- A very well cared for delightful church
- Maybe the biggest sundial in Devon
- Good medieval stone carvings in the porch
- Two beautiful screens, the chancel and the tower arch
- Good Victorian stone altar back
- Good medieval carvings and Victorian tiles int eh chancel
- Check out the early 20th century woodwork
- Fine medieval roof bosses
- A selection of charming stained glass
The care of Cheriton Fitzpaine
Back in 1720 Herman Taylor was engulfed by his own personal hell here in Cheriton Fitzpaine; nowadays we might call it a psychotic breakdown but back then it had no name.
The parish overseers, along with the parishioners, went into overdrive helping him; money for him and his family, taking him to and from various distant doctors, volunteering to stay awake around the clock with him, clothing and cleaning him… in truth spending at least half a year of their total annual budget on him alone.
Sadly in 1725 he seems to have departed by suicide, with his burial paid for by the parish, of course.
And all the time, through the centuries, they were doing the same, looking after the sick, the poor, the illegitimate and their moms, in the best ways they could, as attested in the parish records and brought to us in ‘Cheriton Fitzpaine; a Sense of Community’ by Elly Babbedge, an eye opening book.
Writing this in the Time of Covid, seems like things do not change overmuch. Respectable folk behaving respectably, helping each other as humans can do, a fine thing to experience.
Cheriton Fitzpaine Church of St Matthew
And this church too is a respectable church; no wild nights, no morning afters, no existential crises, it is a well cared for, solid Mid-Devon church, and that is high praise indeed.
The north and south aisles reach as far as the end of the chancel, which is a sign of a Devon church. It occurs elsewhere too, but here it is far more common. The centre bits, the nave and chancel, are fourteenth century while both aisles were added in the fifteenth along with the tower and the porch.
And, as ever, set in a pretty churchyard in a pretty village in the prettiest county in England.
A ginormous sundial
The porch is a delight, with that enormous metal sundial, probably mild steel, probably eighteenth century, the size most unusual. Was it to show off, having the biggest sundial in the now forgotten Devon sundial wars, when suicide missions were dispatched into enemy parishes to throw eggs and manure at competitors? Or was it just happiness at having a new dial? Difficult choice, that…
There is a niche above the door which would have held a statue of a saint or Christ. Now it holds a nineteenth century statue of St Matthew. In Medieval times the church was dedicated to All Saints; the St Mathew dedication was only adopted in the twentieth century.
The church porch
The inner door is a fine beast, nineteenth century but looking every inch a medieval strong boy, or at least a Victorian Romantic’s vision of one, which will do me fine.
The porch roof is stone vaulted, supported by these angels, which is very respectable in these parts.
The expense of stone vaulting was considerable, and usually they were timbered. The fifteenth century wealth of the parish is indicated by the addition of those two large aisles as well as this porch and the tower; Cheriton Fitzpaine itself lounges in some of Devon’s most fertile land, surrounded by rich, red soil.
But these angels are a rapture, especially the one with the big goofy expression on the right.
The Five Wounds of Christ
Up above, the main boss on the vaulting is the Wounds of Christ, showing the position of the five wounds that Jesus received on the cross, apparently the same age as the porch (1400s) though some say it is relatively modern.It is surrounded by the other bosses, not shown here, of the Instruments of the Passion, symbols of Christ’s experiences on the road to Crucifixion over Easter.
Whatever the age, and I will go the earlier dating until I can find evidence to the contrary, this symbol was deeply significant on many levels.
Bishop Quinel, Bishop of Exeter from 1280-1291, called them ‘the springs of the saviour’ and the source of the Holy Sacraments in the church.
`And he cures not only by the efficacy of words but also by the workings of the sacraments flowing from the springs of the saviour, that is from the wounds of Christ’
To have this here was a formidable message about the power of Christ, whether entering or exiting the church.
In a certain deep (and admittedly arguable) way from these flowed the Way of Christ itself; love, forgiveness, sacrifice, compassion, all the usual suspects, annoyingly true and annoyingly challenging…
Cheriton Fitzpaine church screens
The interior is well looked after, very respectably so, and there is a mighty interesting screen from 1926 designed by one of the best known church architect firms of that era, Caroe and Passmore, who tended towards the Arts & Crafts side.
It is bit of a slow burner this, not being your usual Devon screen, but give it a chance and it comes alight. The intricately carved top with its deep overhang calls to mind the old rood lofts, but it does not try to rhyme overmuch with the old, definitely having its very own style.
It is surprisingly delicate for all its angles; angles which lack the organic flow of medieval style screens making it quite the shocker for us Devon church fanboys and fangirls.
And the wainscoting, that panelling along the bottom, that is nice, those panels with their strong modern shapes and the more delicate tracery in the corners.
All in all, a very modern design for its time; it might not touch the heart immediately but give it time, see it with the eyes of 1926, and it really starts to glow.
A fine Neo-Gothic tower screen
Nicely complemented by the sightly earlier tower screen, 1912 to be exact, which is an enchanting piece of Neo-Gothic in the Devon tradition. Exquisite.
Compare the cornices
Here are the cornices (the bands across the top) from the two screens for comparison. The top one from the chancel screen and the lower one from the tower arch screen, both beautifully and distinctly carved.
The goodly chancel
Popping back a few decades the chancel is a result of the renovation in 1885 by James Crocker of Exeter, one of those provincial architects who seem to have sunk without trace but did a respectable job here.
Admittedly it does look a tad bare, but the those long niches either side of the altar would have held lettered boards of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed.
The altar back (reredos) has a delightful organic feel, with those flowing arches (ogee arches, since you did not ask) above the little flower mosaics and those Four Evangelist symbols.
But there is a tale here, as to why those symbols are so prominent on the altar back; the window also shows the four evangelists and is nearly 40 years older than the rest of the furnishings in the chancel. It was installed in 1846 and made by Joseph Bell of Bristol.
So when the question of a subject for the altar back came up for discussion my bet is that vicar and the architect looked at the window and thought ‘Bingo!’ Bit of a no-brainer really.
They then proceeded to cover the bottom quarter of the window with their grand new creation. Seriously, boys? Seriously?
Sadly, an all too common a problem.
The Four Evangelists on the altar back
Here are the symbols in more detail, John, Matthew, Luke and Mark from top left, clockwise.
The more I look at this church the more I like it; these are fine carvings, well composed to fit into a small space. The animals especially have real character, the angel arguably less so but then three out of four is not so bad.
More delightful angels
And these darlings dotted around the chancel have enough medieval character to power the angel community for many an aeon.
Have a look at that seeming monkey on the right shield too, with three creatures below that I would love to believe are duckies but dreams are not reality… They would have a meaning easily understood to an onlooker; knowing the social status through the family coat of arms being such an important part of that particular life.
Made by the same carver as the porch angels too, I venture.
Gorgeous floor tiles
And while we are in the chancel, take a gander at the floor tiles, because they are stonkingly fine. They are made by Maw & Co. of Shropshire which was the largest tile manufacturer in the world and had a factory of over 5 acres.
As ever with a lot of Victorian art and design, these tiles are so sadly underrated and the one place we can find such an easily accessible, mesmerising a variety is in our churches… as here.
Ancient Roof Bosses
So after looking down, looking up in the north chapel is a pastime well-rewarded, especially with a good pair of close-focus binoculars or a long zoom lens, because the fifteenth century roof bosses are deep pleasure.
The colouring is later, the original painting would have been more subtle, designed to increase the three dimensionality of the boss and highlight details; sadly the present colouring serves to flatten out the subject, which is a humdinger…
What is it? Ah… well, it could be a hydra, but it has wings; It might be a dragon, but it has many heads; it could be a serpent but… Honestly, it is not easy one. My bet would be a winged hydra, though that is open to question and as for the interpretation…
Think this time we will stick to admiring the carving, a fabulous little critter.
Another beaut is this little darling, which seems to be an eagle hunting and catching another bird. I mean, it could be Mr and Mrs Eagle dancing the fandango, but in church… ? Naah, that is so not a thing.
The story starts with the eagle, a bird seen as having keen sight that could look directly into the sun and fly the highest of all the birds; through this, the eagle represented the spirit, for only the spirit can bring us into the presence of God.
So images like this arguably show the triumph of spirit over flesh (its poor lunch).
But look at the background, it seems to be a slightly stylised vine leaf; vine, grapes, communion, the Eucharist, the most sacred Christian sacrament representing in many deep and wonderful ways the presence of the Divine in our world, the salvation of us humans, and the triumph of the spirit.
So in this case, I suspect that we really do have pretty tight interpretation going.
Lovely Stained Glass
As is this stained glass, showing Cheriton Fitzpaine church and its font as well as that big sundial. Totally charming.
The life of Christ
Here are three stages in the life of Christ, well done in the Medieval style; The Annunciation, Adoration of the Magi and the Baptism of Christ. Very mannered, very styled, and indeed this was the purpose; the observer was to meditate on the life and example of Christ, not to be waylaid by emotions.
Of course nowadays we tend to put importance on immediate emotion and this style can be seen as somewhat cold but it was never meant to be that. Just a different approach, is all.
Foliage to die for
And this is a brilliant example of a foliage pattern that Victorian stained glass artists were so good at; almost mandala-like and so very hypnotic.
A very fine church
Just before we go have a gander down the nave and that chancel arch, fourteenth century local volcanic stone reaching so high. Quite a statement that, and a very fine one too, most rare for a chancel arch to be like this.
But that screen too, it really does complement the arch well, with its colour and its depth along with the carved cornice, almost as if it is presenting the arch for inspection. Purposeful? I reckon so, Caroe was a mighty fine architect and would not have done this by happenstance.
So there we have it, a very respectable architect enjoying the delicacies of this very respectable church about a hundred years ago, and what a pleasure it is to join him.