- Strong exterior
- One of the best preserved sixteenth century rood screens in Devon
- Very special Breton woodwork in the north chapel
- An astounding pulpit
- Very good medieval stained glass
- Powerful old roofbosses
- Quality medieval benchends
Coldridge on the cold ridge
Up here on this ridge graves go down only three foot before hitting bedrock, ghosts doze uncomfortably in their stone beds and the living… brrrrh, it really is a cold ridge, seemingly catching the biting wind year round.
Originally though it was Cole Ridge, Cole being charcoal, and so a place known for making charcoal. I do not think these experts have hung around the village for long.
But the burials… now there is a fascinating speculation about one gent buried in the church, connected to a great English Royal mystery, but first…
Coldridge Church of St Matthew
It is a pretty Devon church from around the fifteenth century, with aisles that do not stretch as far as the end of the chancel; we can see the finish of the south aisle on the left. Slightly unusual this for Devon, our aisles usually go all the way.
It has some lovely exterior doorways, this priest’s door being atmosphere defined; priest’s doors allowed the rector to enter his chancel directly, and it really was his chancel. He was responsible for its upkeep and here he performed the holy rituals that made all one with the Lord.
The nave, aisles and tower on the other hand belonged to the parish, the upkeep, the decoration, everything; money for all this came out of the parishioners’ pockets or wealthy donors.
Coldridge church inside
And you know what? The parishioners created a right bobby-dazzler here, full of sensational woodwork and electrifying carving, not only one of the best preserved sixteenth century roodscreens in Devon but more, much, much more…
Let alone this marvellous space of stone and wood and curated light… Mmmmmh
The rood screen in Coldridge church
So to the rood screen saying hi-de-hi in the most fun way, with original vaulting but without its rood loft, as expected (they were near all destroyed in the Reformation), the cornice (the carved frieze at the top) was originally part of the rood loft. The screen may date as late as 1540 but some put it at closer to 1511…
Made out of oak, good solid Devon oak… .or maybe not, oh my, this might be a tad embarrassing…
Work of this quality needs clear-grained oak, the tree rings close together, no knots, no sapwood (the outside part of the trunk), and no bark. This could only be got from good quality trees.
We do have Devon oak trees. Lots of oak in Devon, up hills, down hills, in the steep combes, and lots of wind too, a lot. When trees get blown they twist, and their grain twists, and they become useless for great carving.
Then of course there is the big shipbuilding industry in Devon back in the day, merchant and navy, which used… oak. Good quality oak. Lots of it.
So this screen oak might have come from afar, even from the Baltic which had exactly what was needed and was already exporting to these shores.
Who built the rood screen?
But just look at the result, here in the vaulting with every section a different design, constant variation… and all the wood clean and clear. Consider also, if you will, the amount of planning and design that went into the detailed carving of each piece, making sure it fit, it flowed, it sang…
So who built it?
Well, we know of six churches (Coldridge, Swimbridge, Lapford, Dunchideock, Plymtree and Brushford in Somerset) whose screens were carved with a very similar set of tools and technique, going on chisel width, sweep of gouges and more, plus continuous high-density ornamentation.
So experts reckon there were a small group of artisans (Two? Three?) who were hired to do the work, the Seven Samurai of the Devon rood screen world, who turned up for a year or three, got given accommodation, food and drink, workspace, money, and dazzled with their magic.
A team effort
And what sorcery it is too, wizardry in oak. Look at that detail…
Of course, if we are hiring wood wizards at wood wizard pay we want them doing their wood wizardry, not the basic construction work, so local joiners and carpenters, or jack of all trades, would work with the core group, plus those wizards likely brought their own apprentices or servants.
This also meant that skills and design approaches would be passed down the chain, the spread of ideas and techniques…
This wandering Ronin approach did not happen everywhere, some parishes, especially those near to towns and cities, had access to local artisans, but it seems a slam dunk that it happened here.
A beautiful Breton screen
But not all guns for hire were proper Devon, some of them were even our cousins across the channel, the Bretons, who created the parclose screen (the division between the chancel and the chapel). Here the work is dead similar to screens in Brittany, which is a huge clue, and there is a little cluster of three churches (Brushford, Colebrooke and this one) that have the same style carvings.
Why? Well, the best explanation seems to be that the work was financed by the same patron.
It really does deserve a few minutes of active looking to appreciate its delicacy, those curves, the lacework tracery, lovely jubbly.
An outstanding medieval pulpit in Coldridge
My favourite, though only by a nose, has to be the pulpit, created by the rood screen artists, because look…
… Just look, at the fineness of the carving, the little leaves and florets and the exact attention to detail with those careful tiny marks, from the top ones like triangles with wings to the curved ones further down, designed to catch the light and accentuate the three dimensional effect when painted or gilded… and all this stuff would have been coloured.
My guess, such as it is, is that there was a lot of gilding used because paint could have been shaded to produced a more three dimensional effect, whilst gilding could not, it relied on the actual carving.
Though now we can see it in its naked glory and adore the core skill in its creation… such a privilege and a wonder.
Medieval bench ends
The benchends would likely have been made by locals, much simpler construction and carving, as powerful as they still are.
On the right we have John the Baptist’s head on a platter, as given by an alleged reluctant Herod to a dancer that asked for it; nowadays we call that dancer Salome, but she is not named in the bible.
Neither do we know who this church was dedicated to before the Reformation; this image might be a clue, the only one we have anyways.
Lovely foliage carving though, really nice, but no foliage edging which is a very unusual in these here parts. There are also some uncarved benchends around, probably a factor of the cash all being splurged on the screens and pulpit, which seems a fine choice made…
Coldridge church roof bosses and bestiaries
… Just as these rarities are. A distinctive style here, very probably from another carver entirely, and the simplicity of the design belies the complexity of the theology, before we even mention the power of the images. Very arresting they are.
Now let us talk of bestiaries, of carpenters and kings, especially four legged ones with tails…
A bestiary was an illustrated book about beasts, their physical attributes (alleged, at least) and how they reflected the Word of God because everything was the Word of God; The books entertained and taught together, though back then nobody really made that distinction, luckily we know different. At least we think we do.
So these animals have a role to play to illustrate the Word of God.
Here on the left a pelican representing Christ, as the pelican stabbed its own breast to feed its chicks, and just in case the symbology is not clear it is holding a sacred host in its beak. So this is Christ.
On the right a deer, deers cured themselves of illness by eating snakes and could spring over barriers, so humans too should leap over temptations and if they succumb (as if!) immediately confess and repent to Christ.
An antelope and a strange creature
An antelope, its two horns representing the Old and New Testaments, but antelopes used to get their horns entangled in trees and shrubs (the snares of sin) and be killed by hunters. Do not do this. And note the cross on the tail, there is the redemption.
A thing, possibly King Nebuchadnezzer who was turned into a beast by God for seven years, or a Death Metal locust from the book of Revelations (9: 7-10) that turned up to the Apocalypse locked and loaded, ready to ‘hurt men five months’.
Just in case the viewer was considering sinning, a little word to the wise here.
John Evans and the mystery of Edward the Fifth
While next door to the North is the John Evans chapel, who died in 1511 wearing his chainmail and a surcoat. There is a story attached to Johnny here, a story that has enough ‘ifs’ to fill the Atlantic, but an immensely fun story so…
Nobody knows where he came from, Wales it is claimed, but he rocked up here in 1485 after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 when Richard III was killed. Dick had ‘appropriated’ the throne from his young nephew, Edward V who was the son of the previous king in 1483.
Edward was thought to have been kept prisoner, one of the Princes in the Tower. Shakespeare helped spread the fake news that Dick had killed Teddy.
Medieval stained glass of Edward V
Enter Coldridge and this medieval stained glass in the Evans chapel of Edward V (some folk claim it is Edward VI but the clothes, and book and sceptre do not match that period), in his dainty slippers. This is rare, rarer than hens’ teeth only two or three examples exist. So why here, in a gritty little village lost in the boondocks of Devon?
John Evans’ effigy is staring at this glass, as if to tell us something, and there is more. Johnny was given the Coldridge Manor and a job as keeper of the deer park by Thomas grey, the half-brother of Edward V.
Why give this to a stranger who nobody knew? The plot thickens.
And of course, John Evans… Evans… EV… Edward V… Edward the Fifth… see where we are going here?
So was John Evans really the uncrowned Edward V, released from prison by Henry VII, the victor of the Battle of Bosworth, and told to keep his head down and live out his days here on his half-brother’s land, making like a mute mouse? And is he buried here in Coldridge Church?
No idea, me, but I told you it would be fun, and there is more as well, which space precludes.
Folk looking into it, one of them the lady who discovered Dick’s body in that car park, so some do think it is worth a gander.
Pretty organ pipes
Like organ pipes, always worth a glance and then a second one or five when they are as cutely stencilled as this fairy wands, sprinkling a little enchantment around with their prettiness. The top stencils are a charm though I think the pointy bits at the bottom have my vote by a whisker, those little golden dots and pale blue ribbons… Oh my stars, they are sweet.
The old Norman font
The old Norman granite font, along with its seventeenth century font cover, bring simplicity to the game with consummate talent.
After all the intricate carving, it is a rest for the eyes, with its arcading along the sides probably representing the arcading in a real church and, by implication, the church community which the baptised are joining.
The font cover… ? Simple ageing wood, seventeenth century, artfully created, what more do we want… ?
It is a bare church this, hardly a wall memorial in sight, naked windows, naked stone, naked wood, naked beauty, naked strength; cave-like, the rock of faith, with the near-ever-present wind outside…
But it is the wild carving that inhabits the heart of this glory, not just the physical wood and stone but the glory of their creation, the artists releasing their vision, their imagination, their talents and letting all flow freely through their fingers to paint masterpieces in wood, the unearthly creatures staring down from the roof, the gyrating screens, the coiling intricacies of the pulpit, the foliage-covered benchends…
Welcome to a new old world.