“You’re just a pair of churchaholics!” It was, I have to admit, a fair description from my son. Stuart and I have spent the past few years descending on ancient sites and medieval churches, armed with a camera, a little knowledge and some imaginative and innovative theories. You would not believe the number of beautiful old places we can find within a stone’s throw of my home.
We have been lucky to find many of them standing open for visitors, and among the others have been fortunate with access. From the wedding party who invited us in to share the church while they waited for the bride, to the bell ringers, to the tiny jewel of a place, always locked, where we were invited in before Matins one Sunday.
Not to mention a number of equally ancient hostelries we felt obliged to visit, just by way of duty, of course, the body also requiring nourishment. …
One morning as I took my friend to the station, we had arrived early and just happened to see an interesting tower… so we took a slight detour.
Having possessed ourselves of the huge cruciform key from the old vicarage we opened the door into wonderland. I can think of no other way to describe the place.
As we entered the ancient building, with its characteristic smell of damp and mortar, and closed the heavy oak door, we looked up and gasped in astonishment.
The stained glass alone, glowing like forgotten jewels, would have been worth the visit. Vibrant against the grey skies outside they capture light and channel it within the dim interior of the church, a reminder of the Light Itself, all colours resolving into One. The great Bible chained to its lectern, the corbels carved as heads… it was a delight on many levels.
But it was the paintings… the incredible paintings five, six hundred years old and still glowing, that caught the attention. From St George subduing the dragon above the door, watched by the Princess, to St Helena and the Cross, to the weighing of Souls where the Virgin tips the scales in the soul’s favour, to the gruesome dismemberment of the body of Jesus… an abjuration against swearing and blasphemy… and the painted collection of workman’s tools and horseshoes… just breathtaking. Not even the texts of the Reformation painted over the older work in places could dampen the sheer exuberance of the place.
We are incredibly lucky here in England to have so much of our nation’s history preserved and accessible. That same day, I wandered back the long way home.. it had to be done..
I passed through Woburn where a cross once stood, marking the resting place of Queen Eleanor’s body on its journey to London in 1290. I meandered through Soulbury where a village street is marked by a boulder, said to be the foot of the devil turned to stone. I drove through Wing with its ancient church dating back 1300 years, with Roman brickwork in its crypt built on the site of an ancient pagan temple, passed the even older ‘castle’ and prehistoric Icknield Way. I passed the Holy Well of St Osyth in Bierton,the saint was king’s daughter born in the hamlet of Quarrendon here and beheaded by marauders in AD700…
And eventually arrived home, to an apparently unremarkable village where a Roman vineyard lies hidden beneath the schoolyard, where the course of one of the four the old Roman roads passing by my house runs next to the traces of the Saxon and prehistoric settlements, and a French chateau hides its treasures in the trees.
Is anything at all in life unremarkable, after all? Even the seemingly commonplace and ordinary holds so much if we take time to see.