- Beautiful ivy-clad tower
- Warm twilight interior
- Fascinating original coloured Medieval roofbosses
- Stunning 19th century stained glass all by the Hardman & Co.
- Victorian renovation a masterpiece
- Great Victorian tiles
- Cracking ancient font
Stoodleigh Church tower
A finely pretty fifteenth century church sits at the heart of this field-draped parish running down to the mighty River Exe; there’s a Hangman’s Hill in the parish too, just to remind us of dark viciousness that all ages are capable of.
But the church… oh my goodness, that ivy. There must be a princess up there waiting for a suitor to slay monsters and climb up to free her with a kiss… Me? Oh no, so not me…
I will settle for a nice cup of tea, or coffee… hopefully with a cake or three. All this kissy kissy stuff is a bit in the past, and as for climbing a tower… Hhhhm…
A fine entrance
But a good church, oh yes, that will wake me up in the morning, and this is a tremendous old church greatly restored by Henry Woodyer, a very underestimated Victorian architect, a pupil of the King of Bling himself, William Butterfield, and a disciple of the High Priest of the Neo-Gothic, Augustus Pugin.
Here we can see an original seventeenth century panelled door with Medieval surround embedded in a Victorian frame; already we can notice the best of the past married with the new…
Inside Stoodleigh church of St Margaret
As the interior shows, a softly glowing cavern ablaze with gleams of colour, heavenly sight lines, light splashing onto stone and wood and that beautiful chancel arch urging the eyes forward.
It is a confident church, a master architect working with all his palette yet still modest and full of charm. I like this. A lot.
Beautiful princesses stuck up towers… ? Honestly, just buy a ladder, will ya, home delivery. Kids these days, expecting everything to be done for them…
Astounding roof bosses
Up above, on the original fifteenth century roof, there are roof bosses to die for, some of the most fascinating in Devon, though not exactly the best carved… which is worth noticing because these were not up for the Best Roofboss in an English Church Oscar, not then, not now, not never…
That really was not the point of roofbosses.
And besides, after whopping a load of dosh on a new church back in the day, it took time to refill the old donation box. Just get Billy the Chippie to bang out a few of his famous jaunty creations, wait a few centuries, and hey presto, there will be folks like me sashaying up the aisle wittering on about their naive power.
Did I mention they are full of naive power? Because they surely are. And that is the point, their effect, they were up there to help folk to think about their sins, reflect on their repentance and work towards salvation, their renewed connection with the Divine, a very fine connection to walk out of the church with; they were not trying to win that Oscar.
Here the boss on the left with two heads as one, secretive, engaged in deep gossip, or jangling as it was called, it surely cannot be good if the looks are as suspicious as that. The point being is that loving one another is one of Christ’s main instructions, that is how we build the Kingdom of Heaven, and sharp tongues… oh my no, not the thing at all…
Interestingly, in other counties warnings against jangling usually picture women, only in Devon are men given equal or greater prominence. What that means I have no idea… we are probably just a deep woke kinda place…
The boss on the right is possibly about the community of the church, people from all corners of the earth, here for everybody and always welcoming.
The snares of sin
Then this wee beastie, a head (gender neutral, happy to say) trapped in the snares of the material world, distanced from the Divine by the thickets of the carnal.
Vanity and the mermaid
Or this enticing mermaid, enticing being the point and the danger, with her mirror and comb denoting vanity and pride… oh, and lust, always lust…
Down in Cornwall, in Perranzabuloe, the story goes that a squire’s son seduces a young woman and abandons her when she is pregnant. The poor soul dies in childbirth and the squire’s family fortune goes from bad to worse, until one day, drunk, the son wanders onto the local beach and sees the girl in the form of a mermaid. Infatuated, he begs forgiveness, she entices him further into the sea and he drowns.
So the mermaid is not just a symbol but also a borderline being, a liminal creature, sitting in the supernatural, beckoning and tempting not the innocent but us sinners, and this roof boss is for meditating on these proclivities which most of us share, and which distance us from God.
Oh, and if you want a fascinating roundup of Devon roof bosses then Sue Andrews’ paper is here for free download.
Taking time in the chancel
Happily tearing our eyes aways from our sins we can relish this gorgeous architecture, up here in the new chancel with such lush soft light and the striking East Window…
Tiles gorgeously patterned
… and the tiles like this sunflower, a design that could be from the 1960s or even today it is such a timeless creation.
Look how the flower has been used in context, outlining the large hexagons which contain smaller one, and a smaller one, with geometrical figures in the centre; the careful use of colours here adds another dimension of gentle beauty.
The view from the chancel
Just as this view from the chancel down the nave carries such atmosphere, muted light washing the stone and pews, the coloured roof bosses blinking through the darkness, the chancel arch and tower arch riffing of each other, while the arcade on the left mirrors the windows on the right.
I have said it before, and I will say it again: This is seriously good design.
Magnificent stained glass
Part of the glamour of this beguiling church is the stained glass; every window is by the same firm, Hardman & Co, who were one of the best designers and makers of stained glass in the nineteenth century. They worked closely with Pugin, who chose them for a fair number of windows in the new Houses of Parliament; they were that good.
The drapery, the flowing composition, that gothic feyness, the colour scheme and more make these outstanding and it is so rare for a church to have a full set by the same artist, John Powell, who also married Pugin’s daughter.
Here Martha and Mary are meeting Jesus after the death of Lazarus, full of grief and expectation, and Jesus is beautifully posed, not as a great big God, not as a friend in mourning, but as a man possessed by the Divine, underlined by the doves around him that traditionally symbolise the Holy Spirit.
How magical is this… ?
Faces of character
The little details leap out at us too; here Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Christ, one seemingly asleep and the other noticing the resurrection taking place, with the face full of terror and awe… outstanding.
The Magi Window
This Magi Window, the Wise Men bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus, with Joseph also on the left, and at Mary’s feet one of them has already laid his crown and sceptre as well as his gift. Meaningful or what?
Again, the drapery and the colours leap off the glass. Breathtaking work.
A charm of an angel
Though this most sweet angel is, I think, my favourite, with that glancing acknowledgment of ‘why yes, I am a poppet, and my wings really are quite something’. Surely angels are allowed a tad of preening from time to time… ?
The strong, confident lines allied with the softly drawn feathers and the minimal use of colour allow joy to shine undiluted, such charm in such a minor detail.
A Norman font
Coming down to earth, rock bottom if you will, we meet this twelfth century font, at least the stem seems naked twelfth but the bowl has had some work done on it, that edging at least and I would not be overly gobsmacked to know that the bowl had been somewhat smoothed.
A fine composition all the same, especially with those heads peeking out of the stone. Give them a few thousand years and they will fully emerge, gambolling around the pews and chatting to the pillars.
Royalty and a sleeping fox
Maybe staring in bemusement at this George II coat of arms with its grinning lion and suspicious looking unicorn, painted in 1742, only three years before Bonnie Prince Charlie put the fear of Stuarts in all self-respecting Hanoverians, bringing his army as far as Derby and almost succeeding in toppling the German Interlopers.
I wonder if Devon would have risen on his side, for the Old Religion if he had advanced further or if all the memories and trauma of the savage repression two hundred years before of their own rebellion on the side of religious liberty, the Prayer Book Rebellion, had faded by then?
I would like to think that old swords would have been disinterred from the thatch, axes sharpened, muskets readied, and freedom ridden again… memories can linger hard in the deep country… or maybe they would have rolled over in bed muttering ‘Hey ho, another foreigner, more London shenanigans’ and cuddled closer to their love.
Actually, in truth I would prefer the latter.
But memories surely do linger… Why, an Insta friend of mine’s confessor priest knew an old couple in the Norfolk countryside, over a hundred years old, whose grandparents told them how a foreign calendar, the Gregorian Calendar, was imposed on the country (in 1752) by a foreign dynasty, the very same Hanoverians.
Now that is lingering memory.
A characterful dog
But better to let sleeping dogs lie maybe, just as this whimsical little creature has been lying here for many a year. Apparently it is a dog fox, a male fox, which is an accurate use of the ‘dog’. Back in the not so distant past, all dogs were called hounds, and ‘dog’ referred to the male, ‘bitch’ to the females.
Still, it looks a tad kangarooish to me, or even Eeyoreish with this back feet, but not a suspicion that I will fight my corner on…
Atmosphere to live by
Always though it is the twilight that pulls us back, this church has such a golden dusk to sit in and feel it flow through our turbulent lives, serenely settling a warm blanket on our souls, opening windows to a universe of peace.
The rest of the church… ? The roofbosses, the windows, the beauties, all them a way to carry this universe outside with us when we leave…
… saying goodbye to the stones and glass and wood and metal, saying hello to whatever universe we want to create.
Not a bad start from just one church, and there are a good six hundred more in Devon to help us on our way.
Now there is a happy thought.