Saturday 8 August 2015

An Auditory Church and Other Curiosities

Back from a couple of days in Derbyshire, where, among other things, I visited one of the oddest - and smallest - churches I have ever seen: All Saints, Dale Abbey. We very nearly didn't see it, as this strange building - part church, part stone-and-timber house - was firmly locked when we arrived. What to do? The obvious answer was to climb up into the woods above the church and take a look at the surprisingly well preserved Hermit's Cave, where a 12th-century baker, under instructions from Above, set up home, hewing out three chambers in which to live and worship, conveniently close to the Abbey - long since gone, leaving only scattered remnants, including one mighty arch standing alone in a field.
 Returning to the church, we found that by happy chance it had been opened for a group of visitors from Canada with ancestral connections to the parish. So it was that we were able to step into the tiny - 26ft by 25ft - interior, crammed with box pews right up to the altar (such as it is), over which a drunkenly leaning pulpit looms. And above all this, space has somehow been found for a gallery. All Saints is, on its tiny scale, the 'auditory church' triumphant, where preaching is at least as important as liturgy, and all must sit and listen. However, the principle was somewhat undermined during the period when the building that contains the church was the Blue Bell Inn and, according to tradition, bored congregants could slip out through an adjoining door for a spot of refreshment during the sermon. The church is a glorious jumble, with an overwhelmingly 17th-century feel, but, surprisingly, some fragments of medieval wall paintings survive - notably a fine Visitation, dated to the late 13th century.
 Then there was Duffield - the church of St Alkmund (an unusual dedication), a handsome, if much restored, 14th-century (and earlier) building, with a spacious interior, fine furnishings and ample evidence of the prosperity of the parish. The highlight here was a quite extraordinary wall monument to himself erected by a local land-owner, Anthony Bradshaw, in 1600, its large inscribed tablets separated by a frieze depicting, in incised images, Bradshaw, his two wives and his 20 children: four sons and, in two tiers of eight, his 16 daughters. Each is identified by initials (though they look all but identical), and below is an ingenious acrostic verse on Anthony Bradshaw's name. He died some 14 years later, having fathered yet three more children, bringing his tally to 23.
 In the nearby Duffield Millennium Meadow - grassland, woods and wetland where the Ecclesbourne meets the beautiful Derwent - butterflies were flying among knapweed, meadowsweet, thistles and ragwort in happy abundance: gatekeepers, whites, skippers and faded meadow browns, tortoiseshells, commas, peacocks and red admirals. And yesterday morning, in Wirksworth, came a sudden flypast of half a dozen loud and lively swifts.
 As for Wirksworth's incomparable bookshop (The Bookshop), this time it yielded me Mr Fortune's Maggot by Sylvia Townsend Warner - an author who has been recommended to me so often I feel I must now give her a try - and Charlotte Mew and Her Friends by Penelope Fitzgerald, an author whose every word I would happily read, writing about a poet I have never read.

1 comment:

  1. All Saints, Dale Abbey - locked when you went but fortuitously opened for a group of visitors, so you were lucky. But you should have consulted your resident expert on Derbyshire churches, Nigeness - that's me. I would have told you where to get the key to open up the church. In the pub, of course!

    Glad you acquainted yourself with Mr Bradshaw at St Alkmund. And you visited Duffield Millennium Meadow at last. I advised you to do so some time ago.

    Now when are you going to make for St.Mary & St.Barlok Church in Norbury?