With the passing of the years I had been feeling an increasing urgency to tick off some of those places on the proverbial bucket list while I am still reasonably sound in mind and body. One of those destinations was the Atlas Mountains, a remote range that stretches 2,500 km through the Maghreb in North Africa. I had visited the section between the Sahara Desert and the lowlands of Morocco with my son some years ago and had fond memories of the beauty of the area and the friendliness of the Berber people who live there, but I had an urge to trek along those ancient mule tracks one more time. And so it was that a couple of days after we took the train to Bradford on Avon, I was on a British Airways flight bound for Marrakech leaving BQ, for the first time, with the task of researching and recording the details of the two very different churches that we had visited.
I have to say that he has done such an excellent and thorough job that I feel seriously tempted to find future excuses to reverse our normal roles in the preparation of our blog entries. MW
Unbroken grey skies and a sharp wind could not disguise the charm of Bradford on Avon when we finally found our way from the railway station. For yet again the new green version of Dine and Divine had journeyed on the Great Western Railway right into the centre of this jewel. Deep in the valley with steep hills surrounding, I was relieved to find all of our proposed visits were within short walking distance of the station and more importantly on the flat. After earlier visits to the churches founded by St Wilfred in the Meon Valley in Hampshire my love of the pre-Norman Anglo Saxon Church demanded a trip to see St Laurence. As one can see from the drone shot it is the lofty building in the foreground and even to my eyes could not be described as imposing alongside the Norman and Perpendicular church of Holy Trinity.
Holy Trinity Church
Holy Trinity Church dates from the 12th century and has fragments of its Norman background in the chancel, but it is primarily a perpendicular structure built in the late 15th and early 16th century The church was virtually rebuilt in the 1860’s. At the centre of this thriving market town it is a living church that radiates its influence evident over many centuries. However even in this shot my eye is drawn to the modest church beyond which pre-dates it by some time.
Entering by the south door, the initial impression is one of extreme modernity and lack of clutter. The lighting was exceptional reflecting off the modern white tiled floors, an effect that fitted in well with the pristine condition of the surrounding town. Antiquity had to be hunted down in the nooks and crannies particularly the north aisle arcade. However the eye is rightly concentrated down the full length to the chancel and the high altar.
The Chancel; The tie bars across this area give a solid feeling that one is now within the oldest section of the church which splits into four separate sections. It is pleasing to see the sanctuary lamp (albeit electric) signifies the presence of the Lord. To the left of the High Altar there remains a 14th century wall painting of the Virgin Mary with her mother St. Anne. On the north wall nearby is ‘Lady with a Wimple ‘ a 13th century sculpture. Also on the north wall is a brass memorial to Anne Long (1601) and on the south Wall, a 15th century panel showing St Augustine and St Jerome. Another tomb to Charles Steward (1698) has a swaggering air and pose.
South Door; What an array of memorials to the local burghers of the town. I bet this church almost sets a record for the number as a percentage of the local population.
The North Aisle; Rebuilt in Victorian times with these rather original and eccentric wrap around inscribed ribbons which I find a little out of character. Beyond, on the wall is a reproduction of the painting ‘Christ Blessing ‘ by Quentin Metsys which was sold in 2013 and hangs in its original position. Further east is a carved cross probably from a Chantry Chapel which possibly could have been in this aisle during medieval times. The font has now been moved beneath it. It is necessary to go round the back of the large organ to view the ‘squint’ one of the longest in the country but, on our visit partly obscured by a stack of chairs.
The view from the chancel looking West gives some idea of the length of the church. In my constant desire to be in the photographs I can be seen at the end in front of the West window This is approached from the choir vestry via a fine oak screen and modern staircase to a comfortable eyrie which commands a fine view of the church. From here the wonderful fan vaulting above is visible and the roof of the nave with its exquisite wooden bosses. A fine picture of ‘The Last Supper’ by James Thornton RA is at the head of the stairs.
An ancient section of panelling depicting St Augustine and St Jerome attached to the Chancel wall. Age unknown
13th century carving ‘Lady with a Wimple’
The finely carved 1866 pulpit has been carefully incorporated into the new Portland stone floor. At the same time the moulded Bath stone steps were crafted and set in place.
St. Laurence Church
St. Laurence church – ‘the one that got away’. After 1066 the Normans successfully managed to rub out most of the previous decades of worship with an astonishing display of building regeneration . Nothing escaped these wonderful builders and one is lucky to find even the slightest artefact or evidence of previous places of worship. St Laurence is therefore unique in this country and its survival is to us Anglo-Saxon lovers an example of a miracle! Tall and narrow with small windows, it is characteristic of the time, which is open to dispute reaching back to 700 ad but not acknowledged until 1120 by William of Malmesbury. After years of hiding successfully in other buildings as a warehouse and a school, Canon Jones realised its significance in 1857.
What a contrast to the Holy Trinity Church next door but fortunately, despite the withering cold, a perfect place for prayer. Why should we Christians always don the hair shirt and seek discomfort? Entering through the south door the gloom envelops one and one wonders whether the interior was painted in the past. Although the walls are plain, remnants of decoration are visible on the plinth.
Saxon carvings are evident in the chancel, carved stones found nearby have been used to form the altar, above which is the Ring of Doulting, a stone carving by John Maine RA. Below this is a piece of fossil tree with an existing fragment of a Saxon cross at the base. This is to be seen as a three part work and even to my eyes fits perfectly into the structure.
The north portico survives which may have served as a chapel with an altar on the east wall. Shown here is a stone bowl found locally and today used as a font. Almost hidden in the gloom and too dark to photograph is the Altar Frontal designed by Sir John Ninian Comper and worked by his sister in law. Regular readers will remember that we visited Comper’s last Gothic interior in St Phillip church in Cosham. As a parting shot before finishing my pilgrimage I noted from the church notices that services in St Laurence only took place between May and September and as I stamped my freezing feet I knew why!
Bradford-on-Avon Tithe Barn
The nearby Tithe Barn is a magnificent structure erected in the 1330’s and was associated with Shaftesbury Abbey, one of the richest convents in the kingdom. A grade one listed building, it is 51 metres long and has 14 bays. As neither of us knew the topography of the town we hired a taxi to find the location, little knowing it was only a short walk from the railway station along the Kennet and Avon Canal.
What an interior, and remarkably the astonishing roof structure is original and, according to my research, it is a cruck construction. Cruck or crook means rounded arches. It is worth pointing out that there is a very cozy cafeteria alongside.
Frozen stiff and ready for warmth and good food, we crossed the river by the McKeever bridge named after the town’s gold medalist in the London Olympics and fell into Ravello restaurant. Although not our first choice it was warm welcoming and the food was delicious. The service could not be faulted and my roasted monkfish garnished with capers was outstanding. A perfect ending to a visit to a town, to which I will certainly return.
I am enjoying our switch from car to train as a means of travelling to our Dine and Divine destinations. So much more relaxing and so much more to see as, unlike roads, railway lines in this part of the country pass through mainly undeveloped glorious countryside. BQ and I boarded a virtually empty three coach train at Southampton Central then, as we stopped at a series of country villages, first in Hampshire, then into Wiltshire, the carriages gradually filled with commuters and shoppers on their way to Bath and Bristol until it was standing room only.
Few other passengers got off at Bradford on Avon, an attractive town but like so many others, cursed by the volume of traffic trying to negotiate narrow thoroughfares unaltered since the days of the horse. I had to restrain BQ at one stage when he was forced to flatten himself against a sidewall by an arrogant 4×4 driver. But thankfully we soon entered a quiet cul-de-sac that led to our destination.
Since commencing this blog almost three years ago we have reviewed over 40 churches, from small and simple to vast and opulent but all visits have one thing in common – we never know quite what to expect when we first enter a new church. Many are predictable, some come as a surprise, but just occasionally they can astonish, and this was the case when we entered the brilliantly lit interior of the Holy Trinity Church.
The initial impression was that we had walked into the foyer of a successful corporate headquarters. From the gleaming white Portland stone floor to the superb new timber fittings and seating, not to mention the latest led lighting, I was left wondering how on earth such quality could have been paid for as, for many of the churches we have seen, it is a struggle just to keep the buildings wind and watertight. The answer lies in an act of charity that occurred long ago.
In 1940 a retired couple living in the nearby village of Holt, donated an unremarkable looking oil painting to the Holy Trinity Church. It hung, undisturbed, on the West Wall of the nave for the next 70 years. In 2010 an art expert was called in to examine another painting in the church – one that was believed to be by Charles I’s court painter, Van Dyke, but it turned out to be a copy. However, while he was there the expert had a look at other paintings and immediately suspected that the donated work was something special and after careful research it was shown that the painting is the work of Quentin Metsys, an influential painter who worked in Antwerp in Belgium in the 16th Century. It was first assumed to be a single piece but after four years of painstaking research and consultations with the National Gallery in London and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, it was confirmed to be the left half of a rectangular panel that had been sawn in two. The right side depicted the Virgin Mary at prayer. The two halves were temporarily reunited at the National Gallery. The expert who was present at the time commented “When they were put together on an easel it was such exciting spine-chilling moment. The two pictures fitted together like a jig-saw”.
The good news for the church was that it was valuable, far too valuable to be left hanging in such an insecure place and after lengthy consultation with the parishioners it was decided that it should be sold and the proceeds used to fund much needed repairs and flood protection.
Metsys’ painting ‘Christ Blessing’ and the refurbishment underway
The picture went to auction and achieved £1.5m, exceeding all expectations, and it was realised that in addition to repairs, an ambitious programme of refurbishment could be carried out. In total £2m was spent with the additional £500,000 being raised by the parishioners. The Church reopened after a 12 months closure on December 18th 2016. A truly heartwarming tale! MW
- Pane e Olive; Homemade bread, marinated mixed olives, served with butter, aged balsamic vinegar and olive oil. BQ
- Gamberoni Picante; Pan fried king prawns, with fish stock, white wine, chilli and garlic, served with homemade ciabatta bread MW
- Codo di Rospo; Oven roasted monkfish, black olives, cherry tomatoes, caper berries and roasted potatoes drizzled in a caper, butter and lemon sauce. BQ
- Ravioli del Giorni; Ravioli stuffed with minced shrimp and italian sausage in a cheese and cream sauce. MW
- House Chianti BQ
- House Pinot Grigio MW