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Trevor Wedlake's Writings
Treasures within Stone

First published in the Village Journal October, 1994


September is the unlatched door, the open gate through which return the roaming feet of Autumn, and swallows and sandalled summer take their

In these early days of the seasons changing before the activities of the long dark evenings take over - everything from rehearsing Messiah to playing skittles, it is nice to recall and mull over the more enjoyable outdoor interests of Summer.

For some 20 Wrington people a pleasure to recall often during the winter will be the Wednesday evening visits, organised by the Rector, to a dozen Somerset churches to learn more of the various expressions of English mediaeval architecture. No one was an expert and some would not have recognised an engaged shaft or corbel if they had bumped into one.

One lady thought all churches were described perpendicular unless they had leaning towers. But in no time she was expressing an interest in those decades round about 1180 which she discovered were called the
Transitional era. Everyone learned something. It must be said that none of them was young. Ages ranged from the mature through well-seasoned to ripe.

Lingering in an ancient church may not do for everyone as the late Sir John Betjeman said it did for him - made him wonder what eternity would be like, but it must increase knowledge of the ideas and imagination which fired our forebears.

After an informal browse round the buildings the main features were noted, the Romanesque, the Early English, the Decorated and so on, and reading whatever notes were to hand, the party settled quietly to say Compline, a service of stark and timeless simplicity. Following this they contrived to walk around the locality before picnic supper. Some good cold meals were pro-vided and shared round with fruit and coffee, and here and there a little cider or wine.

After Camely on the longest Wednesday of the year supper was eaten on the green at Hinton Blewett where the rector bought the beer and even returned the empties to the bar. From Christon most stormed Crooks Peak (640ft) but, perversely, no-one attempted Brent Knoll (457ft) to view the Somerset fen-lands and realise how nearly they are still sea. At Charterhouse a youthful octogenarian with maps took everybody in search of a Roman amphitheatre.

Parties of about 12, and certainly not more than 20, are ideal for this sport. More, and you cannot get to talk to and eat and drink with everybody. Thinking back over the 12 churches visited it is very difficult to decide which had the greatest impact historically or architecturally. Some might plump for St Mary's, Christon, small and white, built in the last years of the 12th century, long before the technology was available to produce the great arches and arcades and traceried stone as seen in All Saints’; or the now redundant St James at Cameley with its 12th century structure and Jacobean interior; or the beautifully maintained St Michael's at Brent Knoll, with its 600 years old bench-ends and flamboyant 17th century blue and gold monument; or the unusually dedicated St Pancras of West Bagborough, staunch in the anglo-catholic tradition.

The most unusual must have been St Hugh's, at Charterhouse. From the outside a rough-cast unlovely structure withstanding the Mendip winters. Inside it was all light and wood and warmth. The fine roof-truss, screen, rood and altar are all of delicately carved oak. It was built in 1908, and from the spot on which the altar now stands someone had picked a bunch of wild flowers and pressed them. They can be seen in their frame still.

Eight hundred years of church building separate Christon from Charterhouse, from Norman beginnings through the blooming of Gothic to our own century. Someone said that an ancient church is a poem in stone. Couldn't it just as well be described in the terms once used by the late Sir Gerald Kelly to dramatise his description of a great painting?

Extolling the beauty and intricacy of a detail he turned suddenly to his audience and looking over his spectacles he said "What a beautiful quartet that is". And when he had done with the whole portrait he turned to them again, outstretched his arms and exclaimed "What a wonderful symphony that is."