Sunlight streamed jewels through the stained glass of St Lawrence’s church, Broughton. There are some fine examples of 19th C glass in the little church, making the nave, with its painted medieval walls, a place of vivid, dancing colour.
Although the church is classed as redundant, it is still consecrated, not only officially, but by the love of those who still worship at the occasional services that are held here… and it shows. We met one of those who care for the place and took delight in his obvious affection for the work and the history as he shared tales of the incumbents of yesteryear with the same tone as if he were speaking of people he knows personally.
He pointed out the old Sanctuary Ring on the door, where fugitive criminals could claim asylum of the Church. There were rules about Sanctuary and the fugitive had forty days to either confess, abjure, surrendering all their possessions to Church and Crown and go voluntarily into exile…or stand trial for the crimes of which they were accused. Most of the things he told us about the building, we had already found on our research, but it is always a different thing to hear such stories told first-hand.
We had, for instance, already found the little pilgrim’s cross cut into the wall near the chancel arch where two carved heads stand guard one on either side, watching over the great, leather-bound books that are chained to their wooden shelves.
They are old. One of them is a copy of the Apology of the Church of England, written in Latin by John Jewel, the Bishop of Salisbury at the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The book was a response to those who maintained that this was a new Church and by going back to the first centuries of Christianity, he sought to show that the Reformation was merely a return to an older version of the faith. The book was published in 1562 and two years later was translated into English by Lady Ann Bacon, the mother of Francis Bacon. The copy now chained to the stand was published in 1567 and it is a rare privilege to be able to freely handle, open and read from such a book.
There are books too, ancient and more modern, in a great chest beside the altar… a bible the size of a coffee table, prayer books and hymnals, all sleeping together in the shadowed silence of the sanctuary.
…and on the lectern of the pulpit, another book containing the Gospels and prayers. I opened it and found that the old book had been updated by hand… “O Lord, save the Queen” had been crossed out and replaced by ‘King’. The Queen in question must have been Victoria, and the King, her son, Edward VII… great-grandfather of the present Queen.
There are stories to read too in the stained glass in almost every window. Some of the 19thC glass at Broughton is by such renowned makers as Kempe and Gibbs.
The colours and faces of many artists have a very particular style and it is surprising how quickly you learn to recognise them, even before you are sure of who they were. Kempe’s restrained yet ornate style is quite distinctive, where Gibbs chose a more flamboyant palette.
But as well as the art, history and beauty they contain, these old churches always have their own touch of humanity and humour… sometimes involuntary in the latter case. So before we left, we strolled through the churchyard to the back of the building to see the old north door and, if it was still there, show our guest something bound to make her smile… and sure enough, the signs on the tomb still read ‘Danger, Keep out’.