It’s Tuesday 4 August 2015 and we drove south from Ironbridge to Much Wenlock, found a parking space, and had a wander round this lovely town. First stop was a lovely second hand bookshop – website – I had to return to the car once we’d been there. We walked to the parish church of the Holy Trinity – open and beautiful. It is just north of the town square at SJ624000, and has two websites, one for the parish, another for the team. In the Diocese of Hereford, it is in a team of 12 parishes, served by two stipendiary clergy. The church has a very nice folded A4 tour leaflet, which also gives simple, welcoming, details of services, activities and contact details. “You are welcome to visit, journey among the ancient stones, sit in thought, light a candle, place a prayer on the prayer board …”
On this site St Milburga built the Nun’s Church around AD680, “which after many adventures and some rebuilding became the first Holy Trinity Parish Church”. I love the idea of the adventures of our buildings. The current church is C12, built by the Cluniac monks of Wenlock Priory (more about them in a while). The tower is lovely, there is good disabled access and automatic door, and the week’s bible reading is displayed on a lectern as you enter. You can imagine the row when, in 2006, the south porch stopped being the main entrance to the church, but what a good decision. Lovely Norman arch here.
The font is Victorian, with symbols of the Gospel writers. On the rear wall is the town’s memorial to Dr William Penny Brookes, who inspired de Coubertin to start the Olympic Games of the modern era. Those of you who know me will know that I am the very model of an Olympic athlete – if you wish to find out more about this good gentleman, have a look here. (I should record that on the day I am putting this blog up – Sunday 23 August – my son Harry, the healthy/active one, put a new app on my phone to encourage me when I go for walks. I got an email from Strava “Hey Peter, Strava is a community of athletes from all over the world, and we’re happy to have you joining us”. I feel fitter already!).
The Brookes room at the back of the church is a meeting room with toilet and baby-change facilities (“I wish to change my baby for a sweet, non-crying one”). On the wall above it, so not easy to photograph, is a tapestry “Angeli laudantes”, worked by the late Lady Catherine Milnes Gaskell in the early C20. It is influenced by William Morris with the central figures being copies of work by Burne-Jones.
There are some other interesting tombs and memorials.
The Jacobean pulpit has carvings of two-tailed mermen. I knew about mermaids, but I don’t think mermen have ever crossed my consciousness – though Wikipedia reminds me of King Triton, which brings back memories of my daughter and Disney’s Little Mermaid. I like the comment on Wikipedia which says “they are almost always portrayed wearing no clothing, no matter what the temperature of the water is”. It does make me wonder why on earth (or on sea) anyone would carve a merman onto a pulpit, especially onto a pulpit in a church that is hardly coastal. They appear in Babylonian, Greek and Norse mythology – I’m sure we can weave them in to the liturgy for Sea Sunday!
The Chancel is late C14, C15, with a very nice sedilia. The East Window has some C15-C16 glass.
The Lady Chapel contains a Norman font, a tapestry which recalls the seven sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony – OK, how many can you get without looking them up?) – a lovely statue of Virgin and Child (I can’t find out who made it), and a banner for St Milburga. August 5 is the Feast Day of St Oswald, King of Northumbria, who was murdered by the Mercian king Penda (a Pagan). Milburga is Penda’s grand-daughter. She was educated in France, then founded the nunnery here. To quote the Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury: “Fantastic stories surround the saint. One tells of how she overslept and awoke to find the sun shining on her. Her veil slipped but instead of falling to the ground was suspended on a sunbeam”. (I can’t help thinking of Julie Andrews and “how do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?”) Milburga died in 727.
A nice Transfiguration window too (C19 stained glass).
They have also done a good Prayer Board – we need to improve our prayer board in Ponteland.
I had enjoyed this lovely church, and went for a wander round the outside.
Next door is the Guildhall – which was started in 1540. The Borough had been founded in 1468, but it was not until the Dissolution of the monastery that it had much power and needed a Hall. It was erected by Richard Dawley, one a family of carpenters. According to the Town Council’s website he was paid £13 6s 8d for building it. The clock cost £1. Edward Brower was paid 13s 4d for roofing the belfry with lead and “wine given to various men as a reward” cost 4s 9d – that sounds like a lot of wine!
We continued round the corner to Wenlock Priory. The English Heritage guide says that it was founded in AD 680 by the Saxon king, Merewalh of Mercia, and his daughter Milburge was its second abbess. The monastery was replaced shortly before 1040 with a college of priests built by Earl Leofric of Mercia and his wife Godgifu (i.e. Godiva). After the Norman Conquest monks were sent here from the abbey of Cluny in France, at the request of Roger of Montgomery. This meant it became a Priory – which is a house of monks subject to a founding abbey. Milburga’s bones were found just after 1100, so the priory became a place of pilgrimage. Wenlock’s first English Prior was appointed in 1376, and in 1395 a charter was obtained declaring the priory English (“I hereby declare that this priory is English” – which presumably means less garlic in the food). It was dissolved in 1540, and the audiotour featured William, the last monk. The audiotour was excellent, and we could get the wheelchair everywhere – we could also get coffee and ice cream. We like Wenlock!