Pershore, Worcestershire – Holy Cross

Wednesday 29 May, and we drove to have an explore of Pershore. We parked by the church – SO 948 457 – and had a wonderful visit. Pershore Abbey is officially the Church of the Holy Cross. Website at http://pershoreabbey.org.uk/ an excellent guidebook in three parts – a short history, a guide, and a longer historical essay – and a very good children’s guide (though they can’t spell millennium). They also invite me to dress up and explore – I want grandchildren so I can!

The earliest reference to a religious foundation here is in 681 when the King of Mercia gave land to fund a Christian community. The Vikings attacked in the 900s – that must have been quite a sail to get here – and in 972 the Abbey introduced the Benedictine Rule. In 976 a local earl seized two-thirds of the Abbey’s land. In 1065 Edward the Confessor gave this land to fund his new abbey at Westminster. The parish was split in two, and the tenants of Westminster Abbey worshipped at St Andrew’s church. Pershore Abbey remained an important medieval abbey – which was a good thing as the church suffered fires in 1002, 1223 and 1288, plus storms and an earthquake. In 1540 Henry VIII’s commissioners arrived in Pershore and ordered the demolition of the lot. The people of Pershore paid £400 for the quire (the area where the choir set), the tower and the north and south transepts. The nave and chapel were destroyed, which has led to all sorts of problems since. The Victorians had a major restoration in 1862, with George Gilbert Scott in charge. He opened up the lantern tower and installed a unique ringing platform suspended high in the tower (which I didn’t photo). They offer tower tours – which I would very much like to go and do some time soon.

The historical story is shown in two of the Victorian windows – planned by the curate Canon Wickendon, and were made by the firm of Hardman & Co. They are rather lovely. There are also some Saxon foundations – the Saxon church was destroyed by fire in 1002. It probably looked like Deerhurst.

The War Memorial is in the South Transept. Alfred Drury RA was the designer and sculptor – his best known work is the bronze figures on the frontage of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Immortality has just alighted on the terrestrial sphere, holding the olive branch of peace and the crown of eternal life. 460 men went to War – 1010 did not come back.

The crusader’s tomb is probably that of Sir William de Harley. They were a local land-owning family who were given land and a manor house in exchange for military service. The crusader is wearing ‘mail’ armor and has mittens and a horn. The abbot’s tomb is probably that of Abbot Edmund Hert, abbot 1456 to 1479. Apparently the position of the mitre under his head suggests that he retired from the position before he died. Good interpretation banners (all the notices in this church are of a very high quality).

There are two tombs for the Haselwood family – one in the South Transept which I photoed when we arrived, and the other behind the bookstall in the North which I photoed on the way out (having spent too much with the lovely lady on the stall itself). The Haselwoods wre landowners who lived nearby in Wick in the 1500s and 1600s. The tomb in the south commemorates Thomas Haselwood, who died in 1624. The two kneeling figures facing each other are his widow, Elizabeth, and their son, Francis. The tomb in the north commemorates Fulke Haselwood, Thomas’s father, who died in 1595. The carvings of the children are known as ‘The Weepers’, because they are weeping his death. The child facing outwards probably died before their father and is shown welcoming him to heaven. I hope my boys will be there to welcome me when my time comes.

The font is located by the west door and is thought to be Norman, dating from the mid 1100s. It is decorated with an interlacing arcade of 13 panels, one each for Christ and the twelve apostles. It was replaced by a new font in 1840 and then used as a cattle trough and a garden ornament. It came back in 1921.

Not sure about the fencing by the lectern – the old problem of getting wobbly knees to the eagle – and the altar is rather lovely. Some nice memorial brasses too.

Let’s also enjoy some more stained glass.

In this church you must look up – and wish I had a camera and a tripod. The quire, aisles and NE chapel were rebuilt after the fire of 1223, and again after a 1288 fire, they did more rebuilding. The Abbey’s vaults are called ploughshare vaults, reflecting a medieval ploughshare (in case you hadn’t guessed). There are 41 stone bosses, and each one is different. Originally each one was painted. Just enjoy.

In 1913 the stone buttresses were added to the outside – be patient, we’ll be there in a minute – and between 2005 and 2017 there has been major conservation work. They had a touch screen which obviously dates from this time – and it was well worth watching. (They could do with putting it on their website). I sat and worked my way through every film – lovely to see the architect talking about the project, and explaining what sort of vaulting is what.

It was starting to rain as we went outside, so I had a quick scoot round with a camera. It is quite a place (that’s the sort of description Pevsner would never have used!)

The sculpture is called “Leafing through history” and was made by Tom Harvey in 2007. It’s a shame he’s lost his hand, but wood is not concrete – nothing natural will last. What has lasted is skill, and a building built to the glory of God.

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