- Beautiful stonework on the tower
- Monarchs and creatures carved around a north window
- Angels in the roof
- One of the best rood screens in the county
- A stunningly coloured rood stairs door
- Charming Ten Commandment board
- Historic panelling in the north chapel
- A fine carved and painted west gallery
- All in all, a totally excellent church
Kentisbeare church tower
This gorgeous stonework on Kentisbeare church tower is its crowning glory; Off-white Devon Beer stone complementing rare cinnamon-red, locally quarried, volcanic.
Not just the chequerboard pattern either but also the windows and doorways. It looks good now and it must have been a real dandy when built in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century (along with the chancel).
The nave might well be earlier but, as is so often, certainty cannot be pinned down. The earliest record we have of a church is an existing one in 1244, and then in 1259 Bishop Bronescombe dedicated three altars and a graveyard here.
Kentisbeare church around and about
The south aisle was added in the sixteenth century; the priest’s door into the old south chapel, along with a near original window, make for a delightful composition.
The stonework is a bit more slapdash here too; twas ever thus on the side of the church that did not have the main entry door. Better to spend the money on interior finery than on a wall that few would see was probably the common opinion.
Medieval creatures frozen in time
On the north side, the entrance side (unusual that, normally it is the south), are some crackerjack medieval carvings, a couple of heads and a couple of beasts. What the beasts are is anybody’s guess, but happily they are easily inspected at window height.
Worth inspecting too; colonised by lichen, frozen in time, it seems a new mythic beast retreating into fossilhood to be rediscovered in a thousand years and argued over forever.
It has a dynamism, a sinuous nature, crouching there, caught in the act of leaping, caught in lichen like a fly in amber.
Inside Kentisbeare church of St Mary
WIth that creature outside it is sure nice to know that we are well protected by medieval angels inside, holding the Good Book too, or teaching from it.
Here age has softened, ever tenderness and beauty, an alluring aura.
Looking up the nave
Talking about alluring, we also meet a rood screen described as ‘one of the finest in the country’. Oh my. Oh double my!
Personally this hierarchy thing does not sit very comfortably with me; my job is to find the love in all, and besides I do not have the experience nor desire to judge, but it is a double plus good beaut for sure.
Here, take a closer look…
The superb Kentisbeare medieval rood screen
The lightness, the vaulting springing from those thin uprights and stretching upwards…
The variety, look at the bottom panels if you will, the carving is different on each one as is the tracery in each opening above, a subtle approach to keeping the eye interested…
The colours, somewhat muted now but look how they pick out the lines and curves, making that structural woodwork appear even more delicate than it is…
The fantastically delicate cornice (that band of carving along the top) with that open topmost frieze that brings the whole to a soft end…
A genius of gothic woodwork, a gothic church inside a gothic church with windows and vaulting, only more elegant, more ornate than anything that can be achieved by stone, at least down here in the West Country.
It is original, all original, except there would likely have been paintings of saints along the bottom and it would have been taller; there would have been a rood loft to walk on with a waist high panelling either side, carved and painted.
But who cares? They had to change it (Reformation, my dear, that dashed Reformation), and they changed it beautifully, oh so beautifully…
The rood screen tracery
And that tracery, the way it forms three plants, or even trees, full of leaves… here, take a gander…
See how the tracery is split into three distinct parts supported by the uprights, and within each part are stylised leaves. This is so not decoration for decoration’s sake, this is foliage, plants or even trees, through which the congregation looked into the Holy of Holies.
Devon Churches are so full of foliage carving, and rood screens are no exception.
And back to the original…
With those delicate little buds at the bottom and gossamer shields inside the plants.
Also it is as well not to forget the vaulting, which viewed in the first picture sprouts from the large uprights like… oh, like trees. Oh.
So this was not an experiment in patterns and geometry, this was the wonder of nature and the greatness of the Creator.
And in case there doubts about the vaulting…
The rood screen vaulting
The mouchettes, as they are so technically called, in the vaulting; leaves and flower heads, all beautifully coloured.
And taking the colouring, there is a lot of thought gone on here too. A beast like this we might think would use a lot of gold gilding, but the painters used another technique. The used silver gilt, hair thin leaves of silver, then covered that with a yellow glaze to give it a golden look.
Some folk have suggested this was to save money, but looking at all this artistry I reckon not; there would have been many a bigger opportunity to spend less, and this was for the Divine. I mean, what are they going to say when they rock up to the Pearly Gates? “We built this gorgeousness for you, but decided to make it look a bit rubbish to save a few shillings”?
No, I suspect that silver gilt with a yellow glaze gives a softer gold, and this screen is all about delicacy for all its size and awesomeness.
The rood screen cornice
Because look at the cornice, the sinuous, elaborate intricacies carefully picked out with colouring.
“… the beauty of the long-rolling curves of the festoons of leafage contrasting with one another, curve competing with curve as they twine around the twisted ropes, or rough formed tendrils, which pass along from end to end…
Wood Sculpture, Alfred Maskell, 1911
And I could not put it better myself, though I am sure I shall try.
So how can things get even more exciting? Funny you should ask that, because…
A Medieval Door
… this, just this. The door into the stairs that used to take folk to the rood loft, unless I am misremembering.
Beyond sensational. To have that paintwork survive is just gobsmacking, and more enthrallingly gives us an idea of just how everything was coloured in a medieval church.
Fair dos though, this is covered in a lot of dirt, and requires a strong torch (which every churchlover should have down here). I brought the colouring out during editing.
The age? Probably about the same as the south aisle and the rood screen, early 1500s, but it would take a more learned person than me to be sure.
Beautiful panelling in the South Chapel
In the south chapel there are these rustic coats of arms on what seems to sixteenth century panelling brought from a nearby house; seems a bit of mish mash, as if it was put back together without the original plans, and these coats of arms might not belong in their present position. There does seem to be paintwork behind them.
Coats of arms
But they are very sweet, and they show the local Walrond family marriages and alliances through the ages. The three bulls heads are the Walrond arms, and the others belong to the various spouses (the groom’s arms always comes first).
These would have been displayed in the big house forming a kind of family tree, a web of alliances amongst the powerful of the South West and further afield. Now they are curios, but so sweetly done.
Checking into the chancel for a breather from all this awesomeness, Victorian ornateness says ‘what about me?’.
In truth it is a lovely example of a Neo-Gothic Victorian chancel, with good mosaics in the alabaster altar back, fine tiling and the Ten Commandment boards either side of that pretty East Window. Sitting here awhile surely is a good time to catch one’s breath.
The Ten Commandments lettering
Those Ten Commandment boards have some enchanting lettering without doubt; here are two ‘Ts’, the beginning of ‘Though Shalt… ‘ instructions on how and how not to live.
Queen Elizabeth 1 was the first to order these displayed around the altar in 1561, both for religious reasons and for ‘all your religion belongs to me’ reasons. In truth it was difficult to disentangle the two back then.
During the Victorian reformation of the church they did like to put these front and centre when they renovated churches, and these are particularly pretty examples.
A good cosmopolitan memorial
Still in the chancel, there is this handsome scene, with that bible and chalice indicating a reverend, George Scott to be exact, a vicar here who died in 1830 only two years into his ministry.
The ‘putto’ on the right is a figure more often seen in Baroque or Renaissance art, where it often symbolised the presence of God all over, as is likely here; it could just be a cherub though, a kind of minor league angel, still that God connection though.
‘A good cosmopolitan piece’ they say, and I cannot disagree, but its main claim to fame is that George was the nephew of Walter Scott, the ultra-famous nineteenth century novelist.
Walter penned the finely carved ditty on the memorial, a sentimental piece
… Art thou a youth, prepared on life to start,
With opening talents and a generous heart,
Fair hopes and flattering prospects all thine own?
Lo! here their end-a monumental stone.
But let submission tame each sorrowing thought,
Heaven crown’d its champion ere the fight was fought.
But to be fair, give me male sentimentality anytime over the stiff upper lip and repressed emotion that became de rigeur later in the century, and that still occasionally hangs around the modern world like a guest well past their welcome date.
The old west gallery
Going back into the nave, opposite the rood screen is the west gallery, a gallant survivor from 1632. It is a solid structure; those wooden supports will surely hold it up for eternity.
Yet it has delicacy…
Seventeenth century carvings
These carvings, for one.
Very entertaining too. Grumpy face on the left is either wearing a cap or has their hair tied back, and that lion is very similar to ones on stone monuments from this era.
Four Evangelists paintings
The paintwork is from 1702 and here we can see the Four Evangelists, the folk who traditionally wrote the gospels. They each have their symbol next to them, though Luke’s ox and Mark’s lion peer very dimly though the dust of the centuries.
They look for all the world like a bunch of mature students in a classroom taking notes, with Matthew getting the answers from his own angel. To be fair, considering the amount of his gospel that he filched off Mark it is not surprising that he swings that way!
John on the other hand, lounging away bottom right, is the student who never pays attention in class, does no homework yet gets A+ across the board, and then gets into all that mystic Jesus stuff. And laps up all the applause.
I wonder how popular he was with the others? Hhhhm…
The church at peace
Though when we are chilling in such a rich atmosphere, all that mystic Jesus stuff just seems a glimmer away, surrounding us with peace and calm.
The ambience always there, always waiting patiently to with all our wonder, and let it enter our being, for quiet, for meditation, for contemplation or whatever pushes our boat out.
This church so deserves a couple of hours or so, the rood screen alone gets better and better; I took a couple of visits to even begin to understand it, but then that is just me.
There is always something to see and love and enjoy, more than I have shown here, so much more…
But as ever, the tranquility just waits.