- A major south Devon church with Norman origins
- A beautiful rood screen with medieval painted saints
- A fine Victorian altar back in the sanctuary
- Three delicious Kempe windows
- Some good medieval stained glass
- A very elegant 18th century pulpit staircase
- A stunning 15th century wooden pulpit with original colouring
- A very fine church indeed
Ipplepen Church of St Andrew and a poor priest
There is a plaintive cry from the heart in the Ipplepen Visitations (a kind of questionnaire sent to parishes by the bishop) of 1779, a cry of an old man beaten down by work and time, which tells us a lot about priorities of the day.
Premises are kept in so good repair as a poor Curate, (Aged eighty Two with a Family & a 50 pound Salary) will permit. The remainder of ye distant Glebe (church lands) can best be known from ye Impropriatrix (renter of the lands and church tax) Mrs Drake, who hath ye Great Tythes & lives in ye Parsonage house & to my knowledge is very well repaired.
William Taunton, Ipplepen Visitations Friends of Devon Archives: 1779
For William had laboured at the care of the parish for fifty-six years, heart and soul, and at the age of eighty two, on a wage that was below the £54 pa that a good printer was getting, he was tired.
He had about 2 acres of land with that and accommodation, but a priest’s job is to give money, to look after the poor and the needy, to care… and he does seem a goodly priest, dying four years later having served his parish for sixty years.
But why the low money and the lack of support? Not even a sniff of a pension.
Well, the advowson, the right to appoint the priest and to collect the tithes, belonged to the Deans and Canons of Windsor, and sadly they seemingly saw this more as a business than a Christian thing. They leased out the church lands (99 acres), the right to the tithes (worth £495 in 1822) and the fine Rectory to a local family, both parties doubtless well profiting from the arrangement.
And then they paid a priest a small amount to look after the parish, as little as they could apparently.
Not an uncommon occurrence in the 1700s and one reason why the 1800s saw such a rejection of previous church practises and a renewal of the Christian approach.
Sadly William missed this renewal, but I bet the parishioners missed him heaps. Sixty years of priesting in the same parish is fine thing.
Just like the church, which is mainly fifteenth century but goes backaways, as this Norman door shows with traces of Norman carving on top.
But it is not just the history; as Marion Royle points out the
burnt sienna works beautifully with those greys
and surely she is right.
Entering Ipplepen church
Inside is a fine mixture of light and South Devon red stone.
The thing is though that originally the pillars and arches were plastered and lime washed white, remaining so up to at least 1857 (Charles Worthy, Ashburton and its Neighbourhood). Once we know this, then those white limestone capitals make a lot more sense, fitting into the colour scheme perfectly.
Why limestone capitals? Because limestone can be finely carved compared to the red stone. It probably came from Beer which is about thirty-five miles down the coast, possibly too far for this parish to afford limestone pillars, possibly plasterwork on pillars was just Jim Dandy.
Now of course we enjoy the reds and whites thanks to the Victorian renovators who mistakenly thought that these pillars were originally bare stone.
The Ipplepen rood screen
But we surely could all agree on the splendiferousness of this gorgeousness, late fifteenth century most probably. It was heavily, and carefully, restored in 1895 in the best tradition of Devon carving by Herbert Read and is a beaut.
All it is missing is the old rood loft, which was almost certainly trashed in the sixteenth century (government orders) and would have made the whole a deal higher.
The rood screen vaulting
Most of this here is restored, but who cares? Old Herbie got it bang to rights, every detail is historically correct without it being a mindless copy.
The black and white surely brings out the lines so well too.
Medieval paintings on the wainscoting
Whilst the paintings along the bottom are all original, and have survived magnificently, probably owing to be covered in brown paint until Herbie’s 1897 restoration. Mind you, folk knew they were there, or at least something was there, as their outline back then showed through very faintly.
There is an almost complete range of figures along the wainscoting (as this area of the screen is called) and they alternate between an apostle and an Old Testament prophet, except this pair.
Also the painter has kindly labelled each figure which was mighty fine of them, though paint does wear off.
But no worries, the dude on the left is the Apostle Thomas, also called Doubting Thomas because when his mates told him that the Big Kahuna had risen from the dead…
Unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands and put my hand into his side, I will most certainly not have faith
Of course when Christ rocks up again he believes immediately without needing to do these things, and proclaims,
My LORD and my GOD
Which brings John’s gospel to a suitable end, because it is very much about Christ being God (the following final chapter is believed to be a later addition by many).
So the spear he is holding, that refers to the wound in Christ’s side that he received on the cross, the one that Tommy wanted to touch.
The lady on the right is a Roman prophetess (somewhat legendary to be fair), one of the Sibyls, who were said to have predicted the coming of Christ; as such, they got an honorary high five from early Christian writers, and one of them ended up on the Ipplepen rood screen.
Most fitting as well, in the last few years a previously totally unknown Romano-British town has been discovered here, blowing all theories about the extent of the Roman occupation of South West England out of the water. Seems like she has found a good home.
The chancel and the reredos
Entering the chancel there are some more modern graces in store, and they are truly crackerjack.
The window and the reredos (altar back) are the two players here.
The reredos is a fascinating creation, and a darling one too.
It is very much of its time, and its time is is at the end of the Victorian era, presented between1887-97 and painted a tad later.
After all, that East Window stained glass dates from that period too, so if I was a betting man I would venture that the chancel was given a good brush up around then, including the reredos.
Edwardian saints and flora
A bit solid, a bit modern, a bit Arts and Craftsy with a big dollop of loveliness all crafted together, very lovely indeed.
It is an interesting mix for sure; the spandrels, those triangular bits ether side of the arches, have pure medieval foliage carving, golden as it would have been originally. Then the actual tracery gets its inspiration from the same period but is simpler and heavier.
Yet inside the top lights are those very delicate flowers, finely painted, very pretty indeed, and below that are the figures of saints, apostles church fathers, rhyming but not slavishly copying the figures on the rood screen.
So whilst the whole is very much its own design it also takes its inspiration from Old Devon, and is very much in the tradition of putting its own spin on what has gone before. Devon carvers did that all the time, they never copied slavishly no more did they break entirely with what went before. Their work was variations on a theme with an evolution of the same.
Just like this.
So very cute angels
Then of course it has these poppets, and I just adore them. I mean, I know they are artfully done and all, but the cute factor is all I need.
Colour me blue and call me shallow, but they so have my heart.
Stunning Kempe stained glass
Most churches are happy to have just one Kempe window, two would be a real privilege and this church has three, all from around 1906 and onwards (two were made by his workshop after he died).
Charles Kempe is one of the best known stained glass artists ever, and his windows are instantly recognisable. This one is a real tour de force, even it does make ‘very busy’ look like a laid back hippy.
… his fastidiously luxurious style is unmistakable. Swathed in robes of cloth of gold and damask, figures derived from late medieval English and north European sources pose elegantly under elaborate gothic canopies against landscape backdrops evoking Albrecht Dürer and Martin Schongauer. Most characteristic of all are the colours: deep olive greens, tawny yellows and silvery-grey whites with flashes of ruby red.
Christ the Saviour
Which seems a fair summary of this lush portrait of Christ as the Saviour of the World, crowned, bejewelled and… well, and that face, that is not an arrogant monarch’s face, it is the modest God of infinite love and compassion. The whole is a wonder.
Kempe himself was
A devout Anglo-Catholic with a bad stammer which precluded a career in the church, he devoted himself instead to the cause of beautifying church buildings.
The Victorian Web
And I think we can say he succeeded so well.
St Michael and an enchanting angel
Look at the colours here too, if you will, and absorb all the rich shades. He was so good.
Peacock feathers as well, Kempe did like to use those for the wings.
That dragon is a lovely as well, all those shades of red and burnt orange, it seems consumed by the fire within that all dragons have, that the Devil has, just burning in constant pain, the pain that sin can bring, sin that is not addressed and slain.
Medieval stained glass
There are some nice fragments of medieval stained glass too; here we have a possible St Dorothea on the right (often shown with a flower wreath) and a speculative St Homobonus on the left, with the bag of money that he distributed to the poor and needy.
Homobunus was the patron saint of clothworkers which fits a wool producing region to a T, but sadly we do not know where this glass came from, all we do know is that it does not belong in the church. A common thing in the nineteenth century when vicars or others would collect antique glass and place it in their church.
A very elegant staircase
Though we can thank the eighteenth century parishioners for these elegances, pulpit stairs that surely every church yearns for. Really very nice indeed, even down to the little turned outward bit at the bottom, every detail carefully judged.
If I was priest of this baby I would sneak in late at night and sashay up and down these stairs all glammed up in my best vestments, by candlelight. They are that good, so very so.
There is one thing they totally deserve though…
A beautiful 15th century pulpit
… A fifteenth century carved wood pulpit in its original colours, that will do nicely. Especially as it is an absolute gem.
The niches, now with black background, would either have had little statues, or paintings, of saints, now seemingly long gone, unless there is something under the black. Now there is a thought.
Some of these wooden medieval pulpits in Devon are carved out of one block of work, or various large panels, but here various pieces have been carved then pegged together.
They are generally thought to have been based on earlier stone pulpits, which could well be true though unprovable and somewhat arguable. Devon had such a rich and deep tradition of oak carving that for some parishes wood might have been the first choice.
Very fine carving
And just look what they can do with wood; this leaf looks still alive and on the vine (for a vine leaf it is). Even the leaf veins are lightly chiseled out, giving it a freshness and naturalism that is outstanding.
Awe, that is the for this work, awe at the art, the skill, the talent and the survival of such a display of faith and beauty passing down the centuries. Absolute magic.
Enchantment in the church
This church is very good at awe, there is that; the screen, the paintings, the reredos, the stained glass, the stairs and pulpit and more than I can show here…
As ever, though the church is always greater than the sum of its parts, and sitting quietly taking in the marvellous art in such an ageless space is, for some, a way to enter the awe of Creation and the infinite love of the Divine.
For others the peace and beauty is a path in itself.
Is not variety a grand thing?