Thursday, 27 May 2010

If Walls Could Speak...

Dave Tonge, storyteller, telling medieval tales at the site.

When you enter any medieval church site, you are in a special place. Here are some of my thoughts about this:

  • The church acted as a focal point and meeting place for the community for so many hundreds of years. A parish church has witnessed all of the bitter-sweetness of life. 
  • It has been a marker against which wider events took place.
  • In those still places, we stand in the footprints of others; physically, in that same place where their hearts raced and their tears fell. Pettiness, day-dreams, discomfort, hope... all of these and more have been felt here before we pass through. A ruin has stories to tell (see photo, above). 
  • A sense of this time and connection makes me aware that we are not only time-travellers in the present; we are, simultaneously, and instantly, part of the story too. 
  • In those still places, I am moved, imaginatively, to reach out for those past presences. We should, in my opinion,  all be humble in the face of this.
  • A medieval church is a space where I am open to possibilities. Here, my imagination is challenged and stretched. I begin to feel for the nature of things and our place within it.   
  • The movement of seasons and the natural life which passes through are part of the story too.
  • I am full of wonder and inspired to creativity...

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Inside the original medieval church...

In the original medieval church some of the key things which are no longer there would have included:

An altar...

Standing here in the chancel of the church, you are looking eastwards where the altar would have been (now marked by the cross) All medieval English churches were built with the altar at the east end (in the direction of the Holy Land) . The altar is a table or platform where the service of mass was held.

The picture above is of one of the altar at Merton church, Norfolk. 

A Crucifix 
This is a cross, but with the figure of Christ fixed to it. Christians, however, do not think that Jesus’ story ended on the day he died. The Gospels speak of the discovery of his empty tomb two days after his death and describe sightings of him by his disciples. For Christians, therefore, the cross in not just a symbol of terrible suffering and death, it also a symbol of hope and new life.

A font
The font would have contained water which had been blessed by a priest ('Holy water'), and which would have been used to baptise a baby. In the original church this probably would have been situated in the nave, near the entrance.

Fifteenth century (1400s) font, in Binham church, North-West Norfolk.

Parish chest
This would have contained the priest's 'uniform' as well as the church's silver cup for holding wine representing the blood of Christ. From Tudor times (1485 onwards) important documents recording things like births, marriages and deaths, would have also been kept in this.

Although we have no way of picturing the past exactly, the church might once have looked something like this...

Looking down the nave at the chancel in Rougham church, Norfolk.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Ruins and Records

St Mary & St Walstan church, Bawburgh. Bowthorpe church would once have had a similar round tower.

What is an historic record?
An historic record is where someone from the past has written down information about people or places. In a church this might be something about important events - birth (baptism); marriage; death (funeral) -, or perhaps records (‘accounts’) of money which has been spent on the building.

What is a parish?
Every church had its own parish. A parish is the local area beyond the building from where people who use the church live. However, a living parish is really about the networks of people and their relationships, centred on their church.

Detective work…
We visited the Norfolk Record Office in order to find out information about St Michael’s & All Angels church. However, sometimes, when we’re trying to find out about the past, we hit a ‘dead end’, as the records of the earlier history of a place do not survive.

This is the case with the records for the church of St Michael at Bowthorpe. Basically, because this church was allowed to fall into disuse in the later Sixteenth century (1500s) no parish records survive for this church.

After the church fell out of use, local people from Bowthorpe would go to the church of St Mary’s in nearby Earlham. This church is still in use, and its parish records survive from the early 1600s onwards. There are records of baptisms, marriages and deaths. Unfortunately, the person whose job it was to record these events, did not write down who was travelling to Earlham from Bowthorpe in the earlier records.

Bowthorpe people…

St Mary's church, Earlham

However, by the early Nineteenth century (1800s), they did record these details. For instance, the following baptisms are recorded:
“1820 March 18th Mary daughter of Jonathan & Mary Hall, Bowthorpe, Shepherd

1822 Nov’r Jonathan Son of Jonathan & Mary Ann Hall, Bowthorpe, Shepherd”

Sadly, the records of those buried tell us that the father of these two children, died soon within a month of the birth of his son:

“Jonathan Hall Bowthorpe 1822 Dec’r 5th [Age] 31”

A Special Site...
Although the records allow us a glimpse of the past, this kind of evidence cannot capture the feelings and emotions of, say, the Hall family as they buried Jonathan in the winter of 1822.

This reminds us that the ruins of the church at Bowthorpe are a special site; a place where people have felt the joy of birth (baptism) and marriage – as well as the heartbreak of the loss of loved ones.

A ruin is full of memories. It wouldn’t be here if there hadn’t once been life. There has been life here:
-> Imagine some of the people who might have once stood here
-> Imagine what went on in this place

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Picturing the past - East Window

What would St Michael's and All Saints church have looked like if it had not become a ruin?
Although we cannot say for sure, we can get some idea by looking at churches of a similar age which have survived. In the photo above, you are looking towards the East end of the church, where an altar and a great window would once have stood.

Here's a photo looking towards the East end of a local church ('Alburgh') which has survived complete into the present day...

© Simon Knott, 2006 - All Saints, Alburgh

Even when we visit old churches today, it is very hard to picture what they would have looked like hundreds of years ago. This is because old buildings often develop and change over time.

In the next post we will think about some of the things that would have been in the original church at Bowthorpe.