In the few weeks since I had last driven north the countryside has changed. The harvest is in, fields are scattered with bales of hay and the leaves are beginning to turn quite visibly now. Splashes of scarlet and yellow, the first small drifts of fallen leaves and boughs heavy with berries and fruit signal the change in the year far better than any calendar. The sun, however, is shining and the sky a clear blue I hope bodes well for the weekend’s weather.
I had driven up on Thursday to collect my companion for the School’s weekend in Ilkley. Of course, it is a long drive from here to where he lives and you need to stretch your legs…especially if they are as short as mine. So I pulled into the lane that leads to the church in the village of Kings Bromley. There is an ancient look to the stone of the central part of the building there and I had been meaning to stop for a while and visit the place.
From the outside it looks rather grand for a village church but the village has a long and illustrious history with associations with many notable people from our past. It is said that Leofric, Lady Godiva’s husband died here in 1057AD. The tall cross in churchyard has been beautifully restored, the stonework of the church walls is Norman at the centre but with heavy additions and the whole place looks well kept, with that rather well-bred air that usually signals a richly decorated, elaborate interior.
What a surprise then to enter into the quiet simplicity of the building. It has little to show in terms of monuments, gilding or carving. A simple rood screen divides nave from choir and although there are the traces of possible past glories, all that remains of what may have been are faint memories in stone. The stained glass, however, is beautiful and has some unusual subjects. The church is well worth the visit for the windows alone, especially the fragments of early glass, but beyond the visible it has a quiet air of peace.
Some twenty five miles further down the road is another church I have been trying to see. From the outside this small, simple building looks like the kind of gentle village church that I prefer. Here in this very tiny village I expect only simplicity, but hope to find more visible traces of the past as this place too dates back to Norman times.
Taking a shot of the spire a crow flies in and movement higher in the sky catches my attention. A pair of raptors…buzzards probably… are wheeling above the church. This, of course, is always a good sign; I now have no idea what to expect as I pass the three Celtic crosses in the churchyard that, while modern, tie in so well with some of the things we have been working on.
The first thing to greet me was the ceiling… dark beamed with carved angels, each one different, running the length of the church. Fenny Bentley was going to have some surprises, that much was evident. Especially with the polite notice in the aisle that asks visitors not to step in the bat droppings…
It was, in fact, only because I was looking up that, in the gloom, I noticed the painted ceiling of the side chapel. Exploring further beyond the ornate rood screen I found the side chapel with the unusual 15th century shrouded figures carved in alabaster on the Beresford tomb.
It is another reminder that you should never judge a book by its cover, as the saying goes… or in this case a church by its exterior. In spite of ‘knowing better’ from previous experience, I had made assumptions which, in both cases, proved to be wrong. Beautifully so, in this instance, but nevertheless; I had been wrong. The showy exterior had held less than I had expected, the simplicity of the tiny St Edmund’s had concealed a wealth of art, history and colour.
I’m not alone in defying experience in terms of snap judgements, we all do it when we are not paying attention to ourselves and the lessons life has offered us, of course, but that doesn’t make it any better. We have a responsibility both to ourselves and to others not to make these judgements based on surfaces alone as well as a need to truly reap and realise the lessons we are taught by our own experience. This was the first of many lessons to be harvested this weekend and I was thoughtful as I headed back to the car and continued to wend my way through the lanes and hills of Derbyshire.