- Beautifully positioned in a peaceful village
- A nicely grand exterior
- A grand 15th century font with a very cute font cover
- An entrancing Green Man up a pillar
- Very fine old bench ends
- A good Victorian altar back
- A very rare, and very marvellous, Breton style screen, one of only three in the country
A problem with rectors
There was kerfuffle here in 1281 when Alanus, the vicar, was accused by the parishioners of living with the wife of a local man, and having four children together.
More importantly, they underlined, he was not doing all the proper vicary stuff, like running the church well or visiting the sick.
Things were not much better in 1301 when the parishioners were on the warpath again about the new reverend, William de Churitone, who
… does not tell them much about the articles of faith, the ten commandments, and how to avoid mortal sin. He also does not say his matins with singing on feast days, and he only celebrates mass every other day of the week…
He is defamed concerning the sin of incontinence with Lucy de la Stubbe, who is married.
Visitation of parishes in Exeter 1301, 1330, via Pastors and the Care of Souls in Medieval England
The church was a bit of a wreck as well, but that was lower down the list. What the parishioners really wanted was to for the vicar to do his job, show them the Christian path.
The sex bit? Well, celibacy in holy orders was still not fully a thing, in country areas especially, and folk were pretty chill about a bit of holy hanky panky, but so very not if the priest was a bit rubbish as well.
And not if it was with another man’s wife, I suspect; definitely not cricket if cricket had been invented then.
To be fair the parish folk were hardly angels of honesty themselves; in 1281 the tithe income of Colebrooke was reckoned £5, in 1291 at £2 five shillings and fourpence.
Hhhm. A few porkies being told there, methinks. Though if they were not getting their money’s worth from the holy folk, not paying their wages was probably a pretty decent way to show their annoyance.
Colebrooke Church of St Andrew
Cracking church in any case. Mainly fourteenth century nave and chancel, with a fifteenth century north aisle. The tower is a bit of both, age fluid as the technical jargon never says but really should. This image gives a good view of the different stonework, it was probably heightened in the latter century, but needed restoration in 1674.
Of course, putting many tons of stone on an existing tower without considering the foundations never leads to any problems, does it?
A moving sundial
Very sweetly, there is this charm of a sundial on the tower south side, 1889, Jacobean style, gifted by Charles Turner, carved by Harry Hems of Exeter
Charles’s father James had been a stonemason in the parish for over 60 years. His “signature” can still be seen on many of the 19th-century headstones in the churchyard.
Church web site
Which is marvellous connection, set amongst the gravestones that his Dad carved.
It is also of Corsehill stone from Dumfries in Scotland. Maybe they wanted a red stone to match the church that took a sharper cut than the local Devon Red?
Inside Colebrooke Church and a revolution
The church has a lovely, light interior, very tall too; it really is a delight.
Restored in Victorian times, the old pews taken out the present ones put in. Mind you, there are some in our church loving community who decry aspects of Victoria renovation, and sometimes they might have a point, but maybe those innovative Victorians did too.
Here is an excerpt that the ‘Lord of the Manor, Mr AO Sillifant, chairman of the restoration committee, gave on reopening day:
They not only had dry and comfortable seats, and every parishioner had not only a right to a seat, but he could sit where he liked. (Applause.) The church was now free and open as it ought to be. The old days had gone when the rich man could locate himself in a pew three times bigger than he needed, and keep other people out. Every soul living in the parish had an equal right in God’s house. (Applause.)
Western Morning News – Monday 02 December 1895
Yay, right on, Comrade! The church leading the revolution, now there is a thing, and may it happen again and again.
Bet the Good Lord was cheering them on too!
The old font
Near the entrance the fifteenth century font is a keeper for sure, a solid design intensified by the deep carving and strong verticals.
The font cover
And sitting on top of the font is a seventeenth century font cover, and on top of that is this babe, a not-an-angel; some late Victorian decided it was missing wings, so added them, but it never needed them in the first place. It is a cleric, not an angel.
There is a difference? I hear all my readers in Holy Orders asking. Well, yes, there is. Sorry, holy dudes and dudettes.
Apart from the overall charm of this piece, which it has in spades, I love the bare toesies peeking from under his surplice, dead sweet that is as well as a sign of Christian poverty.
A Green Man
Whilst this beastie is so not a holy roller, Old Man Devil squatting in one the pillar capitals, horn eared and bulging eyed, and very similar to one in Doddiscombsleigh church, only thirteen miles away and of a slightly earlier age.
Face to face with the Devil
The leaves around the one in Doddiscombsleigh are of the Devil’s Bit Scabious, a plant associated with the Devil unsurprisingly, and these leaves could be too, but it would take a better botanist than me (about 99% of the population is my guess) to make a formal identification.
Old bench ends
A tad later are the fifteenth or early sixteenth bench ends, carved from good solid oak, with some plain gothic designs except around the edges. Devon carvers just seem to have been incapable of carving without lush nature appearing somewhere, and here they have twirled foliage up the sides and along the top, each bench different, each type probably recognisable to the medieval church-goer.
And on each one the foliage starts from a vase at the bottom. Cute or not?
But there is also the mysterious half-finished one on the right; the joiner seems to have just downed tools and walked off the job without warning. Not paid, or did the poor soul die, or maybe the parish just ran out of money and could only pay him up to this point?
It is a marvellous touch of church life still apparent today, there is that.
A woodwose and his friend
Whilst these cuties are definitely a part of medieval life to be avoided in the dark, as sweet as they are trying to be with their huge grins. They are mighty unusual for Devon too.
The left-hand one seems to be robed, whilst the right hand one is a woodwose, or a wildman, which are much more common in Norfolk. I would bet my bottom dollar they were made outside Devon and brought in, or at least made by a wood carver from another region and another tradition who was working here.
For one thing, they are not bench ends but part of a prayer desk which went in the North Chantry Chapel, built by a local big man, Philip Coplestone. Phil married Anne Bonville, who was a heiress of her grandma, Leva Gorges, in 1472 and the desk was made for the wedding.
Both folk are holding up a coat of arms each, the Coplestone three leopards, and the Gorges whirlpool.
To be fair, these critters look like a terribly geeky, cosplay kind of thing to celebrate a wedding with, proving that change is somewhat circular in a crooked sort of way.
A fine memorial
Light, moreover, that can really bring out the details on this gorgeous memorial to Lady Elizabeth Coryton who died in 1678 aged 49.
It is a marvellous solid piece, very rustic, not something to turn up at a London museum, and all the better for it. The original colours, gentled by time, still offer a glimpse of their glory.
The little angels up top, or putti as they are called, seem in need of a diet and a strong dose of cheer-me-up, but they still rock, and the way that pediment twirls around to end in those sweet flowers… Oh Mama Mia, it is an attractive little bonny.
A scrolled pediment is its technical name, and the whole is probably a decade or three behind London fashion, but that is a plus in my book.
The Pentecostal altar back
The Victorian altar back (reredos) is another quiet attractiveness, showing the Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on folk as tongues of fire not long after Christ’s Resurrection.
It is quite a cosy thing, all things considered, giving the impression of a bunch of folk just chilling out and then suddenly this happens. A good, gentle altar back, I am thinking
With each individual given their own character, as here. Nice that, very indeed.
The marvellous Colebrooke chapel screen
Next door, around the north chapel, is an astonishment of wonder, a screen the likes of which there are only two other examples in Britain, and both in nearby churches (Coldridge and Brushford).
It was made around 1480, probably to celebrate the construction of the new north aisle and chapel by the Coplestone family, and it is also a bit of puzzle.
It also used to stretch all the way across the nave. Oh my dearie me. I usually go with the flow when it comes to church restorations and renovations, but this one I do shed a little tiny tear over.
Looking at it, the linenfold panelling, the spiral uprights, the tracery with that enormously delicate filigree work, this is not 1480s Devon. Eeeek! No foliage carving! What is local boy to do?
Well, start to praise our friends the Bretons, because it is Brittany style, and fantabulous with it. But it also has English influence. For one thing there is a strong verticality about it, lots of ups and downs, which is terribly English Perpendicular style. In Brittany, usually, the panelling area
… is allowed to express its classical function as a basement, and run in a horizontal direction with the minimum interruption. By contrast, of course, English Late Medieval screen work exploits the unique national Perpendicular style, which can often the emphasis the vertical almost to the exclusion of the horizontal.
Church Furniture in England, C Tracey
And that linenfold, the bits the only come two-thirds up the panelling, until relatively recently there were faint outlines of painted heads on the flat areas. Saints, no doubt, proper Devon style saints.
Wood flowing like water
And it then there is this. The mouchettes (the teardrop shaped beauties) are worth the trip alone, just how they flow and swirls, like eddies in a deep river, then there is the smaller tracery in them…
But really there is more Devon going on here too; that foliage up the top, ogee archlets with finials as they area called, ogee being the shape of the little arches, archlets because they are baby arches, and finials for the sticky up things, one to each archlet.
Then at the bottom of the tracery there are those little semicircular mouldings ; they are not Breton either.
The sensible conclusion would seem to be that it was made on site by English craftsmen with the active participation of a Breton
Church Furniture in England, C Tracey
But enough with the detective work, and the last person to call me sensible is still recovering from their mistake, because, from the side screen (the parclose), this, just this…
Leaves twirling in enchantment
Intricate, flamboyant tracery within tracery, so delicate, every piece and carved without any of the small saws we would use nowadays, this is superb work and a marvellous, joyful play on symmetry too.
The whole, the big mouchettes all together, are a mixture of asymmetry and symmetry, and inside them the smaller tracery is the same, organic nature at its best.
The whole is like a western mandala, patterns within patterns, curves within curves, and I venture can only have come about with a deep knowledge of the natural world. Surely they are leaves within leaves, with leaf veins as well, at least as the initial muse and the rest is the artist.
Genius in delicate woodwork
And what artistry indeed. Look at these, then spend an afternoon deeply looking at leaves, then come back and look these again.
Victorian stained glass joins the game
And just to prove my point, the Victorians put this glowing meditation on foliage in the north chapel window, as if to pay obeisance to the medieval artists and to say ‘look, our humble contribution to your vision’.
And what a vision, down through the ages, beauty and spirit combined, here in deep Devon Colebrooke, a local church for all the world.