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St Lawrence’s Church, Bigbury

A sunny autumnal Sunday afternoon enticed me to visit the beautiful Church of St Lawrence, Bigbury. I was not disappointed – I was hankering for space for contemplation and this place gave it to me in spades.

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St Lawrence’s Church, Bigbury, [October 2016]

St Lawrence’s Church is located close to the main road, heading towards Bigbury-on-Sea and the famous Burgh Island. Access to the Church is via a narrow lane, past aged buildings and farms. It was a treat for all the senses! The ozone of the sea, the fresh farmyard and the smell of harvest hung in the air. Superb!

On arriving at the Church you’re immediately met by a stunning set of gates – clearly they’ve seen some years. You meet the church from the east – the pathway from the lane takes you down the pathway towards the east end of the church to the south porch.

On arriving in the porch, the visitor observes one of the rarer war memorials in the County; one which records the names of all men who fought from the parish, not just those who were lost. I’ve seen old photographs of similar memorials in some Anglo-Catholic parishes and they were known as ‘war shrines’. Perhaps this is something similar.

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The men from Bigbury who served in the Great War, 1914-1918

When I arrived inside the church properly, that is beyond the south door into the nave of the church the building was awash with sunlight and presented a vision of beauty. Not only were the walls washed in golden light, but the stained glass was gleaming and the air was filled with the aromas of the Harvest Festival – apples, corn and other remnants of the morning’s Festival present all around.

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The Nave and Chancel

I couldn’t help but hum my favourite Harvest Festival hymn: “We Plough the Fields and Scatter”

We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.

All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all His love.

He only is the maker of all things near and far;
He paints the wayside flower, He lights the evening star;
The winds and waves obey Him, by Him the birds are fed;
Much more to us, His children, He gives our daily bread.

All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all His love.

We thank Thee, then, O Father, for all things bright and good,
The seed time and the harvest, our life, our health, and food;
No gifts have we to offer, for all Thy love imparts,
But that which Thou desirest, our humble, thankful hearts.

All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all His love.

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The Church itself is wonderfully historic – its list of Rectors dates back to 1274, however little of this building actually remains.

Sadly, there was no Church guidebook so thanks to my trusty Pevsner I’m able to give the details in its listing as follows:

ST LAWRENCE, Early w tower with short spire. Diagonal butreseses not reaching high up, plain, narrow, round-headed bell-openings, battlements on the corbel-table, one tier of gabled dormer windows. Tall, unmounted tower arch.

The church all but rebuilt by E. and J. D. Sedding in 1868-72. But the fact that the n aisle and s transept have arches with piers of B type and capitals only to the shafts and not the hollows, may well go back to the medieval building.

The early C14 sedilia, piscina, and tomb recess in the chancel also look confidence-inspiring.

PULPIT: From Ashburton; on a chalice foot, with low panels with big flat ogee arches and shields beneath them, and a very broad cornice at the top.

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The superb chalice-foot pulpit; unknown date, but I love it!

LECTERN: Eagle, timber, remarkably vigorous, also from Ashburton, said to have been made by one Thomas Prideaux as a present from Bishop Oldham of Exeter (1505-19). The bird is said to have originated as an owl.

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The remarkable lectern – originally from Ashburton and dating from 1505-1519!

STAINED GLASS: Some old heraldic fragments

MONUMENTS: Early C15 brasses to two sisters – Slate to John and Jane Pearse, died 1612 and 1589 with incised figures.

Pevsner gives some interesting information but leaves me wanting more! What is the history of the rather magnificent Font. I’m guessing it belonged to the original Church as it must be medieval, or earlier, but did it begin its life in this Church, or elsewhere?

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Superb Font, crisp carving with heraldic shields – perhaps C13-C14?

Pevsner doesn’t take into account the rather imposing, and in the sunshine rather lovely, but plain reredos. I believe this is a post-war reredos as an early postcard view, c1910 shows something altogether more ornate, and perhaps a little more to my taste. I think the Church had some rather “high” clergy during the late C19 and early C20 which might explain the taste back then.

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The High Altar and Reredos

St Lawrence’s is a lovely village church and built very much for the small(ish) population. By this I mean it’s not a large church, but this adds to its charm. It possesses a great deal of very fine stained glass; the windows of the chancel being especially beautiful, but those in the north aisle are just as nice. The chancel windows appear older, certainly mid-late C19 with those in the north aisle being from the early C20 – WW1 era.

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The East Window in Memory of the Rev. James Parker Harris, d. 1864

A brass plaque in the chancel records that the east window stands:

To the Glory of God and in memory of James Parker Harris, Priest, who died at sea, March 24th 1864. Aged 42. R. I. P. This East Window was placed by his Wife.

It was thanks to his Wife, Georgina Maria Harris, nee Short, that the Church was restored in the late 1860s. She passed away on 10th May 1886 and a memorial plaque to her stands with that of her husband’s in the chancel.

The Rev. James Parker Harris was a very distinguished cleric. As Chaplain of Lucknow during the Siege of 1857 he was afterwards made an honorary MA “for the bravery with which he ministered to the wants of the sick and suffering during that Siege”. A remarkable man and what a contrast from having ministered in India to then find himself in the serene parish of Bigbury!

The churchyard at Bigbury is bounded on the north side by open countryside; rather a harvested field. The burial ground itself comprises a mixture of old headstones, mainly C18 and C19 with quite a number of ‘modern’ C20 and C21 burials. There can be few more peaceful churchyards in the county.

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Some mid C19 headstones in the rural churchyard

I expect most people heading towards the sea neglect to notice this lovely church nestled into the countryside, but I would heed all to stop and pay this lovely House a visit. It’s clearly a cherished parish church to her parishioners and many others alike. Its power to enable one to enjoy peace and serenity should not be passed up lightly. I shall be revisiting, I know that much.

Now to hunt for the full history of St Lawrence’s Church, there must be one somewhere…!

© Graham Naylor

 

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