like browsing through the real book! Try dragging the bottom corners of the pages to turn the page.