- Another rural delight, largish this one
- A lovely late-built porch with two doors
- Some good medieval roof bosses
- A fine memorial by the famous 19th century sculptor Peter Rouw
- A very nice George III coat of arms
- The stunning stone rood screen is both beautiful and rare
- Some quality stained glass, Victorian and Medieval
- Old medieval wood carving in the chancel
- Fun stencilled organ pipes
- Well-carved pillar capitals, including Christ and the Devil
Here the River Wolf tumbles south down between two long arms of the Blackdown Hills, slowing as it reaches lush meadows before joining the River Otter at Weston; just here too a pub, on old maps marked as a Cider House, a better alternative to the river water seemingly, a particular West Country drinking place where cider was often preferred to ale.
Wolf River, what a rich name; does it dream of ancient days, wolf packs gliding down from the ancient tree-dotted heathland heights of the Blackdown plateau, now enclosed with straight-hedged fields? Have to say yes to that one.
Awliscombe parish is the catchment area of this waterway, the ‘Awlis’ in Awliscombe probably coming from the Old English ‘awel’ meaning awl, hook, fork; the River Wolf truly is a very forky river, picking up many tributaries before reaching that River Otter below.
A lush parish then, as one might expect from sitting in such a wide valley open to the South; Alongside that, it perches on the main Honiton to Cullompton route, travellers meaning trade meaning wealth.
Awliscombe Church of St Michael and All Angels
Awliscombe church of St Michael and All Angels is beaut. It seems to be mainly fifteenth century, though some put it a tad later, with various additions and renovations through the ages, not least two in the nineteenth century. This tower replaced an earlier Norman one most likely.
Delightfully, it uses a lot of local flint (with Beer stone dressings); I say delightfully because for those of us who live over in West Devon flint is a very exotic substance, very easy to please we are.
The parish used to be larger too, way, way back
… a provisional assessment based only work to date suggests that the churches of Buckerell and Gittisham originated as manorial chapels with the original parish of a ‘superior’ church at Awliscombe…
Church and Landscape: A study in Social Transition in South-Western Britain AD c400 to c1200, DW Probert
It was also dedicated to Mary and St Michael originally, though the Blessed Lady went walkabout after the Reformation.
A fine porch
The fine porch is unusual for a couple of reasons: It has a southern and a western door and it is one of the last hurrahs of the Great Rebuilding of Devon’s churches, dating from the1520s just before the Reformation lurched into town.
It also has that well carved doorway, and killer statue niche above (the present statue is recent).
Inside Awliscombe Church
Inside Awliscombe Church all is plastered and lime washed, which is probably very historically accurate (not counting the lack of wall paintings), though in the past that white seems to have been splashed around with abandon.
… nothing was thought graceful which was not charged and imbedded with this snowy material: even some of the old stained glass has obtained this finish at their hands.
Ecclesiastical Antiquities in Devon, G Oliver:1840
Even taking into account the Victorian dislike of whitewash in churches (bare stone is what they loved), criticising the then window decoration was probably fair enough.
But there was more…
It is lamentable moreover to witness the neglected and decaying state of the Fabric: its threatening appearance calls for immediate attention and repair; or otherwise we fear the roof and walls will lie a promiscuous heap of ruins.
But now all is good and it is a grand church. Not promiscuous at all.
Ruth the Moabite
Another delight is this twentieth century stained glass depiction of Ruth, who was a Moabite, a non-Jew, and who converted; She came to Israel in poverty with her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi (long story) to look after her as all Naomi’s sons had died.
Oh, and she was an ancestor of Christ.
Christ had a non-Jewish ancestor! That was a message and half back the day, indicating that his message was for all.
Here the artist paints the anxiety of a stranger in a strange land, with a new religion, surviving in penury, yet with an inner confidence in her new God. A grand piece.
Peter Rouw’s sculpture
And another grand piece is this portrait in marble, part of a monument to Captain John Pring who died aged thirty-eight of his wound ten years after receiving a musket ball in the hip fighting in Spain.
The artist is Peter Rouw, one of the foremost sculptors of his age
Rouw’s church monuments, dating from the 1800s but mostly produced in the 1820s and 1830s, include several with medallion portraits, strictly in profile, beautifully executed and unsentimental, with the sculptor’s aim being fidelity, and with no attempt to idealise the subject.
Here, John Pring’s character shines strongly, that slightly downturned mouth giving an air of the pain he lived in for the last ten years of his life yet still with good humour in his eye.
A George III Coat of Arms
Another Pring is ghosting around this church, Joseph, along with his mate Edward Baker, the church wardens in 1810 when they put up this gorgeous coat of arms of George III.
What relationship Joseph was to John I have not been able to discover but relationship there surely was, both being in the same parish and high on the social list (as church wardens were back then).
And this is truly a lovely coat of arms, with that near turquoise background and an element of femininity in the animals, especially the unicorn.
And I say this as a psalm 146 kind of guy…
Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.
His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.
Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God:
Though strong patriotism and support for the state in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars seems a bit of no-brainer.
The stunning stone rood screen in Awliscombe Church
The wonder of this is a no-brainer too, a very rare (for Devon) stone rood screen, fifteenth century though some date it to the sixteenth. I go with the earlier dating of John Vigar myself, who is a very knowledgeable church expert, much more so than moi.
The battlements are Victorian, the stone is from Beer about twelve miles south on the coast, and the whole is sublime. Probably painted too, back in the day.
But why stone? And how was there a rood loft?
Well, why stone has no clear answer, it was old fashioned for Devon even in the fifteenth century. It was also very expensive, as the only real carvable stone in the county comes from Beer on the south coast, likely enough one reason Devon has such a glorious tradition of oak carving.
The rood loft? One very learned suggestion (not mine, you will not be surprised to know!) is that it was originally similar to the screen at Compton Bassett in Wiltshire; here there still exists a stone screen somewhat similar to this with a more ornate stone verandah type affair further to the front. The two are joined by a roof which acts as the rood loft.
Though in Devon the front screen, if there was one, might well have been oak.
On the other hand there might have been no frontal screen at all, instead an oak rood loft could have been placed on top of the present structure.
Many a thing will forever be hidden from us, this included I suspect.
However it worked, the present carving is mighty impressive, solid and bodacious as it is; the whole of this so seems to show powerful fertility, springing from the Sacred within.
And the choir of angels singing frontwards down the nave is a pretty too, well carved and knowing it.
With gorgeous polyphony coming from the chancel behind, surely it would only have needed a tiny dot of imagination to hear the same music wafting from the angels themselves?
Through the screen the sanctuary has the old Victorian Ten Commandment boards either side, and a bright window unsullied by a high altar back. Very nice indeed.
The East Window
Especially the scenes from the Passion of Christ on that same window, here Christ praying in the Garden of Gethsemane whilst the three disciples accompanying him are taking a nap. Not really the best time, boys!
Though I think the man himself pointed out to them first
So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Matthew 26, 40-42
Which was far about more than just catching a bit of shut-eye at that point in time.
Marvellous medieval carvings
Though if you want a rest then go sit in the left hand choir stalls (Victorian), second row I think, have a little rummage and you should find that the backs are made out of medieval carvings, some of them absolutely outstanding.
Just look at this foliage flow, ripe to surge forth from the wood and entwine our dreams with awe and love.
These likely come from an old screen, maybe an aisle one, according to Todd Gray, though where specifically is far too lost to say for sure. Again.
Glorious stained glass
Another Victorian tour-de-force is the south window of the south transept, two glorious pageants, one of the Nativity and one, here, of the Last Supper. It is lovely, and even better in its setting.
Christ at the Last Supper
Those colours too, and that foliate background, oh my dear Mama!
Along with these two attributes, the stylised mannerisms and painterly faces mean it probably is by William Wailes, one of the most popular stained glass workshops of later Victorian times, and so very deservedly so. Take a pair of binoculars and just be in awe.
The face of Christ
Because with good binoculars or a fine zoom lens we can spend our time being bowled over by this kind of awesomeness, hiding in plain sight.
The shading, the colouring, the expressiveness, the hair, the eyes, all a true joy.
Medieval stained glass
The Medieval also gets a look in glass-wise, with four female saints in one window and a dude on crutches in another.
The lady saint here is St Barbara, holding the tower she was imprisoned in and the palm leaf of martyrdom; she was said to help protect against sudden death.
The lad on the right, well he’s more of mystery, particularly as this seems to be fragment of a larger scene; there are some speculations that could be speculated but the lack of context makes them too airy for me.
Better, I venture, just to enjoy the little bit of artistry that still survives here.
The Devil and Christ
Another lesser mystery are these babes, carved on a pillar corner.
The bad lad on the left is likely the devil, with pointy ears, sharp teeth and a cleft lip; sadly, a cleft lip was seen as a sign of the Devil, though positively surely if darling little Jimmy was born with one then family love would take precedence. Or maybe I am over-hoping.
The better lad on the right is Christ I venture, and here context is important.
Because Christ (below) is holding a grapevine, a symbol of the sacred wine in the Eucharist, his actual blood when consecrated, in the faith of that time, and redolent of his divinity and his love for each and every child of God on this earth.
The devil (above) on the other hand seems trapped by oak leaves, not a plant associated with the devil as far as I am aware, so not totally sure how it ties in.
My best speculation, and it is speculation, is that it might represent the Devil trapped by God’s creation, subservient to the boss man yet still around.
Whilst this pretty is definitely something to watch out for in the best of ways, tucked away in a little corner waiting to be rhapsodised over.
In all the lovelies of this lovely church, this flutters and flitters around my imagination the most; such enchantment caught in glass, a gossamer angel glimpsed whisperingly in flight, a few splashes of colour, transparent yet present, it hesitates between dream and reality, my heart under its spell forever…
I know nothing more about it, and what I know is enough until the end of time.
Which, for some us, is the essence of churchy life, not the understandings, not the interpretations, not the speculations, not the histories, all so fascinating and wondrous as they are, but the magic…
Waiting to be found as each one of us prefers, waiting to sparkle our imaginations one prettiness at a time.