Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire – the Guild Chapel

Sunday 20 February 2016. We could (should) have been good and gone to the Festival Eucharist in Bloxham church, or we could get up late, have a Holiday Inn breakfast, and drive into Stratford. We parked on the High Street, went to a shop, I walked back to the car, we went to another shop, I walked back to the car … and so it went on. Our shopping bonanza included a new suit from Debenham’s (I only wanted a pair of trousers). We wandered to the theatre and raided the shop, then went along to the Guild Chapel, at the corner of Church Street and Chapel Lane – SP201547. It is owned by the Town Trust – they have a website. No guidebook was on sale – surely the only place in Stratford which doesn’t try and sell you a guidebook! There is a Friends website too.

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To quote from a website: “The fraternity or Guild of the Holy Cross was already in existence in 1269, when Bishop Godfrey Giffard of Worcester granted a licence for the brethren of the Guild to build a chapel and to found a hospital for the poor priests in the diocese. [I am glad someone is looking after poor priests]. The present fabric of the chancel of the Chapel incorporates portions of the original building, but the nave and tower were added in the fifteenth century. By this time the Guild of the Holy Cross had come to be an influential religious fraternity, owning properties and occupying a position of authority in the town. It had an extensive membership and business organisation. Following the suppression of the Guild at the Reformation, the Chapel, together with the Guild’s other properties, was granted by the Crown in 1553 to the Bailiff and Corporation of Stratford, later Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council, until the formation of the Town trust in 2001.”

The Chapel has a service every Wednesday morning, and the website suggests that the students of King Edward VI school use it regularly. The organ is new – £250,000 of work, installed in 2014. Neither website says who built it – lots of lists of donors, but nothing that states who did the work!

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The Doom painted above the Chancel arch in the C15 is impressive – you can see it more clearly in this photo on the right. Records from the time suggest that this painting is just part of much more – “The chancel walls are understood to have been decorated with ten scenes from the Legend of the Holy Cross, while on the lower north wall of the nave there were scenes of the Dance of Death. On the south wall records are less clear, but the subject matter appears to have included scenes from the life of Adam as well as a boar hunting scene. On the upper part of the west wall, it is recorded that there were scenes of the murder of Thomas Becket and St George and the Dragon. … In 1563, the paintings were defaced and limewashed under the supervision of John Shakespeare, the father of the playwright, who was, at the time, the chamberlain of the Corporation of Stratford. It appears that they were subsequently re-limewashed and painted over a number of times and it was not until 1804 that the majority of the paintings were uncovered. Sadly, few then survived the renovations of the 19th century, but in 1955, when the gallery was removed, those left came to light. Many are protected by the panelling in the nave, and an extensive ‘Memento Mori’, at the base of the tower arch is occasionally revealed behind hinged panels.”

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In the stained glass are various important Stratford figures – John is the one on the right of the window. Agnes, the wife of John Clopton, is below, as is Richard Symons. If you would like to find out more about John Shakespeare I recommend this website and book. Richard Symons appears on this online exhibition. There is so much you can read, enjoy and learn from – can I have another Sabbatical please?

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I urge you to take the time to look at this memorial tablet – it is well worth a read.

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I liked these small tapestry panels which were created by a team led by Norma Whittard. They are based on paintings made of the surviving wall frescoes in the chancel, made by Thomas Fisher when they were revealed during restoration of the Chapel in 1804. The Legend of the Holy Cross dates from the C7. It begins with the Fall of Adam, and follows the planting of seeds from the apple eaten by him, the planting of the subsequent shoots by Moses on ount Tabor, the removal of the tree to Jerusalem by King David where it was cut down to make a beam in the temple, but rejected because too large, but kept there and venerated.  In this chapel the story starts with Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Then we have the story of Constantine’s vision of the Cross, and the finding it by St Helena. Here is Helena exalting the Cross.

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On one side of the Chapel is the New Place development. New Place was the Shakespeare family home for 19 years, and is being “transformed into a major heritage landmark”, opening in July 2016 – see website. On the other side Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall are opening too – see website.

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This made me smile …

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