- Another beautifully situated church
- Its history intimately connected with the surrounding area
- Atmospheric 14th and 15th century windows
- A deeply historical south porch
- Simple, small interior
- Two original and fascinating rood screens
- Some enchanting Victorian stained glass
Bow Parish and old connections
Confusingly Bow church is not in Bow, it is in Nymet Tracey, a mile south of Bow, and thereby hangs a most fascinating tale,…
Bow used to called Nymetboghe, or Nymetbowe, speculatively because it is on a curve of the River Yeo, which used to be called the River Nymet. Nymet itself is a Celtic word meaning a sacred grove, or shrine; there are a whole wheelbarrow load of Nymet place names around here.
And in 1984 the outline of a Bronze Age (around 2,500 to 800 BC) henge, a round structure a bit like Stonehenge only made out of wood, was discovered just west of Bow followed by barrows, ring ditches and more; ground-breaking stuff that showed how this area was covered in seemingly ritual structures (and more), bit like Nymets to be fair, though they did not speak Celtic in the Bronze Age. Who knows if there is an ancestral connection?
And another tie-in is from Germany, where Crediton’s most famous son, St Boniface was busy converting the heathens, Crediton being only eight miles away.
Because in the eighth century this bonny saint helped write a list (in The Indiculus Superstitionum Et Paganiarum) of thirty pagan jollies that a new Christian was meant to give up; there is debate about Boniface’s connection but the mainstream perspective is that he was the boy.
The list is mainly in Old Low Franconian (nope, me neither), and number six gives a heads up about
The sacred trees in the woods which they called Nimidas
And that word ‘Nimidas’ is Celtic derived, not Old Low Franconian, same word as Nymet. Learnt, so very likely, at the knees of his Papa in Nymet country.
Is that not such a pretty little connection!
So why Bow and not Nymet Tracey?
But that does not answer the question about why it is now called Bow parish, and with a pretty a fifteenth century window as this darling to gaze at with delight, carved from volcanic stone, the story continues with early rural urbanisation.
In the 1200s the owners of England were gung-ho about improving the economy, admittedly this meant improving the economy of their own pockets, but they did realise that more money for everyone meant more taxes for them.
So one thing was creating markets, places where folk could rock up every week or so and buy and sell using cash instead of bartering or buying off wandering, untaxed pedlars. This was, in economic speak, a major step to monetising their land ownership.
So they built loads of market towns around the country, Bow being one. We can usually tell the market towns created in that century; they are strung out along a wide road, easy for stalls and animals to be displayed and everything to be bought and sold.
In addition, each new house had a long strip of land stretching behind them for the householder’s use, growing food, raising a pig, or maybe the meth lab du jour.
And here, in the modern Ordnance Survey map of Bow, all the points are neatly ticked. That red road was the main road back in the day too.
Just to gild the lily Henry de Tracey (him of Nymet Tracey fame) was granted a charter in 1285 by the king for a weekly market in Bow and a three-day annual fair. The king got paid by Henry, Henry got paid regularly by the market sellers and the house tenants, and life was topping for the Traceys.
Bow church of St Bartholomew
Bow never really took off and stayed a village, and the church stayed in Nymet Tracey and it is a sweet little thing. Originally Norman at least, the nave and chancel were rebuilt in the fourteenth century, and the tower, north aisle and porch added in the fifteenth.
This lovely window is original fourteenth with just a smidgeon of restoration, made of volcanic stone with walls of local mudstone rubble, held together with lime mortar, freshly repointed with traditional lime mortar again. Such a lovely range of hues too in the volcanic stones.
Also, for those of who get excited by windows, the style change is clear between this one and the later one shown before.
The south porch
Inside the fifteenth century porch is the earlier doorway with beautifully coloured stonework.
Above it that protruding arch, very likely Norman, probably the remnant of the previous doorway upcycled as a hood mould for the new one, used to stop rainwater washing down across the door. Now of course not needed with the porch there.
A Norman head
Then there is this pretty, a Norman head to say hello as we enter, rather an entrancing one too. It seems to be crowned, leading to the possibility that this is the head of Christ the King, though that is a mite speculative.
Still, cannot hurt to wonder.
It does have a certain grandeur, that is for sure.
Rugged roof bosses
The porch still has its original roof bosses as well, like this one here. Me, I sometimes feel I have roof bosses coming out of my ears and this one… well, in truth, it is a teensy-weensy little-bitsy basic, even allowing for time having its dastardly way with it.
Which is something we will come to later; there seems to have been some concessions made to costs in this church, especially as regards to the wood used. Not a massive amount, but some, and it is another indication that Bow as a market place really did not take off.
The Bow church rood screens
Both very early rood screens, but in truth they are more chancel screens. Rood screens were never called that, they were called rood lofts because their purpose was to hold a loft, a walkway to access the rood (crucifixion carving) positioned up near the ceiling. The loft was supported by vaulting from the screen.
The ones here could support diddly squat. No vaulting, no support. It probably dates from the early fifteenth century, especially considering the flat headedness of those rectangular compartments and that no vaulting thing, and it was not originally in its present position. It likely came somewhat forward.
The colouring? A lot of it twentieth century gloss paint, though following the original colour scheme more or less. Hey ho, there are enough rood screens in Devon to allow for a variety of conservation approaches.
There was likely enough a rood loft over this at some point, supported on separate columns.
The panelling is beautiful simple, we can still see the old saw marks. The carving is extraordinarily simple too, as shown by those quatrefoils (meaning four leafed) along the bottom, just a shape is all. Later ones in that position are much more intricately carved with an inner boss as well.
And they have a round outer shell. Oooh, wonder if there is a meaning to those?
Magically, there likely is.
Look, if you will, at the uprights rising to support those two kind of reverse teardrop thingies, or mouchettes as they are called in the trade. Only they are not just mouchettes, they are leaves. Two tiny leaves bursting from the top each upright; these are fresh, young seedlings sprouting from the good earth.
And now those round outer shells around the quatrefoils make sense, to me at least (not sure how much of a recommendation that is). They are seeds, encasing the future plant leaves. Told you, magical.
But there is more. On the horizontal mouldings above the seedlings, are little flower heads, one to each full seedling more or less, tiny ones but definitely flower heads.
Seeds and seedlings on the wainscoting
How so extremely magical is this? Especially as once seen, this kind off stuff jumps out from so much of our Devon wood carving.
A deeper meaning too? Why of course, this is a church not a botany lesson, but it is art and how it speaks to us is individual. One mighty important thing though, folk would have been looking through a deeply affective Christian filter.
I reckon it has something to do with the past, present and future of our spiritual growth as we look through the screen at the heart-flooding transformation of the Eucharistic wine and bread into the blood and body of Christ.
Others can bring their own picnic, and gobble it with gusto too.
Plus, as ever in these terrifyingly marvellous places, there is more than one picnic at a time.
Take a gander at the tracery.
The so very delightful tracery. Foliage as well. Slightly more stylised, but foliage for deffo, with all those mouchettes and other gaps as leafy outlines.
But the main banana is this:
The foliage hidden in the tracery
Flower heads, or plant heads, supported by the stems of the uprights, surrounded by other foliage.
Life sure gets more and more wonderful, screen by screen.
So below, on the panelling, we have the seedlings and here we have the richly lush plant life… notice a connection?
And at the top, on the cornice, we have the vine and grapes, the blood of Christ, the sacred.
Whilst if we were to continue upwards back in the day, we would say hello to a representation of the Crucifixion, the Rood to give it its old name. So those grapes are no coincidence either. Meeting God through his creation.
And just to make clear, that so does definitely not mean the Creation contains the big boss, my goodness no; that would be incredibly naughty, pantheism as it called, not a Christian thing at all, though good luck to those who might dip their bread in that bowl of olive oil.
And all this on an early screen, later ones rhyme and have far more leafy stuff twining and curling away, like a breakdancer at a disco, some stylised, a lot not.
The back of the screen
Taking a quick glance at the back of the screen, it is bare as so many are. The parishioners paid for the screen, so they tended to decorate their side only, at least that is the story repeated umpteen times.
There is also the little detail (a bit speculative here) that the Garden of Paradise is outside, in here is God; she is glory enough.
And here that slight concession to cost comes through again. This wood is not top of the heap. All a bit knotty. It is not bad, just not of the normal screen quality. So maybe the parish was poor, or maybe it was going through a real bad patch.
But they sure made a corker with this humble old thing.
Stained glass, plants and saints
Especially the daffodils, very especially so, not forgetting that snowdrop down below.
The subject is effectively and artistically treated. The colours, while rich are harmonious and subdued. The window, as a whole, is an admirable specimen of stained glass work.
Western Times: 17 December 1901
Could not have put it better myself.
Excellent quarry glass
Whilst the quarry glass in another window has more delicious foliage and flowers, both in the diamond panes and around the edges.
Quarry glass (from the French ‘carée’ meaning square or diamond shaped) is a much underrated art form, according to me. When the artist gets that mixture of delicacy and strength just so, it is totally magical, and the edging comes into play too, such a range of creativity.
St Bartholomew and St Martin
While this work, showing St Bartholomew and St Martin, is a fascinatingly studied composition very much of its time, installed in 1889 to a young lad who died of tuberculosis.
The detail in the cloth is, as so often in Victorian stained glass, a wonder, and that blue-grey armour of St Martin is darling.
Both saints are deeply connected to the parish, this church is dedicated to Bart and there is an old chapel nearby in Broadnymett farm, long ago a separate parish, dedicated to Marty.
The old font
There is a handsome beast of a fourteenth century font here too, really very nice. There has been some restoration, but the all is still as it should be.
And of course this one is so not done on the cheap, this is quite the classy font as fonts go, particularly here in deep Devon. Having a font was so very important as Baptism was one of the two of the most important Sacraments, so likely a clue there.
This, amongst so much else, is why I love our churches so much, they are so deeply tied into the history of the parishes and the life of the local folk, and this little church in the middle of the sacred Bronze Age landscape is a fine example.
Sitting here is sitting amongst the ancestors, and that is a privilege and a delight.