Albion, ancient sites, Art, Don and Wen, sacred sites, TOLL, travel

A Thousand Miles of History: At Ease

Leaving Tavistock behind, we headed out for our rendezvous with Alethea and Larissa. There were hawks in the sky and a woodpecker on a fence post as we travelled the green wormhole through the trees. We arrived at our destination forty minutes early and parked the car near the village pond. We had already found both our next stop and somewhere to park while we visited… not by any feat of navigation, but simply by driving past. We had, therefore, nothing to do.  But we had parked next to the village church, after all… it would have been rude not to try the door, which obligingly swung open.

Christ Church in North Brentor is not the most attractive of buildings. It is quite obviously modern, being a Victorian creation. There had been a chapel of ease on the site prior to the new church, but that had long-since disappeared by the time that Isabella Hollwell… an interesting surname… made her last will and testament.

The only thing to survive from the early church was its bell, which still calls the faithful to worship. When the good lady died soon after the writing of her will, aged only fifty years old, the funds were released and, in 1856, work began on the new church. It cost the princely sum of £1,003 and was built by Richard Gosling of Torquay. Bishop Phillpotts performed the consecration a year later.

Christ Church is not technically a church, but a chapel of ease, built to provide the villagers with an alternative to their Parish Church. One with easier access, especially in winter. Later that morning, we would see for ourselves why Isabella had thought that such a good idea.

For now, though, we were content to explore the narrow nave and tiny chancel. From the outside, the church looks quite substantial in size. From the inside, you see how small and intimate it really is and, in spite of the unpromising Victorian exterior, it has a warm and friendly feel.

Inside, the church furnishings are of rich, gold-toned oak, ornamented by a flock of carved angels with truly beautiful wings. They perch upon the font cover, decorate the walls within their gilded frames and watch over the church from high wooden pillars.

There are a number of paintings on the walls, but with just a few exceptions, the impression is one of craft, not art. The tempera painting in the Children’s Corner was created by Ernest Heasman, an artist who had begun his career working for Kempe, one of our recurring stained-glass manufacturers, and he is best known for his work in that field.

The reredos behind the altar is the work of Christopher Webb, yet another of ‘our’ stained glass designers. Both of these artworks date to the 1930s, when the oak furnishings were installed.

There is little stained glass, though, apart from some strapwork, a depiction of Christ as the Shepherd within a vesica, and the east window over the altar, where the ascending Christ is also shown within a vesica.

The east window is unusual…and I cannot find out who made it. The central scene with Christ in the vesica is surrounded by Christian symbols, alternating between vesica and roundel. The colours are particularly rich and I found the detail quite beautiful.

Given what we had been looking for over the weekend, this did not seem a bad omen for the day, especially when we noticed the hexagrams carved on chairs and baseboards, accompanied by the cross pattée … a type of cross favoured by the Templars. While this Victorian church would never have housed the Templars, we felt quite at home.

What gave the place its rather homely feel, though, was the work of local people. The multicoloured tapestry kneelers were created in 1964 by local crafters to designs by Lysbeth Gallup. A hand inscribed Roll of Honour remembers the dead of the Great War, with too many names… and too many the same… for such a small village.

The quilted Mothers Union banner is hand sewn and protected by a glass case. There are fresh flower arrangements adding fragrance and colour to odd corners and notices to show that the church still plays a major role at the heart of the community.

There is something special about that, something that ceases to worry about dogmatic differences and religious divides. Any place of worship, whatever the faith it professes, or any place where a community comes together with the welfare of its people at heart, has a magic all of its own.

There is a verse in the Bible that says, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”. As a child, in Sunday School, we were taught that His name is Love…and you do not need to belong to any religion to gather in that name.

The time of our rendezvous was at hand. The girls would be arriving to share an adventure. We left the little church, touched and surprised by what we had found behind its uncompromising grey walls.

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