- Beautiful tower and spire
- Fascinating mixture of 14th and 15/16th century pillars inside
- Very nice ancient effigies and tombs
- A pretty light-filled chancel
- A grand collection of Victorian Stained glass
- Stunning pulpit created from 16th century bench ends
- Daintily stencilled organ pipes
- Captivating 18th century copper weather vane now in the church for close inspection
Modbury Church and parish
Way, way ago, when the English were young, folk gathered here for moot. Here they decided on local affairs, heard legal cases and even chose folk for political positions. So ‘moot’ became ‘Mod’ and ‘bury’ comes from burgh, an old English name for a kind of town.
It was a wealthy area, rich farmland, the Garden of Devon, and still is, described in the eighteenth century…
There are no people in any district of England of equal extent where there is so much good husbandry as in the south of Devon
Along with all this, in the Medieval came the cloth trade: spinning, weaving, dying, fulling, buying, selling, tailoring, exporting… The gold rush of the later Middle Ages and after.
The church itself, probably a Minster (a kind of Old English monastery), in 1084 had a hide of land tax free, enough to support a household of priests who would travel the area ministering to their flock. Later it was given to a French Monastery who made it into a Priory, which was fine and dandy until the 100 Years War with the French.
That was the end of the French ownership, though it stumbled on longer than most because the Prior was a decent enough old cove.
It ended up in the hands of Eton College in 1441, which had just been founded to give free teaching to seventy poor boys so they could get to Cambridge University. The College still looks after the chancel… the poor boys… Hhhhm…
Modbury Church of St George
There is a very fine tower here, most distinctive, probably early fourteenth century, apparently struck by lightning in 1625 and rebuilt but that is not clear. It is good and blocky in the first stages before transforming into that captivating spire, a broach spire as it is called because it comes out as far as the tower walls.
I especially love this one, the seamless change from the walls to the spire works so well.
The old porch
Nice porch too, with lovely local stone. That large doorway makes the lower half somewhat delicate and leads the whole to appear taller than it really is.
Modbury church doors
The real fun on the outside are the small doors, four of them and all wonderful, full of character and age, with a bit of the old make-do-and-mend spirit very apparent.
The left hand one here is called The Prior’s Door, leads into the chancel, and is said to be the entrance used by the head of the Priory.
The Priory had their own place of worship, not usually open to the parishioners, used near constantly for services from the early hours to way past most of our bedtimes, and definitely past bedtimes back then, more the sun-up to sun-down kind of folk they were; the parish church (and parish) would have been looked after by a vicar appointed by the priory.
But this door seems carved long after the priory had disappeared. Mainly Tudor, on the very top is a probable early seventeenth century frieze. Blooming brilliant doorway it is, just right for a priest with attitude.
The right hand one… with door knocker too! I love it. Bet there is a warm welcome waiting for us inside.
Modbury Church pillars and arcades
Inside, in the western half, the nave and aisles, is this forest of pillars, Early English style, but just look at them, they are so cleanly shaped and the capitals (at the top) are so minimalist; they allow the arches to continue nearly uninterrupted to the ground, and look almost Moorish if you squint a tad.
Not as crazy as it sounds considering the South West traded hard around the Spanish and Portuguese coasts into the Mediterranean… And Moorish kingdoms were in Spain until 1492 and these babes come from the 1300s.
But they really are worth a good look from the design point of view, that oh so smooth transition from pillar to arch, and the way that the chamfers (the cut-off corners bits) fade into the top of the pillars. Totally delicious, and that is before we drool over the stone…
The new pillars
But then, up the east end, it all changes into granite columns and Perpendicular style, most unusual to see such defined remodelling; Most all Devon churches were totally rebuilt in the 15th or 16th centuries, but this was half and half.
It does make for an attractive contrast too, with both designs side by side; Thinner, taller pillars, moulded as are the arches, give a very different effect. Lighter too; here it is not so much a forest as saplings social distancing gracefully.
This could have been a grand rebuilding of the east end, or possibly the construction was interrupted by the black death which first hit England in 1348 and killed 40-60 per cent of the population, returning in 1361 to kill another 20 per cent. By 1377 Modbury only had 300 inhabitants in the parish and pretty much everything had stopped and survival was the only aim. Unimaginable horror…
Old stone monuments and effigies
There are some well preserved tombs here, this effigy from around 1460 bringing the past into the present…
… as does this early fourteenth century poppet swaggering its good looks; the buds climbing the outside of the arch until they meet in that glorious flower, the creatures supporting the whole at the bottom, The well-defined carving inside the arch, the pillars each side with the little heads near the top… gets my vote for sure…
The church sanctuary
The chancel, cleaned up by the Victorians, is a lovely shot of colour and white, that East Window really coming out to play with those pretty banners making a comely composition with the altar cloth.
Along with the nineteenth century tiles, so much variation in these from church to church. There was a huge explosion in tile design and manufacture back then, with new mass production methods and companies vying to get the most famous artists, architects and designers creating the patterns.
This one is a delight with its combination of geometric and organic along with its restrained use of colour. Mmmmmh.
An eagle with a mission
And this sweetheart, the lectern, a determined eagle with resolute gaze, mission-driven to soar aloft every night and gently blanket the town with tender seeds of faith, unconditional love blossoming in every street, softly hued petals soothing the Modbury folk, to return by morning, job well done.
Dreams are rich down here, and full of meaning…
Stained glass and light
As rich as this glowing bonniness, all that green with yellow tinges, oh my sweet soul, I could swim in it for days…
A window with meaning
While here is a window that hides an astounding message. It shows Jesus at the very beginning of his ministry, he has travelled to Capernaum where he started healing the sick.
Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them.
This would have been a striking story to Jewish folk back then. It was Sabbath, so they had to wait for the end of the day (the setting sun in the background), to be able to carry their sick to him, and this twilight scene of Jesus moving around and treating each individual separately, ‘he laid his hands on every one of them’ was a marvel.
These were peasants, the uncounted, the poor, the desperate, the folk that nobody noticed unless it was taxation time, and now a Rabbi walks amongst this pain-filled crowd, their sick, lame, mad, desperate, their parents, siblings and children, taking time to touch and love each person… to care for them with respect…
Suddenly this passage explodes with power and beauty. Nowadays we believe in valuing all, the sick, the poor, the dispossessed, the refugees, and yet… and yet in Jesus’s time this wasn’t necessarily so, the wealthy were beloved of God and the poor, well not so much, at least until yer man popped up.
But there’s more, because all too often in Victorian times and before, the wealthy saw themselves as morally superior to the poor.
And there was a new movement in the Victorian church; the reformers were turning it into a church for every soul. They did away with seating reserved for the well off, they made everybody welcome, they opened schools and supported free hospitals and clinics. They were not the only Christian churches doing this, and the change was gradual, but they were getting to be on the side of the angels.
And thus the choice of this window subject. It is not a traditional choice, Medieval windows do not seem to show this kind of scene much, though little enough survives to be sure. This is a new message.
These Victorians were complex folk, like us all.
Luckily I also have an inner shallowness, so when I see another dainty little prettiness like this, with hues shading magic all around, then here it is…
A family monument
High up on the south side of the nave is this wonder, a very fine memorial to Anne Downey, who died in 1639, and her husband Nicholas and five kids. A sweet snapshot of devotions, and here is why the date is important… Their dark, very modest clothing, Nicholas’s subdued collar, their piety, all these remind us that 1639 is just three years before the start of the English Civil Wars, but long before that battle lines were already drawn between the High Catholicism of Charles I and the simple Protestantism of Parliament, and Nick and Anne’s clothing swings to the latter.
Devon was the only South West County to declare for Parliament (nearby Plymouth was besieged for four years by the Royalists) which has some deep hilarity. Why, only a hundred years or so before the country had rebelled because the King was not Catholic enough, now they were thinking the King was not Protestant enough. Sheesh, make up your mind, Devon…
Though to be honest, trolling Londoners is still an ongoing enjoyment…
Now the pulpit, because the world is full of marvels and glittering rainbow unicorns, and these panels prove it.
Probably from the old rood screen, they are breathtaking, a gobsmacked-and stare-for-fifteen-minutes kind of breathtaking. They are, of course, beautiful, beautiful foliage and flowers and here is why…
In the first two we can see the leaves and flowers, stylised but very recognisable, in the third one more stylised still, flowers at the top supported by bulkier stems. Go back and look at the original if you will. A new dimension, no… ?
Stencilled organ pipes
Definitely a new dimension, and if we ever start to doubt the existence of unicorns… well, these stencilled organ pipes are just so darling, with the yellows and golds and reds on the pale green backdrop, and those delightful patterns. Daintily graceful, I venture, just like a unicorn would be…
A beautiful old weather vane
So whilst glittering rainbow unicorns might or might not (as if!) exist this here old weathercock spent many a year high on the spire from 1790-1884, when it took a well-earned retirement.
Weather cocks had a couple of uses; one hi-tech, showing the wind direction and helping in better weather forecasting for farming, traveling, and especially sailing, when storms and wind changes could make the difference between a safe port and jagged rocks.
And weather cocks themselves seemed to have been placed on European churches since the ninth century, with Pope Nicholas I ordering it; a symbol of St Peter, the founder of the Roman Church, who denied Christ three times and ‘wept bitterly’, repenting, and welcomed back by the all-forgiving Divine.
Come and be reborn… Something for this copper rooster to truly crow about.