Monday, April 18, 2011

A Brief History of St. Michael’s Church…at St. Michaels

Last week we ended (perhaps a bit abruptly but who’s checking) with a mention of various mediaeval bits of stained glass in the Butler Chapel.

The Butler Chapel, itself, was founded in 1480 by John Butler of Rawcliffe Hall.
Worth a mention at this point is the gargoyle carved into the exterior window boss of the Butler Chapel. Unfortunately the weather hasn’t exactly been gentle with the sandstone, but it’s still quite clear that this hooded peasant has his feet planted firmly against the wall above his head, his arms down by his ears and his big, bare ar…bottom exposed to the general public.

Exactly why the Butler Chapel windows are decorated in this manner is a mystery. One possibility is that the figure’s an acrobat whose robes have ridden up in mid-performance. (Yeah…right.) Another is that, because windows were positioned above garderobes (or poop chutes) in mediaeval times, our peasant might be performing his ablutions away from the congregation. (And onto a nearby grave…)
Whatever the truth, it’s certainly a cheeky performance. (Copyright Mediaeval Jokes Shane Richie Inc.)
Sticking with the Butler Chapel a bit longer, I’d just like to throw this image into the scrum.

We’ve no idea who this is meant to be. Is it some king or other? Possibly a bishop? Perhaps even old Butler himself? Whoever it is, there’s a few of these heads about, looking considerably more kempt than the rest of the carvings, so perhaps they’re relatively modern? If anybody reading this knows who they’re meant to be…well, you know where the comments box is.
Onwards and upwards, and St Michael’s church tower was built about two decades earlier than the Butler Chapel, in 1459 when John Singleton donated forty shillings for the building of a steeple.

He also donated ten shillings towards the bells, one of which, dated 1458, most likely resulted from this donation. According to the ‘Victoria County History’: “There may be portions of an older structure in the north wall of the chancel and at the west end of the south aisle adjoining the tower, the masonry of which may date from the thirteenth century.”
Yeah, we reckon that’s about right, although the masonry is probably earlier even than that. Pre-conquest, we’d hazard a guess at. The stonework of the tower clearly shows that it was built onto an earlier ground floor structure and, as the diagram showing the church’s layout below demonstrates, said structure is/was/always has been crooked to the main body of the church.

Those dates are the ones supplied by the Victoria County History incidentally, not necessarily ours. However, invariably, when you get a tower (or at least the lower half of tower) built skewed to the main body of a church like that, it’s because the tower (or rather the lower part of it) was originally a much earlier, less architecturally aesthetic church in its own right, the main bulk of the church being tagged to it later.
It’s probably much the same in this case, the lower part of the tower possibly being the original pre-Norman Saxon church from which the village of St Michael’s takes it name. In fact, if you look in the churchyard, there’s a sundial standing on the base of what would once have been the churchyard cross.

Take a look at that base. Three steps, see? That’s typically Saxon, is that. (They’re a bit on the knackered side too, having been stapled together with big iron bolts if memory serves, testament to how worn they’ve become over the centuries.)
Similar to St. Helen’s (the parish church of Garstang), in 1856 during repairs to the plasterwork in St Michael’s sanctuary an early fourteenth century mural was discovered. Despite being damaged the faint image of Mary’s haloed head (along with those of several apostles) can still be seen watching Christ’s feet as he ascends into heaven. Unfortunately, when we went to take a photograph it was bucketing down outside and the church itself was in pitch-blackness. So we didn’t bother.
I think (and you can correct me if I’m wrong about this) there are a few words in English accompanying the scene, indicating that the text was taken from the King James Bible. The fact that it was whitewashed was probably down to Cromwell or someone, so perhaps St Michael’s did bear direct witness to some turbulent history after all.

For more interesting topics related to archaeology, visit archaeology excavations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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