On a very steep street

WE CAN EITHER travel into the centre of Funchal by bus or walk. From our guesthouse,  the steep Caminho do Monte drops steeply down to the city centre. Most of the way, this almost a mile long  thoroughfare has a gradient of 40 to 45 degrees. Walking down this slope does wonders for one’s lower leg muscles, especially the calves. The first time we descended it, my calf muscles began to go into tremor.

A Sacred Heart

Our next attempt was altogether easier. On the way downhill, we passes a religious institution: a seminary called Colégio Missionário Sagrado Coração. Being Sunday, the gates were open for people who wanted to attend the Sunday mass. The institution is named in honour of the Sacred Heart. On either side of the door leading into the simply decorated chapel, there are car ings of hearts encircled by thorns.

There is a sculpture of a lion in the place’s large courtyard. Two busts of important religious figures stand near the chapel. One of them stsnds close to a terrace from which a wonderful view of part of Funchal can be enjoyed.

Although walking down the incredibly steep slope is slow, it is a wonderful way to observe deatails of life on the hills high above Funchal, and to meet locals standing on terraces over the road or in the entrances to their homes.

Two similar churches, one in Kensington and the other in Wiltshire

ENNISMORE GARDENS MEWS IS about 380 yards west of Exhibition Road near South Kensington. It is the site of a church with an Italianate façade, now the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and All Saints. A tall bell tower stands to the right of the façade as you look at it from the street. Pevsner described the style of the façade as “Lombardic Romanesque”. He noted:

“The Early Christian/Italian-Romanesque style was a speciality of the 1840s…”

Russian Orthodox church in Kensington, London

Although many of the fittings in the church are typical of Russian Orthodox places of worship (e.g., iconostasis and icons), the interior is not typical of edifices built specifically for the Orthodox church. The coloured panels above the arches (supported by iron pillars) lining the nave are not typical of the kinds of images usually associated with the Orthodox Church. They have captions in both English and Latin, but not in Cyrillic. The church was designed as the Anglican Church of All Saints in 1848-1849 by Lewis Vulliamy (1791-1871). The tower was constructed in 1871. Most of the decoration within the building is in the late 19th century Arts and Crafts style.

The Anglican parish, which was based in the former All Saints, merged with another in 1955. Then the church was let to the Russian Orthodox faith and its name changed to its present one. In 1978, the Sourozh Diocese purchased the edifice. The Sourozh is under the control of the Patriarchate of Moscow. The church in Ennismore Gardens Mews has a multi-national Orthodox congregation.  I asked a bearded priest how the cathedral differed from the Russian church in Harvard Road, Chiswick. He replied:

“We are the Orthodox Church based in Moscow, but the other one in Chiswick is the Orthodox Church based outside Russia … it is very complicated.”

Wilton in Wiltshire is almost 80 miles southwest of the Russian church in Ennismore Gardens Mews. Famed for its fine carpet manufacturing, the town has a church, St Mary and St Nicholas, whose façade looks not too different from that of South Kensington’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The Wilton church has a similar bell tower, but it placed on the left side of the façade. The church was commissioned by Sidney Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Lea (1810-1861), a close ally and supporter of Florence Nightingale of Crimean War fame. Sidney was a son of George Herbert, 11th Earl of Pembroke and his Russian spouse Catherine (née Yekaterina Semyonovna Vorontsova). The church, completed in 1845, was designed by Thomas Henry Wyatt (1807-1880) and his assistant David Brandon (1813-1897).

With many features borrowed from Italian Romanesque architecture, and some from Byzantine designs, the edifice at Wilton, despite being an Anglican parish church, felt to me slightly more like an Orthodox church than the converted ex-Anglican, now Orthodox, church in Ennismore Gardens Mews. However, the interior fittings in the church in Wilton borrow from what can be found in traditional Italian churches rather than in typical eastern Orthodox churches. But, the mosaic covered cupola over the chancel in Wilton’s Anglican church, with its depiction of Christ with two saints resembling what is often found in Byzantine churches, contrasts with the undecorated cupola over the chancel in what has now become the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Kensington.

Placed side by side, many differences could be discerned between the church in south Kensington and that in Wilton. But it is the similarities between two churches designed by different architects that are remarkable.

A church transformed

THE VICTORIAN GOTHIC Westbourne Grove Church (with a Baptist congregation) is on the corner of the Grove and Ledbury Road. Built on the site of an earlier church, this building was constructed in 1866. On examination, it is obvious that it has been modified considerably. According to the church’s website, westbournegrovechurch.org, in 2001:

“… the church worked with the Manhattan Loft Corporation to redevelop the site. Our vision was to use the church building to serve the local community, as an expression of God’s generosity and love. The church retains space spread over the entire ground and first floors of the building, while the project was funded by development of apartments in the top four floors of the converted building.”

The church now shares its building with retail outlets and residential units, the rents from which help finance the church’s activities and maintenance.

The parts of the ground and first floors used by the congregation have been redesigned imaginatively and beautifully in a simple contemporary idiom. Airy spaces simply but attractively decorated, flow neatly between each other giving the interior of the church a cubist sculptural feel. The rooms at the base of the two towers on the south façade of the church are used for exhibitions and meetings. In short, the spaces used for ecclesiastical and pastoral purposes provide a wonderful example of successful modern interior design. The current vicar is Chris Thackery. His wife Charlotte is an architect, and was involved in overseeing, and advising on, the modernisation of the church.

A visit to see this wonderful new church is well worth making. It is not far from Portobello Road and is a treat for lovers of imaginative architectural design.

Docked in Dartmouth

MOSES AND HIS followers crossed the Red Sea without difficulty. However, things were not so simple when a group of people were trying to cross the Atlantic to enjoy freedom to worship as they wished without persecution in North America in 1620 during the reign of England’s King James I. These travellers. the Pilgrim Fathers, were English Protestants, Puritans who had been living in the Low Countries in Leiden but felt that conditions there had become unfavourable for them. As they did not expect to live safely in England, they bravely set forth to sail to the New World.

Bayards Cove

The Pilgrim Fathers and their families left Holland in the “Speedwell” (60 tons) and after crossing the North Sea, their ship was joined by the larger “Mayflower” (180 tons), which was carrying Puritans fleeing from London. While heading west, the boats headed into trouble. On about the 23rd of August 1620, the two ships slipped furtively into Dartmouth in Devon and lay at anchor near to the town’s Bayards Cove, close to where today a small ferry carries vehicles and pedestrians across the River Dart between Dartmouth and Kingswear. The secrecy was necessary because as Puritans, the passengers risked punishment in England.  They remained moored there until about the 31st of August while leaks on the “Speedwell” were being repaired.

After leaving Dartmouth to continue their voyage westwards, the “Speedwell” began leaking again. About 300 miles west-south-west of Lands’ End, the “Speedwell” had become almost unseaworthy. The boats returned to England, docking at Plymouth in Devon. There, the “Speedwell” was abandoned, and the “Mayflower” set sail for America with 102 passengers. The boat reached the harbour of Cape Cod in Massachusetts on the 21st of November 1620.

Although Plymouth is the place from which the Puritans finally left England, the point in the port from which they set off would now be unrecognisable to the Pilgrim Fathers were they able to see it. In contrast, although some of the buildings near Bayards Cove in Dartmouth have been built since the Pilgrim Fathers stopped there briefly, there remain sights that have not changed significantly since 1620.

Fallen leaves amongst the fallen: Field of Remembrance

I HAVE LIVED in London for well over 60 years, but it was only this November (2021) that I first became aware of, and experienced, something that has been happening annually on the north side of Westminster Abbey since November 1928 (www.poppyfactory.org/about-us/history-timeline/#). For eight days following the Thursday preceding Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday closest to Armistice Day, the 11th of November, the day on which WW1 ended, the field bounded by Westminster Abbey and its neighbour, the church of St Margaret’s Westminster, is covered with a myriad of mostly tiny wooden memorials hammered into the grass. The memorials are mostly cross-shaped, but some are in the form of crescents, six-pointed stars, and other shapes including some that bear the Sanskrit symbol representing ‘aum’ (or ‘om’). Each of these tiny wooden items commemorates a fallen service person or other victim of war. The shapes of the wooden pieces denote the religion of the person or persons being remembered, be they Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Moslem, Jewish, or of no religion. Many of the wooden memorials have red poppies attached. Oddly, few if any of the Islamic crescents had poppies on them. The small wooden memorials are arranged in groups, according to which service or regiment or organisation the remembered people were members of, or associated with. The whole ‘event’ is organised by The British Legion Poppy Factory. This annual garden of memorials is called The Field of Remembrance.

The Poppy Factory, a charity, was founded in 1922 by Major George Howson (1886-1936) to provide employment for veterans injured during WW1. He bought a site in Richmond (south-west London), where he established a factory to manufacture Remembrance poppies and other related items to be sold to raise money for The British Legion’s Red Poppy Appeal, a charity that supports the Armed Forces community.

Apart from the small wooden memorials, there are many badges and emblems of the groups in which those remembered were members. Looking at these and the small wooden memorials is both fascinating and extremely moving. The fascination lies in the huge variety of regiments and organisations, too many to list, which lost people during military conflicts (and terrorist incidents) since the onset of WW1.

One group of memorials interested me because of their emblem that incorporates a heraldic creature, which has fascinated me for several decades. The creature is the double-headed eagle (‘DHE’), currently used as an emblem by countries including Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, the Indian state of Karnataka, and Russia. The DHE appears on the crests of some of the various regiments of The Royal Dragoon Guards. The Dragoon Guard regiments were first established in the 18th century, in 1746, and consist of mounted infantry. While the Austro-Hungarian Empire existed, it also used the DHE. In 1896, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria (1830-1916) of Austria-Hungary was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the 1st King’s Dragoon Guards, some of whose members are remembered in the Field of Remembrance. The emperor allowed the regiment to wear his empire’s emblem (https://web.archive.org/web/20130303033912/http://www.qdg.org.uk/pages/Uniform-1843-Onwards-81.php), the DHE. In addition, the regiment adopted “The Radetzky March” as one of its official march tunes; it is still used today. It was sad that in 1914, Franz Joseph, became the ruler of one of the powers against whom Britain and its allies were fighting. Some of those who fought in the British Royal Dragoon Guard regiments with the DHE on their headwear were killed by allies of the emperor in WW1, who had earlier been appointed their C-in-C. They are commemorated the Field of Remembrance. Judging by the small wooden memorials planted in the Royal Dragoon Guard’s section of the Field of Remembrance, members of at least four religions fell while serving in these regiments. I wondered why the DHE was retained even after Austria-Hungary became one of Britain’s opponents in war.

Returning to the Field of Remembrance as a whole, it is a poignant sight to behold. Although war is both horrific and ugly, this annual memorial is both moving and beautiful. The Field is laid out beneath trees lining its northern edge. Seeing the dead leaves from these trees lying fallen amongst the thousands of tiny memorials to victims of war seemed most apt to me.

The Connecticut connection

THE CITY OF CHELMSFORD is the county town of the English county of Essex. It is a place that until November 2021 we felt. without any reason, was not worthy of a visit and have tended to avoid, skirting it on its by-pass. It was only recently that we realised that the place is home to a cathedral. Being nearby on a recent tour in Essex and curious about its cathedral, we paid a visit to Chelmsford and were pleasantly surprised by what we found.

St Cedd window in Chelmsford Cathedral

The cathedral, which I will discuss later, is housed in what used to be the parish church of St Mary. The edifice is in the centre of a pleasant grassy open space. One of the buildings on the south side of this green bears a plaque commemorating Thomas Hooker (1586-1647), who was the curate and ‘Town Lecturer’ (a position established by the Puritans) of Chelmsford between 1626 and 1629.

Hooker was born in Markfield, a village in Leicestershire (www.britannica.com/biography/Thomas-Hooker) and studied at the University of Cambridge (https://connecticuthistory.org/thomas-hooker-connecticuts-founding-father/). At Cambridge, he underwent a moving religious experience that made him decide to become a preacher of the Puritan persuasion. He became a well-loved preacher, first serving the congregation of a church in Esher (Surrey) before moving to preach at St Mary’s in Chelmsford in 1626. A preacher in a neighbouring parish denounced Hooker to Archbishop Laud (1573-1645), a vehement opponent of Puritanism, and was ordered to leave his church and to denounce Puritanism, which he was unwilling to do. In 1630, Hooker was ordered to appear before The Court of High Commission. Soon, he forfeited the bond he had paid to the court and, fearing for his life, fled to The Netherlands.

In 1633, Hooker immigrated to The Massachusetts Bay Colony, where he became the pastor of a group of Puritans at New Towne (now Cambridge, Mass.). To escape the powerful influence of another Protestant leader, John Cotton (1585-1652), Hooker led a group of his followers, along with their cattle, goats, and pigs, to what was to become Hartford in what is now the State of Connecticut. They arrived there in 1636.

When Hooker and his followers reached the Connecticut Valley, it was still being governed by eight magistrates appointed by the Massachusetts General Court. In 1638, Hooker preached a sermon which argued that the people of Connecticut had the right to choose who governed them. This sermon led to the drawing up of a document called “The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut”, which served as the legal basis for the Connecticut Colony until 1662, when King Charles II granted The Connecticut Charter that established Connecticut’s legislative independence from Massachusetts. Hooker’s importance in this process has led him to be remembered as “the father of Connecticut.”

In 1914, the church of St Mary in Chelmsford, was elevated to the status of ‘cathedral’. The reason for this is slightly complex but is explained in a well-illustrated guidebook to the cathedral written by Tony Tuckwell, Peter Judd, and James Davy. In the mid-19th century, London expanded, and the size of its population grew enormously. Many previously rustic parishes that became urbanised were absorbed from the Diocese of Rochester into the Diocese of London. This resulted in a denudation of the Diocese of Rochester. To compensate for this, Rochester was given parishes in Hertfordshire and Essex. The Archbishop of Rochester lived in Danbury, Essex, which was closer to the majority of his ‘flock’ than anywhere in Kent. In 1877, the county of Essex was transferred into the new Diocese of St Albans in Hertfordshire. However, by 1907, 75% of the population of this new diocese were living in Essex. A further reorganisation led to the creation of two new dioceses, one in Suffolk and the other in Essex. After some acrimonious competition between the towns of Barking, Chelmsford, Colchester, Thaxted, Waltham Forest, West Ham, and Woodford, it was decided that Chelmsford should become the cathedral seat of the new Diocese of Essex. St Mary’s, where Hooker of Connecticut once preached in Chelmsford, became the new cathedral. In 1954, the cathedral’s dedication was extended to include St Mary the Virgin, St Peter, and St Cedd, whose simple Saxon chapel can be seen near Bradwell-on-Sea.

The cathedral, of whose existence we only became aware this year, is a wonderful place to see. Its spacious interior with beautiful painted ceilings contains not only items that date back several centuries but also a wealth of visually fascinating art works of religious significance created in both the 20th and 21st centuries. To list them all would be too lengthy for this short essay, so I will encourage you to visit the church to discover them yourself.

Having just visited Chelmsford, its cathedral, and its tasteful riverside developments, my irrational prejudice against entering the city and preferring to avoid it by using its bypass has been demolished. Although Chelmsford might not  have the charm of cathedral cities such as Ely, Canterbury, Winchester, and Salisbury, it is worth making a detour to explore it if you happen to be travelling through East Anglia.

As a last word, it is curious that although there are places named Chelmsford in Massachusetts, Ontario, and New Brunswick, there does not appear to be one in Connecticut; at least I cannot find one.

A marvellous modern mosque

KINGS COLLEGE CAMBRIDGE has a superb perpendicular gothic chapel, whose construction commenced in about 1446 and took almost 100 years to complete. Its fabulously intricate fan-vaulting makes it one of the finest buildings in Cambridge, if not in all of England. Until recently, it was the one and only building in Cambridge that visitors to the city needed to see, even if they did not have time to see anything else. Although this continues to be the case, there is another building, which visitors should make time to see in addition to the chapel. Unlike the college edifice, this is not in the historic academic part of the city but in Mill Road, not far from the main railway station. Near the eastern end of this thoroughfare, which is rapidly becoming a ‘trendy’ part of Cambridge, you will come across a wonderful modern building set back from the road and separated from it by a pleasant, small garden. This structure is The Cambridge Central Mosque.

The mosque was completed in 2019 and designed by Marks Barfield Architects (London) in conjunction with Professor Keith Critchlow (1933-2020), who was Professor of Islamic Art at London’s Royal College of Art, and the garden designer Emma Clark. The designers of the mosque aimed (in the words of Abdal Hakim Murad, chairman of the Cambridge Mosque Trust) to create:

“…a brand new sacred space … to bring together something that’s very ancient and timeless with the very latest technologies.” (https://cambridgecentralmosque.org/design/)

This has been achieved very successfully. The visually spectacular deep portico, reached after walking through a pleasant garden, is supported by clusters of curved timbers, which immediately bring to mind thoughts of the masonry fan-vaulting in Kings College Chapel. These clusters continue through the entire building, creating a sense of continuity of the exterior and interior spaces. The vaulting that reminds us of the mosque’s gothic relative at Kings College also evokes purely Islamic architecture such as one finds at the Alhambra in Spain. The outside of the building is covered with brickwork in two colours, the bricks being arranged to produce patterns which are contemporary versions of a traditional Islamic design. The centre of the mosque is topped by a single dome made in matt-gold coloured metal.

The glass walls that separate the portico from the interior of the mosque reflect the mundane houses opposite the mosque (across Mill Road). I do not know whether the designers intended it, but I felt that these reflections were a way of giving the impression that the garden and the world beyond the mosque is merging with the building itself, that the religious structure was merging with its secular surroundings. Whether or not this was the designers’ intention, this mosque deserves a place in the highest echelon of great British architecture alongside Kings College Chapel. The beauty of the chapel and the mosque, separated by many hundreds of years in age, both have the effect of taking one’s breath away in amazement.

Two colourful churches

THE SUNDAY MORNING SERVICE at the parish church, St Mary the Virgin, in Haverhill in Suffolk had just ended when we entered the building. My wife chatted with a priest, who said he knew little about this church’s history. She asked him if there were any other churches in the district worth a visit. He mentioned two across the county border in Cambridgeshire, at the villages of Bartlow and at Hildersham. The two churches have something of interest in common: unusual colourful paintings.

Bartlow’s St Mary’s church has a distinctive round bell tower. But this is not the only thing that is remarkable about it. It was built in the 11th or 12th century and modified gradually during the following centuries. A real treat greets the visitor on entering the building: some colourful 15th century wall paintings, two on the south wall and one on the north. They depict St George’s dragon (north wall), and opposite this on the south wall: St Michael weighing the souls on The Day of Judgement, and east of it another shows a portrait of St Christopher carrying the Christ Child. The paintings existed long before the Civil War. On the 20th of March 1644, they were covered up with paint by Oliver Cromwell’s men under the command of William Dowsing (1596-1668), a fanatic iconoclast, also known as ‘Smasher Dowsing’. The frescos began to become uncovered in the 19th century, but it was only in 2014 that serious conservation work was undertaken on them.

St Christopher painting at Bartlow

The artists who created the wall paintings at Bartlow have been long forgotten, but this is not the case for the creators of the colourful chancel at Holy Trinity Church in nearby Hildersham. In 1806, the Reverend Charles Goodwin was appointed Rector of Hildersham. Ten years later, his son Robert was born. He studied at Clare College in Cambridge and whilst a student he joined The Cambridge Camden Society, whose aims were to promote the study of Gothic architecture and ‘ecclesiastical antiques’. This society grew to be a great influence on the design of Victorian churches.

In 1847, following the death of his father, Robert became Rector of Hildersham’s church. Soon, he began to consider how to ‘restore’ his church in accordance with gothic revival ideals. Amongst these ‘improvements’ was the painting of frescos on the walls of the chancel. These were executed using a novel technique known as ‘spirit fresco’, which made use of a complex mixture of beeswax, oil of spike lavender, spirits of turpentine, elemi resin, and copal varnish. This technique, invented by Thomas Gambier Parry (1816-1888), produced durable images that were easier to produce than the traditional fresco technique used, for example, in renaissance Italy. The chancel at Hildersham was painted using the new technique by Alfred Bell, John Clayton, and Stacy Marks. They and many assistants produced a magnificent display of saints and religious scenes, all from The New Testament. They were painted in 1890 and are in wonderful condition. The two churches are just under 4 miles apart and both are well worth visiting. And, when you do go to these buildings, you will find light switches near their entrance doors. We might never have seen them had it not been for my wife engaging in friendly conversation with the priest at Haverhill.

An isolated Anglo-Saxon chapel

A FEW MONTHS AGO, we paid a brief visit to Mersea Island, which is off the coast of Essex. While we were wandering around on the island, we spoke with a man, who recommended that we visit the isolated chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall, which is not far from Bradwell-on-Sea, also on the coast of Essex. He thought that we would enjoy its tranquillity and the beauty of its surroundings. In early August 2021, we drove beyond Bradwell-on-Sea to a carpark, which is 785 yards west of the chapel known as St Peter-on-the-Wall. The building is about 300 yards west of the east coast of Essex on the Dengie Peninsula, the southern lip of the mouth of the River Blackwater. The chapel stands on a hill overlooking the surrounding coast and countryside.

Winding the clock back to the time when the Romans ruled Britain, we find that there was a fort named ‘Othona’ near the site of the chapel. It was one of a series of Roman forts created to protect Britain from Saxon and Frankish pirates, possibly built by a Count of the Saxon Shore, a Roman official, named Carausius, who died in 293 AD. A Roman road ran up to the fort, connecting it with places further inland. During the 7th century, the Romans having left Britain, an Anglo-Saxon holy man, Cedd by name, landed at Othona in 653.

Cedd (born c620) was one of four brothers. He had a religious upbringing and education in the monastery set up by Saint Aidan (c590-651) at Lindisfarne on the coast of Northumbria. Cedd became a missionary. After successes in the Midlands, he was invited by Sigbert, King of the East Saxons, who reigned in Essex, to bring Christianity into the area. Cedd sailed from Lindisfarne and landed at what was the ruined fort at Othona. He moved north later in life and died in 664 (of the plague) near Lastingham in Northumbria, where he had founded another religious establishment.

Cedd’s first church at Othona might well have been wooden, but soon he built one of stone, of which there was plenty lying about in the ruins of the fort. His stone church is built in what was then the style of churches in Egypt and Syria. Apparently, Celtic Christians, such as Cedd, were influenced by this style. Building a church in the ruins of a Roman fort mirrored that which had been built in the ruins of a fort by St Antony of Egypt. The location of the former fort on the Roman road might have appealed to Cedd as it would have facilitated ‘spreading the word’ inland.

The church that Cedd built used to have a chancel and possibly other parts, as it was part of a monastic complex based near Bradwell.  Cedd’s church, St Peter’s, simple as it was and is still, can be considered the first cathedral to have been built in Essex. It is considered unlikely that the monastery Cedd created near Bradwell survived the Danish invasions. Soon after Cedd’s death, Essex was incorporated into the diocese of London and St Peter’s became a minster, the chief church in the area. When the parish church of St Thomas was built in Bradwell-on-Sea, St Peter’s became relegated to being a ‘chapel of ease’. Services were held three times a week there until at least the end of the 16th century. Sometime after this, the chancel was pulled down; the church was left standing as a navigation beacon; and the building was repurposed as a barn. As a barn it remained until the early 20th century, when the church was reconsecrated and restored in 1920.

The church is still in use. Services are held there under the auspices of the nearby Othona Community, based nearby at Bradwell-on-Sea. At present, services are held on Sunday nights in July and August at 6.30 pm.

We walked across the fields to St Peter-on-the-Wall, which is one of Britain’s oldest still standing and working churches. After some difficulty, we managed to open the one door to the church. We entered the building’s simple and peaceful interior. A colourful crucifix, created by Francis William Stephens (1921-2002) hangs high up on the east wall. St Cedd is depicted praying at the feet of Jesus on The Cross. The supporting stone of the simple stone altar has three fragments embedded in it. One of them was a gift from Lindisfarne, another from Iona, and the third from Lastingham. The altar was consecrated in 1985. Apart from a circle of chairs for congregants and a timber framed ceiling, there is little else in the church apart from a feeling of tranquillity, which can only be experienced by visiting this charming place. The man at Mersea Island, who suggested that we visit St Peter-on-the-Wall, did us a good turn.

A chapel that became a barn

PHILIP’S NAVIGATOR BRITAIN is a detailed (1 ½ miles to the inch) road atlas covering England, Scotland, and Wales. It is extremely useful for finding one’s way through Britain’s maze of narrow country lanes if, like us, you do not make use of GPS systems. One of the many features of the maps in this atlas is that it marks old buildings and other sites of interest in both towns and deep in the countryside. Recently (June 2021), we were driving around in rural Wiltshire, having just visited the small town of Bedwyn when I spotted that there was an old chapel nearby, close to the hamlet of Chisbury.

The area in which Chisbury is located is the site of an ancient hill fort in which archaeologists have found artefacts from the Palaeolithic era, as well as the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. The fort, whose earthworks are still discernible, was later used by the Romans. Long after the Romans had left England, the manor house of Chisbury was built within its site.

In the 13th century, the Lord of Chisbury Manor built a ‘chapel of ease’, St Martin’s, close to his manor house. According to Wikipedia, such a chapel is:

“…a church building other than the parish church, built within the bounds of a parish for the attendance of those who cannot reach the parish church conveniently.”

The chapel of ease at Chisbury was built to serve the household of the Manor House as well as villagers nearby, to save them having to travel to the nearest parish church which was in Great Bedwyn.

In 1547, during the Reformation of The English Church, the chapel, like many other places of worship in Henry VIII’s realm, ceased to be used. Instead of being demolished, as so many ecclesiastical buildings were at that time, the chapel was re-used as a barn. The barn continued to be used over several centuries until 1925, when it was designated a building of historical importance. Now, it is maintained by English Heritage. This re-purposing of a place of worship reminded me of what I saw when I visited Albania in 1984. At that time, religion of any sort had been made illegal by the Stalinist regime led by Enver Hoxha. Mosques and churches had either been demolished or re-purposed as sports halls, cinemas, and for other non-religious uses.

The chapel of Chisbury is beautiful. The glass has been long lost from its windows. Trees can be seen from within the chapel through its carved stone gothic windows. The ceiling of the chapel is timber framed, but I suspect that these are no longer the original timbers. The roof is thatched. The floor is at two levels, higher at the west end than the east. Steps lead from one level to the next. The two levels might reflect the fact that the chapel is built on a steeply sloping hill.

On the inside of the west wall of the building, close to the way into the chapel, there is a faded red painted circle enclosing a cross. Symbols like this were painted on to the walls of buildings during the consecration ceremonies of building about to become churches. What you can see in the chapel at Chisbury must have survived many centuries. Maybe, it has been touched up from time to time.

It is written that Jesus Christ was born in a kind of barn surrounded, as the story goes and many artist have depicted, by farm animals. I wonder whether this went through farmworkers’ heads as they used the former chapel as a barn for a variety of agricultural purposes.

Had it not been for builders working nearby, the chapel would have been silent except for birdsong. I am glad we made the small detour to see this delightful relic of mediaeval life in England.