Category Archives: Churchcrawling

Why are some churches locked?

Confined recently to Lancashire, I have been exploring the remaining medieval parishes in the local area I haven’t visited. It can come as a surprise, to those lucky enough to live in East Anglia or Wiltshire, that in some areas, it is not the norm for churches to be open. Or even seemingly any way to get inside without attending a service? It particularly annoys me when a church proudly declares it has received Heritage Lottery Fund money for a big repair, but yet there is not so much a phone number for a churchwarden displayed. Why should an essentially private building get public money?

I do believe that the ideal position of all Anglican churches is that they are open to all during the day. So for a church to be locked, there has to be some factors that exist that cause this not to be true. It is a misconception that the attitudes of vicars cause a church to be open or shut. Priests are really only in control of the services and ministry in the parish. They are usually members of the Parochial Church Council, and while they may certain extra rights of veto, but they do not in any sense control how the building is run. The custodians of the building are the elected churchwardens (usually two in a parish). But ultimately, of course, the owner of the building is the diocese, and anything that happens requires a faculty from them – even if the building is not nationally listed (and any medieval church is at least Grade II listed by default).

Here is what I think what cause churches to be locked, from the most reasonable to the less so.

1. Reaction to manifest problems

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If these were medieval cock ‘n’ balls they’d be listed

People can get up to terrible things in public buildings. And you will hear stories about how people have urinated in church pews, vandalised the altar, broken statues, stolen money or pulled up brasses. And of course, if there is an active threat to a building, why would you not protect it? But such attacks are exceptionally rare. I have been in hundreds of churches, and I have never had to report any vandalism that seems to have occurred recently (except perhaps some things a congregation has done to their own church which I suspect they haven’t got a faculty for). It can be harrowing for a congregation to have their church violated, but it is a shame to finally take it away from the public due to a one-off event.

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Brent Eleigh church had its unique 14thc high altarpiece wall painting damaged in 2016 by a mentally-ill man. The church, however, remains open as it was before the incident.

Christian churches in modern Britain are lucky that they (currently, at least) have no systemic prejudice against them, unlike Mosques or Synagogues, which can have vile campaigns against them from hate groups. If there are repeated attacks on a church, they are the acts of individuals, not a mindset. However, if a church is being targeted, it would be foolhardy to let those individuals continue and not take protective measures. But once the culprits are caught, normal opening can be resumed. But some churches seem surprisingly pessimistic about humanity, not to mention vindictive.

2. Reaction to perceived risk

A suburban church at the centre of a housing estate where even the grounds are padlocked

So this leads us to the next point. Risk. Things that are happening is one thing. Things that might happen is another. But risk must be managed. A church in a rural village, that has congregation visiting throughout the day, many events, houses nearby, has almost no risk, beyond the “crazy person” scenario. An isolated rural church, with no fittings of monetary value, has a slightly higher risk. A suburban church, which the churchwardens and priest do not live near, and bored children running about is another matter. One in a city centre, is another entirely.

Of course, perhaps the largest active threat to churches, is the theft of roof lead. Of course, this does not need access to the interior – indeed, it actually helps the thieves if they are sure the church is locked and there’s no one inside before they get up there and steal the roof. All risks however, must be managed accordingly.

3. Low level of resources

However, with all the good will in the world, some churches do not have the resources available to manage these risks. They may not be able to afford security cameras or motion-detector alarms for the sanctuary. They may not have PCC members who live near enough the church to be able to open and close it every day. Of course, this factor can always be solved by campaigning, raising interest, and fundraising, but then that leads us to the next point…

4. Low level of interest

Who would ever want to go in here anyway

Quite frankly, to overcome problems in opening churches, there has to be a desire. And some PCCs simply do not have it. Well, obviously, they can’t open the church because they live next village over and go to work. I don’t know who lives in the Old Rectory, they probably aren’t interested in looking after the key. Goodness know who runs the pub now, never go there.

5. Protectionism

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Barbed wire a good addition to any crenellated parapet

This then slips over to last point, and the most extreme. For a village, a parish church is an important asset. What is an English village without its little church? It helps house prices if your village has a church that at least plays lip service on Sundays. Great for the village to have weddings, too. So you treat it like an asset, and lock it up tight. You don’t want ramblers coming in with their muddy boots. Kids knocking over the Easter flowers.

The most extreme level of this is with Evangelical churches, who have the money for security, but keep the church locked as a statement that God is everywhere, and the church is just a meeting hall. This is certainly not true of all churches with a lower-church, charismatic leaning (as sometimes the level of worship is set by the priest, and as I say, priests often have little to do with the opening status of churches), but ones where the entire PCC share this mindset can be the hardest of all to get into.


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This just made me sad tbh

So which of these points is the most important to combat in getting more churches to open their doors? I think it’s 2 and 4, as 1 and 5, as the most extreme, are rarer. The thing is that “perceived risk” is often overestimated. Usually the worst churches for opening are in what are now satellite villages around big, formerly industrial cities, such as Liverpool. There’s a prejudice against people from “the town” who might come into “their village” and cause trouble. How do you combat this? Well, it’s point 4. Gently moan at them. Tell them people do want to visit the church.

And it’s to their benefit, in the long term anyway. If people who live in urban areas – that is, most people in England – think Anglican churches are locked, unwelcoming, private clubs, the hostility against the established church from the general public is only going to increase, and with it, available funds diminish. Yes, there will always be problems with that great mass we know as “the general public”, but if you can’t find tolerance and forgiveness in a church, where can you?

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Bad art in cathedrals

Cathedrals used to be depositories of some of the finest works of art in the world. Then the pesky Reformation came round and stripped many of them back to the walls. What has filled the place of the original medieval artworks has, over the years, been subject to changing tastes. While the Victorians despised all classical additions, the twentieth century in turn, had a bit of a clear-out of what they found dowdy and gloomy.

So what tat should be chucked out in a fantasy aesthetic Reformation? Let’s dispense with the polite introduction that pretends this is anything other than just a list of things I don’t like, and find out!

The café paintings in Worcester chapter house

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Worcester chapter house is an immensely important monument. It’s the first in a long line of English centrally-planned chapter houses. The walls retain traces of painting, and the stone vault once contained a complicated sequence of Biblical scenes showing the typology of the New Testament foreshadowed in the Old. These are gone now, so when they put the café in there, they thought the best way to make up for this massive loss to English art it was by putting some paintings up on the dado that they look came for free with the frames from Wilkinsons.

South presbytery aisle screen, Ripon Cathedral,

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I’m surprised this thing survived one night without the cleaners chucking it out. It looks like it’s made out of giant pipe-cleaners. Glitter and Pritt-Stick also involved. Really all it needs is some dried pasta, paper plates and split-pins to really finish it off.

Piper Tapestry, high altar, Chichester Cathedral

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Now, actually, this one is by a proper artist, John Piper, who I actually really like. He’s one of the few artists who can capture the gritty drama of a parish church rather than just making it look like something out of The Darling Buds of May. But not everything in his name is brilliant. His south aisle windows in St Margaret, Westminster, are some of the few in England that can give abstract continental glass a run for its money in sheer grimness. This thing too, I don’t like. It’s trying to hard to be modern and groovy. If it was commissioned for Whitbury New Town Leisure centre, it’d be fine. Worse thing is though, is what it replaced.

A fine altarpiece by Somers Clarke, which had been, shockingly kept into the triforium gallery for half a century until it was finally brought back downstairs only last year apparently.  If you’re going to get rid of art you find old and outdated, you best be sure you are conjuring up something REALLY inspired. Like when Michaelangelo got the go-ahead to destroy some Perugino frescoes for The Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel. Which this is not. The Last Judgement is still unequalled in its terribilità. The Chichester tapestry has been equalled by a Fruitopia bottle.

Various creepy stuff in Durham Cathedral

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There’s loads of weird stuff in Durham. Of course I don’t have any of my own photographs of any of it because I’m not going to be risk being told off by a custodian for the sake of one of these. I found this one on Google images though. Just look at it. It looks like Gumby’s fallen over and a house ornament from seconds at TK Maxx doesn’t look very interested in helping him up.

Basically everything from Westminster Abbey

Regular viewers will remember I don’t like Westminster Abbey much. This of course it is famously filled to the brim with rubbish that distracts from the architecture. Pearson’s mutilation of the north front, Scott’s ugly choir screen, the overbearing reredos, that out-of-place goldback altarpiece on the south side of the sanctuary (seems to have gone now), loads of Hugh Easton glass, the banners in the Lady Chapel which obscure the architecture, Blore the bore’s choir-stalls (makes for a great rhyme though)… WESTMINSTER ABBEY

But worst of all are all the soapy bloody eighteenth-century monuments of admirals ascending into Heaven or a viscount knocking over a pyramid or some lady crying over a pillar that’s fallen down. There was actually a plan in the nineteenth century to build a Westminster “camposanto” for all these and give them the heave-ho from the medieval abbey church. It fell through, of course. Someone needs to treat Westminster Abbey like an elderly parent who’s been hoarding things around their house in plastic bags on the floor, kindly sit them down and say “Mother, we need sort this out”, then hire a skip and get the lot in there.

New Bishop’s Throne, Leicester Cathedral

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P1180013Oh dear. After the excitement of exhuming Richard III and reordering the whole place as a tourist trap, uh, pilgrimage site, Leicester went a bit overboard and decided to redo the liturgical furniture in the crossing. Even though they had a fine carved Neo-Gothic Bishop’s Throne already (in the background there), they decided they needed to replace it with something a bit more “down wit’ the kids”. So they got this thing that looks like the least exciting Transformer ever, made out of MDF (Magnet-tron: ha ha!). As well as looking naffer than a branch of C&A, it also has the disturbing effect of looking like it’s suddenly going to collapse in on itself, crushing any occupant into a perfect cube.

I didn’t really believe this thing was real so I went round the back to try and process it. Then I saw it was attached to the crossing pier, so it’s not going anywhere soon, folks.

The apse clerestory in the Abbey of St Denis, Paris

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I could probably dedicate a whole post to terrible glass in continental cathedrals, but it would probably be so tedious that it would only be worth reading if you got stoned and pretended it was a lava lamp. Anyway, the stuff at St Denis, really takes the cake. All you want to do is deliver Abbot’s Suger’s ecstatic speech about “delight in the beauty of the house of God” but the apse is full of gaudy crap. Worst of all is this terrible pictorial one of Napoleon of all things.

 

Both sides of the west front of Liverpool Cathedral

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1552114_db13328a[1]I love Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. It’s the last gasp of the Gothic Revival. It is truly sublime. It’s almost that the space inside surpasses the mass of the object in its sheer volume. I recommend any medieval cathedral enthusiast visit: it might be a white elephant, but it’s a miracle it was finished, and it’s incredibly moving. However, the problem is that this green thing greets you on your way in. It’s supposed to be the Risen Christ, but it’s hardly Piero della Francesca: it’s more the sort of thing you make out of blu-tack in a boring meeting then crush when the coffee trolley comes in. And then you have some sentimental bit of tripe by Tracey Emin on the counterfacade, that I thought was temporary but it never seems to go away. I’m getting tired now, so time to wind it up. This list isn’t in any particular order, except for comedy potential, and of course I’m going to end on the worst. And most of you won’t be surprised by my top choice.

Statue of the Virgin Mary, Ely Lady Chapel

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So, yes. Ely Lady Chapel’s foundation stone was laid on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1321, but since the crossing tower of the cathedral collapsed the following February, it’s unlikely much was done except the site dug and some bits of the raft laid out. The building was resumed in the late 1330s, and perhaps benefited all the more for it, as this was really the apex for English sculpture. And the plan for Ely Lady Chapel was to have it in spades. The “nodding-ogees” of the wall arcades are vivaciously organic to the point of eroticism. Indeed, since the vescias contain statues of the royal ancestors of Christ, one might wish to hazard that it’s supposed to be quite that suggestive: Honi soit qui mal y pense and all that. It’s an incredible work of art, quite simply a masterpiece of Gothic. With its full sculpture, altars and stained glass, it must have been ravishing. Makes things like Giotto’s Arena Chapel seem like they done on a budget.

Ooh! Do your o

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Ely Lady Chapel as Holy Trinity parish church, before 1938

It is of course, hacked about. The narratives of Mary’s early life and her divine intercessions have been pedantically decapitated by a Reformation busybody, and the whole east wall with the culmination of the devotion to the Mother of God has of course been utterly wrecked. It was, until the early 20th century, kept as a parish church, and all the later paraphernalia such as pews and wall monuments taken out in the late 1930s. In its stripped, naked vulnerability, it has a uniquely eerie, poignant beauty, showing the preciousness and transcendence of art.

Then of course someone thinks “ooh, it’s just missing something” and ruins it by putting this load of old shite bang right in the sodding middle of it.

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I mean, sculpturally it’s pretty poor, I’m never really sure if she’s supposed to be accepting the incarnation of Our Lord through the Holy Spirit, saying “I JUST CLEANED ALL THIS MESS!” or receiving an incoming message from The Big Giant Head.

And there’s also the white-washing, that she looks more like a caucasian Disney Princess than a girl from late-antique Palestine, which wouldn’t be so bad if she was classically recognisable as the classical Virgin Mary. Instead she looks more like the homonymic Queen of Pop circa Ray of Light.

It’s made of Portland Stone, not that you’d know, because it looks like it came from one of these sets:

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Right down to the crappy water-based primary colour paints applied all over the porous surface with no shading or highlights. I mean at least he didn’t go over the lines.

Have you some tat in a big church you love to hate? Tell us below in the comments! Or, if you’re a Russian bot, post some alt-right nonsense! Up to you!

How to defuse the parish church crisis

England’s medieval parish churches are a unique asset and a ticking timebomb. However, they are a Doomsday Device with no digital display. People thought it would blow thirty years ago. But here it is, in 2017, still ticking.

Consecration Of Rachel Treweek As The Next Bishop Of Gloucester

“So glad you can join us in the Silly Hat Club, Sarah”

The maintenance of many churches spread over our green and often-pleasant land is becoming unsustainable, and the architecture and art inside is at risk. Money needs to spent on them. But where should the money come from? People often labour under the impression that the Church of England is very wealthy, indeed greedy, in that they own billions in land, only the squander it on silly hats. However, despite the size of their assets being indeed large, as much of it is indeed these rural parish churches, they can’t be monetised.

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Holy Trinity, Blythburgh (Suffolk), tower c.1330, new church begun 1412-

Church buildings used to be entirely funded by wealth generated by their parishioners. The villagers were responsible for the upkeep of the nave, and they also paid tithes to their parish priest, which would provide his livelihood and maintenance of the east end of the building, the chancel. In reality, rich donors such as the lord of the manor were the fiscal means for the building programmes we see today. Since the abolition of tithes in the 1930s, parish priests are directly waged by the Church of England. The parochial church council is the guardian of the church building, and is required to pay a “parish share” to the diocese for the running of the Church of England. Even bolstered by its other investments, after clergy wages, pensions, administrative work, etc., the CofE can only keep ticking over by a whisker. It cannot afford to maintain ancient buildings by itself – especially when historically, it never did. Very often it is still private donations from individuals that solves maintenance problems.

So you want to be a vicar

“So You Want to Be a Vicar”, pinched from the pages of Viz comic (more specifically the pen of the frequently hilarious Simon Ecob)

But for less fortunate churches that aren’t in wealthy Cotswolds villages: who should pay? A small number of parish churches have become redundant for parochial worship and subsequently vested in the Churches Conservation Trust (founded 1969 as the Redundant Churches Fund). The CCT was founded by the church commissioners and receives state funding at its core, but government commitment to it has been reduced since 2010, making it ever-more dependent on voluntary donations. Most churches, however, can only raise money through applications to bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and National Churches Trust, which require tenacity and dedication from the parish church council.

As a card-carrying lefty, rather than hoping Andrew Lloyd Webber will take care of it, I believe that (as suggested by Paul Binski in his closing remarks to our parish church conference at The Courtauld Institute of Art in June 2017) the benevolent hand of the state should preserve our artistic heritage which is culturally, aesthetically and historically significant, including all listed churches. One day, it would be ideal to have a branch of government which actively provides maintenance for our built heritage. Indeed, it would have been a better use of money than having the civil servants of Whitehall dedicated to perusing the folly of an exit from the European Union in seeming hopeless perpetuity.

P1020219.jpgIt’s not that it would take that much money. Certainly less than what that other dilapidated clockless timebomb, the Conservative Party, spent on propping themselves up with the DUP in Northern Ireland. It’s just very hard to justify, especially since, the sort of people who might support the radical collectivisation of cultural assets for the public good are not the sort of people who tend to go into churches. Just have a look at these comments, that I can only assume were all written by sandal-wearing school teachers in between their bites of muesli. You will find opposition to any notion of organised religion (mostly fuelled by the nadir of Christianity that is the supreme intolerance of the American religious right), the perceived wealth of the Church of England, but very often a complete ignorance to what churches are actually like to visit. Many of these people will have been to an art gallery recently, or an English Heritage property, but will have never been in a church except for weddings.

Before we can justify putting public money into churches, we need to get these sort of people into the idea of church tourism, the churches are friendly places and the Church of England is our most valuable cultural asset. Here’s my entirely personal perspective on what some churches do that are good, and some that are bad and are close to cutting the red wire that’ll blow this joint to kingdom come.

Get down!

DO open the church

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“Come in and Pray” oh wait

Well, this is the first step, really, isn’t it? Some parts of the country, every church around will be kept open. In many villages it actually makes life easier having it open: people in the village can complete errands without an unsecure number of copies of the key floating around. The churchwarden only locks it up after checking on it at dusk.

Some parts of the country – and in these regions it’s not really connected to it being a hamlet or urbanised market town – churches are only unlocked for services, with the keys held by the churchwardens and priest-in-charge. If the church really does need to be kept locked (because it does suffer from repeated thefts or vandalism while open, or it’s so remote it’s hard to keep an eye on) the key should be accessible – e.g., it is available at reasonable times, and the street address – especially if it’s a named house – is clear. Anyone other than diehards aren’t going to make the effort. Nothing more than the churchwarden’s name and a phone number without the area code, and even I’m not going to bother.

DON’T be adamant that the church is “not a museum”

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St Denys’ Church, Rotherfield (Sussex): late 13thc and early 15thc wall paintings.

It seems bizarre that churches often stubbornly separately themselves from art galleries and museums, as if all the beautiful, old, interesting things they own are a distraction which ought to be ignored. People go to art galleries to contemplate, relax, not unlike why people visit churches.

The important thing is that people know how to behave in art galleries, but they can be scared of churches. But people don’t shout in the National Gallery, they don’t eat crisps in the British Museum, and they don’t rollerblade around the Serpentine Gallery, so it’s actually a pretty good behavioural template for them to go in a church with. It’s not one that will distance them from a worshipper, instead it’s probably the closest you can get them to one.

DO be permissive with photography

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No photo!

Similarly, as art galleries now have almost entirely given up on controlling photography, be endlessly positive about people taking pictures. It’s actually a more productive exercise than it ever used to be: even ordinary people’s holiday snaps can be seen by hundreds of people on Instagram, unlike when you could only bore your neighbours or immediate family with them.

Embrace this chance to spread images of your building across the public perception. Only confront people if they are being disruptive, like using a flash or having a loud fake-shutter noise. Otherwise, why not let people take pictures of the liturgy? Don’t you want a record of what goes on in buildings too?

DON’T cast off that vast moth-eaten brocade of tradition

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St John Tue Brook, Liverpool, by G.F. Bodley, 1867-70.

Now, some churches look to the funky-groovy church Evangelical church-plants with jealously, and the hundreds of people they get packed in on Sunday prayer meetings for a happy-clappy sing-a-long. But the reality is that these only tend to work in established urban Bible Belts. Most people don’t want to hear Shine Jesus Shine, they want to hear a hymn that doesn’t sound like it’s trying to be cool. They come into a church to experience its beauty and history.

While you might keep people comfy for the short term with your plush carpets and blue-cushioned stackable chairs, if you make a church interior just like every other bland meeting-room interior people come across in their drab lives, you’re going to lose the transcendent atmosphere that makes a church uniqe. And then what will you have? Oh, a sad smelly sofa with croissant crumbs between the cushions.P2170078.jpg

DO let everyone feel welcome

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Spot the dog

People should not feel like they are unwelcome if they haven’t been to Church the Sunday before. Or ever, in fact. They shouldn’t feel unwelcome if they’re wearing nothing on their shoulders, a Deicide T-shirt or even if they’re an adult man in shorts ending above the knee (*shudder*). People should feel happy they’ve been in a church, not leaving it guiltily as if they’ve sullied it with their presence. Who knows, it might be the beginning of a new fascination.

DON’T hide the donation box

P2140819However, you should also not be embarrassed to prominently display a request for donations: again, something museums and galleries do. Partly this is so people who are prepared to give actually can find the place where you can put the money, but also to remind people that nothing comes without a cost. Do the old “this building costs this much to run”, but also do a typical breakdown of expenditure from your yearly budget.

If someone happens not to pay, don’t be cross: they may have no change on them, they might have slipped a fiver in and you wouldn’t have heard it, or indeed they might not have a penny to their name. However, chances are they’ve bought a cup of tea that cost over a quid in their life, and they probably could easily spare a wee pund for you.

Also, a secure place to the put the money, please! It’s off-putting to think that said wee pund could be swiped by a thoughtless ne’er-do-well. Even if it’s only a Poundland padlock, it’s important to have something both as a deterrent and a comfort.

DO listen to your visitors

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All Saints North Street, York: The Pricke of Conscience window, early 15thc.

And yes, this is a sticky point. And us art historians need to do it a lot more too. But it’s yet another thing that the public galleries have started to do that churches could learn from. Custodians of churches occasionally seem to pose as if they are custodians of all knowledge related to the building. But no church is an island: the experience of others – especially an “outsider” – can greatly lend to interpretation of an object. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all.

DON’T feel the need to give a guided tour

P1600235.jpgSome people are there for the memorials. Some people are there for the Victorian stained glass. Some are here because it’s where their parents married. Not all of them are interested in the herringbone masonry in the south transept. And some of them are REALLY interested in the herringbone masonry in the south transept, in fact they wrote their whole PhD on the herringbone masonry in the south transept. Make information available, but make it available at all levels, and never try and have the label out-do the object. Let people have their own personal experience in a building. It will ultimately mean more to them than looking at a few info boards.

DO love nature

One of the reasons English parish churches are so varied and fascinating is that they are deeply connected to the equally varied landscape of the British Isles. Nearly all village churches are built of stone from local quarries: be it Red Sandstone, Ironstone, Granite or, where there is no stone, bits of pebbles bedded in mortar. A church building is the bedrock exhumed and reanimated by human hands.P2000523.jpg

But nature also poses a problem. Insects can infest woodwork. Bats in the belfry can excrete all over your furniture and fittings. Play the All Things Bright and Beautiful approach: work with local wildlife groups, have part of the graveyard overgrown to encourage biodiversity, tempt the bats away with cosier bat boxes.

DO visit other churches!

There is no single church which is the model for others to follow when it comes to being accessible. Learn from other churches, see what they do, and also what makes your church special in its own way: because rest assured, practically every church building is.

Top 10 wrongs about parish churches

One of the most difficult things about working on parish churches is dealing with the general misinformation that surrounds them. So often the interpretation in the building is composed by its well-meaning guardians who only have a vague idea of the significance of their church. Not everyone can be an expert, sure, but when you are faced with multiple instances of “hoverers” – a custodian who insists on accompanying you around the building and regaling you with the same old clichés – means you need the patience of a saint to endure a day’s fieldwork. And I mean a proper saint, like John the Baptist, not one of those rubbish bishops of nowhere in the first millennium whose only miracle was coaxing a few swans.

A great many persistent factoids resonate around parish churches, some that I feel damage the general understanding of the history and practice that the rich material culture they consist of represents. So here is a collection, presented in true Huffingfeed listicle style, of my top bits of guff you will see spouted by church guidebooks that you should be very cautious in believing.

1. This church was founded 823 years ago last Tuesday

Burneston, North Yorkshire

A load of Perp.

You will nearly always see something like this as soon as you open the door of the church: a sign proudly declaring the date that the building was founded. This is because it answers the question most people will inevitably have, and it allows them to declare that the site has been occupied for an impressive amount of time, such as nine hundred or one thousand years. It means that most visitors will gaze around a run-of-the-mill fifteenth-century Perpendicular church cleaned up in the nineteenth century with the impression that it’s more than twice as old as it actually is. The story, as any churchkrawler kno, is much more complicated than that.

The dates that tend to be incorrectly given for the foundation of a parish church usually come from two types of sources. If they’re a specific date, like 1123, then they are probably the first time a church in the village is mentioned in a legal document. If they’re more vague, like twelfth century, they probably refer to what can be observed in the fabric of the church, even if it’s just a bit of Romanesque chevron built into the vestry wall.

The reality is that the parish system as it was in say, 1500, was basically established during the tenth century. After that, except in rapidly-growing cities, parish churches were very rarely built from scratch as they were in the nineteenth century. It is almost certain then, that any medieval church has pre-Norman Conquest origins. The famous Domesday Book is frustrating to church historians because it very rarely mentions churches or priests: it was really only interested in indexing taxable property. It is kind of a big deal if a church can say it was mentioned in Doomsday, but it doesn’t really mean it’s older than most other English churches.

2. The chancel was rebuilt by the monks of Xey Abbey in 13xtyx

Checkley, Staffordshire

Not built by monks.

This is the same sort of thing, where a piece of documentary evidence is seized upon to put a date on to something. When a date and monastery are mentioned in a parish church guide, it refers to when the advowson of the parish was transferred to them. The advowson was the legal right that allowed someone to appoint the new rector of the church: a highly sought-after job for a priest, as it was a steady source of income for life. It was recorded by the diocesan cathedral and nomially approved by the bishop, but it was very rarely turned down, which meant it gave the advowson holder – often referred to as the “patron” – a great deal of power and influence. It originally was usually held by the lord of the local manor, but this power that it represented meant it quickly became an object that was traded, for money or goodwill.

A lot of patrons gifted their right of advowson to monasteries. The monasteries however, quickly realised this was very convenient for them if the community had a cashflow problem. A parish rector had to a be a Religious man – an ordained cleric – so a normal lord of the manor could not rector himself. Unlike lords, monastic communities of course were made up at least partly by priests (the actual proportion of monks in a community who were ordained depended on the type of order), so exploited the loophole to appoint themselves rector, which meant all the tithes – the taxes of the parish – went directly to them. As rectors, they were supposed to maintain the chancel and provide divine service, but it was more likely they would put a vicar in, supported by a small fraction of the tithes, or even a chaplain, on a measly stipend.

The last thing a monastery would do after getting the money from the tithes, is pour it back into the parish. Monks made themselves institutional rectors because they needed the dosh to support their house, not because they had some zeal to go round rebuilding parish churches.

3. Saxon fonts

Saxton, North Yorkshire

Bowl = who knows; stem = Victorian; base = B&Q

Fonts were an important part of Early Christianity because they represented conversion and entry into the faith. No doubt there are a lot of impressive ancient fonts in churches, but the amount of times you hear about a font being discovered in the vicarage garden gets very suspect. Baptism remained an important part of post-Reformation parish life, so fonts are one of the few free-standing fitting to remain unscathed in English parish churches. If you see something that looks like an extremely crude thing for washing pigs in, then high chance that’s what it is, not a thousand-year old font.

4. Crusader tombs

Edington, Wiltshire

Excuse me, I’m having a lion

The main story with these is that if a knight has his legs crossed, then he died in the Crusades. This is, of course, a load of rubbish. The reason effigies have their legs crossed is because they look pretty silly with their legs straight, as if they’re lying in bed, depressed and not wanting to get up and go to work. With their legs akimbo they look ready for action. It’s not a special cipher ready to be decoded.

5. Ancient stone seats

Welsh Newton, Herefordshire

Who would even want to sit there, really

Same with the fonts. There are ancient “frith-stools” and Beverley Minster that are connected to the right of sanctuary granted to these places – that is the right to be tried under Church, rather than state law. These however, were special churches, and there is no evidence that it extended to ordinary parishes. Any sort of “armchair” you see in a parish church is unlikely to have the same significance. Most of them were mocked up from fragments by Victorian restorers – my theory is that the arms we used for very simple bench ends for the western half of the chancel.

6. Our stained glass window by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

You know those stick-on transfers you can buy in cathedral gift shops? Yeah..

You know those stick-on transfers you can buy in cathedral gift shops? Yeah..

Burne-Jones was a prolific designer for Morris and Co. The firm kept pumping out poor-quality versions of his cartoons well into the twentieth century after anyone connected with them in their heyday was long dead. Unless it’s an early, bespoke piece of work, it’s very unlikely Ned saw the piece of glass, let alone visited the church. In most cases, claiming your glazing is by Burne-Jones is like saying you often host concerts by Bob Dylan because you have a 1992 CD remaster of Blonde on Blonde.

7. The Easter Sepulchre

This is quite a serious and complicated one, so bear with me. Any feature built into the north wall of a chancel is usually called an “Easter Sepulchre”. It is symptomatic how a label can become received opinion, with no questioning as to its veracity.

St Albans Psalter, c.1130-45, P50 - The Three Maries at the Tomb

St Albans Psalter, c.1130-45, P50 – The Three Maries at the Tomb

What is an Easter Sepulchre? Well, it is part of the liturgical elaboration around  the Holy Triduum of Easter, first recorded in the Regularis Concordia, an ambitious text intended to consolidate monastic practice in England  in the tenth century. In this, it is described that on Good Friday, a sepulchre would be used for symbolic burial of a cross (the Depositio). Early on Easter morning, the cross would be removed from the sepulchre and placed on the altar (Elevatio). Then would follow the Vistatio, when the monks were supposed to re-enact the visit of the Three Maries to the tomb. Because the latter step was, as it involved a trio of priests dressing up as women, potentially a little bit silly, it seems to have been rarely enacted. However, the Despositio made its way into the Sarum Rite (the closest thing medieval England had to a Book of Common Prayer), so was known to clergy in parish churches as something they should be doing.

The famous bona-fide Easter Sepulchre at Cowthorpe (North Yorkshire)

The Regularis Concordia describes the structure as being curtained, and a representation of such a structure has been convincingly argued to be shown in the twelfth-century Romanesque wall paintings at Kempley in Gloucestershire (Stephen Rickerby and David Park, Burlington Magazine 133, 1991, available on JSTOR). By the later Middle Ages, they seem to have been commonly in the form of ornate wooden chests commonly recorded as such in church inventories, especially in the Reformation clear-outs under King Edward VI, when they were put to all sorts of domestic uses, even chicken coops. The only such Easter Sepulchre to survive – although admittedly with no documentation as to its function – is at Cowthorpe (North Yorkshire).

Stone-next-Dartford, Kent

Stone-next-Dartford (Kent). Monument to Sir John Wiltshyre (d.1526), north aisle.

We know that the Easter Sepulchre was always set up on the north side of the chancel because of the huge amount of medieval wills from the fifteenth and early sixteenth century that stipulate that individuals want their tombs set up there so that the sepulchre can be placed upon it at Easter. These tombs, when they survive, can be seen to be specifically designed for the purpose of having a chest placed on them: with flat incised brasses rather than sculpted effigies. There’s even a whole type of early sixteenth-century tomb that you find in the London area that is primarily designed as a console for the chest. But these tombs are NOT Easter Sepulchres. They are convenient places to put the Easter Sepulchre.

Heckington, Lincolnshire

The locus classicus of the stone “Easter Sepulchre” – Heckington (Lincolnshire), late 1320s

The textual evidence suggests that Easter Sepulchre itself was something you need to lie an altar cross down in once a year, probably shielded behind a curtain. Why then, does everyone call the features in the north walls of the fourteenth-century chancels of Heckington and Hawton Easter Sepulchres? Veronica Sekules convincingly argued (BAA Conference Transactions 8, 1986) that these were primarily conceived as Tombs of Christ. As the consecrated Host was actually the body of Christ, by placing it in what medieval people actually perceived as a “copy” of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, you were essentially making an actual tomb of Christ. The other prominent features in the north walls of these chancels are the founder’s tombs. It was always considered beneficial to be buried in good company, but what better grave-mate than Jesus Christ Himself?

Hawton (Nottinghamshire)

The south wall ensemble at Hawton (Nottinghamshire), late 1330s. Vestry doorway, founder’s tomb (probably originally rector John de Swine, d.1344), Tomb of Christ.

Sekules goes on to argue that these Tombs of Christ were installed in certain parish churches because of the cult of Corpus Christi which spread across Europe in the fourteenth century. As well as giving himself the prestige of a tomb next to the Son of God, the rector who commissioned the Tomb of Christ would also be creating a Sacrament Shrine, that would contain the Host all year round. We can assume that laity would be admitted into the chancel outside of services to be able to pay devotion to the Blessed Sacrament outside of the Mass.

The possibility that the features at Heckington and Hawton were used as Easter Sepulchres in the Paschal liturgy is at best, a tertiary one, and certainly less based in real evidence than the idea that they were an all-year-round Sacrament Shrine. A recent PhD thesis by Christopher Herbert (Leicester University, 2007, available online) actually set out to show how most so-called “Easter Sepulchres” were completely useless for putting a cross inside (essential for the public spectacle of Depostio and Elevatio), and confidently concludes that the stone Easter Sepulchre was never a widespread tradition in medieval England, but a Victorian misconception. But yet people will still stubbornly insist that they were, and the term remains de rigeur for describing any sort of niche in the north wall of the chancel. It’s essentially the fault of Nikolaus Pevsner, who, as an avid digester of Victorian literature and a formalist essentially uninterested in liturgy, sprinkled it liberally around the Gospel of church crawlers, the Buildings of England.  At best, “Easter Sepulchre” is a neologism that represents the multivalent functions of architectural features. But at worst, it’s an entirely incorrect moniker that misrepresents medieval practice, puts simple holes in the wall on the same level as true works of art such as Heckington and Hawton, and draws attention away from the actual Easter Sepulchres such as Cowthorpe which have vanished from thousands of parish churches at the Reformation. If you actually look at the textual and material evidence a priori and ignore the distorting effect of Victorian Tractarianism on assumptions about the Middle Ages, you will see the whole idea of permanent stone Easter Sepulchres built into chancel walls crumbles.

8. The church is the people, not the building

P1410494The Church (big C) is the people, and the church (little c) is the building, I’m interested in both; but please don’t demean the latter as an object of aesthetic and historic interest by sticking this needlessly iconoclastic statement in Comic Sans MS font on a big ugly noticeboard right in front of some fascinating dado arcading.

9. Leper squints

Selby Abbey, West Yorkshire

No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no.

Apparently, if you believe English parish church lore, medieval England was a bit like Dawn of the Dead, with walking corpses shambling around churchyards. Of course, leprosy (now generally refered to as Hansen’s disease – don’t want to be caught leper-shaming) was a widespread debilitating  disease in the Middle Ages, but to think that parish churches actually modified their fabric to cater for this is quite ridiculous. Ridiculous enough in the eyes of academics, who realise that monastic hospitals would give ostracised lepers opportunity to receive the sacraments and would never think of bothering to write an article to debunk it; but not ridiculous enough to mean people don’t think twice before accepting it.

There are three things that usually get labelled as “leper squints” in English parish churches. (I may be pushing my luck here sub-dividing a listicle into letters)

9a) Low side windows

Washingborough, Lincolnshire

Open up the low-side window, I’m roasting in this chasuble – careful not to let any of those lepers in, mind

These are usually found in the south wall of the chancel, towards the west end. They often have evidence for shutters on their jambs. The problem is, unless you stood on a stool and stuck your head right in, you can’t see the altar from them. Paul Barnwell has argued – mainly because they are also used in secular buildings – that they were used as ventilation, to let air in when the oxygen levels inside were becoming rather asphyxiating (Ecclesiology Today 36, 2006, available online). This is very reasonable when you think of all the candles that would be burning, especially on dull winter evenings.

9b) Altar squints

Bamburgh, Northumberland

An unusually fancy “hagioscope” at Bamburgh (Northumberland)

Often, in the jambs of the chancel, there are holes often quite unartfully, smashed through the fabric. These are often called “hagioscopes”: a total Victorian neologism but not a bad one. The function of these is fairly obvious, because they always are positioned so someone standing in front of a subsidiary side altar has a good view of the high altar. This is probably so that a chantry priest can sync the all-important elevation of the Host with the main ceremony, almost like a monitor at a sporting event to allow the crowd to see a close-up view of what’s happening on the pitch. In this case it’s the body of Jesus Christ, not someone getting kicked in the balls during a vicious tackle.

9c) Blocked-up aisle windows.

St Michael on Wyre

This is, incidentally, one of the most exciting things ever.

Here’s a supposed persons-afflicted-with-Hansen’s Disease-vision-enabling-aperture at St Michael-on-Wyre (Lancashire). It’s not to allow an outcast to see inside, but actually the window of the original thirteenth century aisle. When the aisle wall was built further out in the later Middle Ages, a bigger window was put in and this one blocked up.

10. You might want to take a look at our delightful Millennium window/tapestry by the mothers’ union/prayer tree

Nope

 

Barry Thurible’s guide to London Churches

Cor lummy! Barry Thurible here, suffragan archsubdeacon of Mudchute. As an entirely fictional Cockney entity, when I’m not carrying enormous thermometers to another building that needs to keep track of their roof fund in the only way the Church of England knows how, I travel the parishes of London on my 60+ Oyster Photocard on a Sunday morning and check no one’s deviating too far from the BCP, while also providing a ceremony of high aesthetic merit! If like me, you like nothing more in life than a good Mass, then here’s my partisan guide on what buildings to choose and which avoid on a Sunday Morning! And maybe I’ll also make some nonsense Eastender interjections occasionally. Chim-chim-awooga!


St Mary Hendon“Medieval” churches
Despite what cobblers you might hear, there are no real medieval churches in London. The ones in Zone 6 or whatever that did survive that rather big ‘elf and safety clumsy-up in 1666 ended up with a Victorian mega-church welded to the side anyway. Since essentially every last patina of the Middle Ages has been scrubbed off by Victorian do-gooders round here, the atmosphere has totally gone. This ain’t Norfolk. The service will be tolerable, but you’ll be looking forward to the Nescafé and the Custard Cream more than anything else. Don’t be taken in by the relatively long Pevsner entry, give these a miss.

Wren City Churches
All these bloody things look the same to me. And walking round the City on a Sunday is a mug’s game anyway. You’d never get a celebrant, deacon, subdeacon and M.C. behind one of those Grinling Gibbons communion rails and have space left for so much as one acolyte so I don’t know why you’d bother.


St Mary, Wyndham Place, MaryleboneOther Classical churches
I can’t even bear to talk about these. They look like libraries.

St Paul, Mill HillCommissioners’ Gothick boxen
Dreary things. Before the Victorians worked out how to build proper Gothic again, these cheap-o things went up at the behest of the Church Commissioners that are basically four walls with a roof on top but – oh wait – with some pointy windows. Sink me Bismarck! I’d have all these things knocked down but apparently there’s someone between the Vic Soc and Georgian Group who thinks they’re worth more than half a cobble. Now despite the fact the architecture gets right on my Hack-e-ney bits, some of the clergy do try regardless, but you’re just as likely to trip over a drumkit while tutting at the enormous projector screen some numpty’s set up in the chancel arch. Don’t take your chances.


Dec ragstone potboilers
Decorated Gothic, the architectural style of high medieval England, was realised by the Victorians to be correct way a church should look forever and ever. And blimey, they were right! Just they built far too many and we don’t know what to do with them all now! So although that ragstone dressing means they look pretty pukka on the outside, on the inside they’ve probably had to block up one of the aisles or something to put a nursery in there to help balance the books for the parish share. Worst case scenario is that they’ve been subdivided into a block of flats: terribly embarrassing if you’ve made a special trip to see where they keep the Blessed Sacrament these days. Not worth risking.


United Reformed Church, Enfield TownThe not-a-church
See a spire, majestically riding above the skyline? Think it must be a beacon of the nation’s one true Church, good ol’ C of E? Well, don’t be fooled, precocious young pendlemill, because sometimes underneath is a United Seventh Day Reformed Methodists of New Bethlem or something. I don’t know what they get up to, I’m sure they do some essentially wholesome activity based around our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, but I’m not ready to start closing my eyes and putting my hand in the air like I’m at a Bon Jovi concert, so give these things a wide berth.


St Chad, HaggerstonBig Brick Basilicas
Well these things are alright, in the East End we have a job-lot built by the Victorian James Brooks who afterwards seemed to travel down the Piccadilly Line building one at every stop, so a lot of those are now not-a-churches to be avoided at all costs. ‘Cause it’s cheap, you see, the Catholics threw up a lot of stuff like this too, so watch out. Not that there’s anything wrong with being Roman Catholic. Some of my best friends are Catholics. Just it’s not the best thing if my employer sees me praying the rosary too much. Not the Big Geezer that is, I’m sure He’s fine with it, just the bish’ is really into brand loyalty to the purple cross places. All in all, too risky for me.


St. Richard, HamModern rubbish
Some of these things I wonder whether I should be taking my swimming cossie rolled up in a towel – they don’t half look a bit like leisure centres, you see. Now, some of them can be alright, but the altar’s probably right in the middle due to some misjudged keeping up with the Romans, so unless they have a 360 degree priest who can balance the Host on his head I wouldn’t bother with these.


P1470103‘Igh Church Strongholds
In fact, the only church you need bother with is something where the architecture is so fabulous – Pearson, Street, or someone other mad Victorian fella who really knew pointy – that it’s a place that time forgot. Literally! Same thing every week! You can expect a Byrd or Palestrina motet, a sermon with some actual theology in it, Merbecke Credo, some respect shown to the Blessed Sacrament, and probably a sherry afterwards. Ooga-booga! Then if you stick around long enough they’ll probably do a Nunc Dimitis, Magnificat and Benediction. So pleased I’ll be, that I’ll go back to the office on Monday and turn a blind eye to the fact that they’ve been fiddling with their Gift Aid envelopes. Knees up my ol’ Gran Turismo!

Trouble at t’ church – around Blackburn

St Luke, Blackburn Blackburn – a hilly Lancashire mill town with wonderful views of the surrounding countryside – is a nice place to get out of, residents seem to agree. But just as I liked to visit the dingier bits of London looking at their churches armed with a Pevsner Guide, it seemed a good place for my first Sunday excursion of architectural exploration by motor car. But perhaps residents are a bit hard on it. It’s been sliced up by roads and nothing whatsoever medieval left, but has a great deal of interest. Of course I just looked at the churches, but there’s mills, municipal munificence, and modern malapropisms (like this bloody thing which looms over the town like the OCP building in Robocop’s Detroit) to be savoured too.


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St Silas, Blackburn

St Silas, BlackburnI drove there for the 10:30 service at St Silas, a church of 1894 that, with its striking profile from the road, cannot fail to make an impression on the passer-by. It’s by Lancaster firm Paley & Austin, a firm which Pevsner had much affection for, although his account of St Silas in 1969 is rather grumpy and succinct, judged to have “none of their spatial ingenuity”. Indeed, the inside is basically two great arcades with a chancel at one end and a tower at the other, but still with a great honesty throughout, just like a top-whack medieval building. The way the chancel arch for instance, is slipped in almost non-nonchalantly: as if it’s grown up between the piers.

The Holy Communion was dignified and enjoyable, and everybody very friendly, I’m just glad the fill-in organist arrived since everyone seemed to think I might be doing it. I left my car here and ventured into Blackburn for more traditional foot-based urban reconnaissance.



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St Luke, Blackburn St Luke, Blackburn St Luke, Blackburn

I was quite fortunate to get into St Luke, for which I had a magnificent preamble down a hill and past the gas works. Judging by the brackets around the description of the interior, even the Pevsner revisers didn’t get in here. Inside it’s a bit lumpy, with a great honking barrel roof with dinky pretend aisles. These are currently all piled-up with chairs, as all the pews have recently been removed, leading to a ramshackle feel like a church hall. The star attraction here are the magnificent windows in the north transept by Heaton, Butler and Bayne for the War Memorial Chapel. Startling to think that even in 1919 they were still making glass of this quality, and of some rather obscure Old Testament scenes. Moses held aloft by Aaron and Hur, anyone?

St Mark, Blackburn

St Mark, Buncer Lane – a like a temple to Hades built out of Duplo

St Luke was until recently a joint parish with St Mark, by scholar-architect Edmund Sharpe in 1836-8. Rather than in his Dec Gothic Style for which he was later known, it’s in the then still in-vogue Neo-Norman, but remarkably primitive-looking. Pevsner reviser Clare Hartwell writes that it is “almost Soanian in simplicity”. The tower has a rather menacing, pagan look to it, and it seemed as if the very sky turned to lead as I approached it.

I heard that this church had recently become redundant, and was to be handed over to a non-denominational Christian group. This is somewhat surprising, as I thought this was something the Church of England stopped doing in the ’80s. Despite the obvious attraction of a church staying in the Church, many of these independent Churches – unlike Wetherspoons – simply have no idea how to look after a historic building, and they can get into a horrific state. It looks like it could survive a thunderbolt from Zeus, but is St Mark tough enough to survive a happy-clappy congregation?

St Phillip, Blackburn

The orphaned tower of St Phillip and some colourful paraphenalia

It would be a shame to lose such an unusual church as St Mark, but for many other churches in Blackburn, one has to accept that just because the Victorians built it, doesn’t mean it must stay forever. The large Asian population means that by the late twentieth century Blackburn had a surfeit of buildings with Christian altars at the end, and many churches have been demolished. A few orphaned spires remain. Many others, such as St Peter’s in the centre, have all but disappeared without trace.



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Blackburn Cathedral

Blackburn Cathedral Gothick nave, stodgy transepts and concrete crown

This situation makes it all the more peculiar that Blackburn a diocesan centre for the CoE, with a thoroughly Anglican Cathedral, what with all its concessions, bodge-jobs, but undeniable charm. The medieval church was demolished and replaced in the 1820s with a surprisingly pleasing bit of pre-Victorian Gothic Revival. In the 1930s the east end was demolished for a protracted campaign to construct cathedral-scale transepts and east end, in late Gothic Revival so conventional it borders on pastiche. In a surge of modern ambition (or realisation they couldn’t afford the projected tower), the crossing was finished by a concrete corona in the 1960s, which decayed so badly it had to be replaced in the late ’90s.

Blackburn Cathedral

The high altar (dressed in red for martyr saint St George)

This woeful set of mishaps does not mean that Blackburn Cathedral is an embarassment. The plaster-vaulted nave with its pretty decoration provides a fine entrance to the eventual experience of the crossing with its abstract stained glass, with the altar directly underneath. Rather than succumb to the fallacy of the 360-degree priest, the east end is fenced off by screening, to create an ambulatory and eastern chapel. This does leave the transepts as feeling rather pointless, with nothing much in them except from the misericords from Whalley Abbey.

Blackburn Cathedral

John Hayward incised glass screen and stained glass in eastern chapel of Blackburn Cathedral

The 1960s furnishings at Blackburn Cathedral were entirely ignored by Pevsner, which is a shame, as they are by John Hayward, shortly after his initial success with paintings at London Fields but before he went into stained glass full-time. His spikey high altar baldachin does look like something from Hellraiser, but hey, that’s cool with me, and his decoration of the eastern chapel, is nicely minimalist and well-judged.

When I visited Blackburn Cathedral in the afternoon, there was a service for the Royal Society of St George, which basically seemed like the excuse for the mayor’s wife to wear a hat, but we all got to sing Jerusalem so what’s wrong with that? At least we could celebrate the horrific multiple martyrdoms of George with a delicious cake.

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Holy Trinity, Blackburn

Holy Trinity, Blackburn – You’ll need more than Faith, Hope and Charity to get in ‘ere, lad.

The last two churches I went to look at in Blackburn overlook it from a hill to the north. One is a clearly-oversized bland Late Victorian hulk Roman Catholic Church of St Alban, the other the rather important Holy Trinity, 1837-46. Also by Lancastrian Edmund Sharpe this gives a whole other side to him from his primeval building-block terror we saw above at St Mark. It’s an amazingly pure bit of fourteenth-century architectural scholarship, more of a model than a real church. It’s been redundant since the 1980s, but is kept by the Churches Conservation Trust. However, unlike most CCT buildings, which have a friendly keyholder, here, as someone from the Cathedral advised me, first you need to know where the key is, then you need to do some serious grovelling to actually prove you should be able to go in. Not a very happy prospect.

St Cuthbert, Darwen

HONK HONK ST CUTHBERT COMING THROUGH

St Cuthbert, Darwen

Interior of St Cuthbert, Darwen

The last church I got in was after a quick drive south, towards the hills, to St Cuthbert, Darwen. Always nice to bookend the day with Paley & Austin, this was built in 1875. The saddle-back tower of 1907-8 with an inappropriate clock by a borough engineer is a bit daft, and the whole thing looks from the outside as if it’s going to plow off into the street. “Sound and serious, nothing more”, says Pevsner, obviously satisfied but at a loss for words. Indeed, it’s a lovely atmospheric building, honest in every degree, but not much to say about the interior, except that it works in a thoroughly modern Gothic manner. The best thing is the 1908 window in the north aisle by Shrigley and Hunt, that shows St Cuthbert with his attribute of an otter at his feet. To show the Edwardians weren’t above a bit of animal whimsy, he’s wearing a mitre.

St Cuthbert, Darwen

Thanks I love otters in hats

The Director’s Cut – Flickr Box Set