Friday 16 February 2018

The Very Stones Cry Out

St Martin's Tarrant Hinton

Throughout her post-reformation history as a Protestant Church, there have been individuals and groups within the Church of England who have tried to retain part of the catholic past. The Oxford Movement was one of the high points of that attempt; and by the mid-twentieth century, it even seemed as though there was a prospect of catholicism becoming the mainstream within Anglicanism. Now, with so many protestant novelties taking root, that dream is increasingly seen for what it always was, just so much romantic nonsense.

Font at the main South door
Yet always there have been witnesses to the catholic past.  Among the most effective witnesses are the buildings which survived, albeit stripped of much of their former beauty. Since arriving in Wiltshire I have been gradually discovering some of those witnesses. In neighbouring Dorset, Tarrant Hinton is fairly typical. A stone-built church mostly of the 15th Century, yet including evidence of long continuity - particularly through its Romanesque font. The walls which once would have been plastered and painted are stripped back to the bare flint and stone. The ancient stained glass has gone. The image of the Good Shepherd is modern, as are the crosses and crucifix. The brackets for images of the saints are empty. And yet, it survives.

At one time the parish probably had its own Rector. By the 1980s it had become part of a group of eight parishes.Today the Chase Benefice includes twelve former separate parishes, each with its own church, - one in private ownership - but only one full-time Rector, assisted by a number of retired clergyand various 'Local Licenced Ministers', most of them laypeople. It seems Tarrant Hinton has neither Churchwarden nor Pastoral Assistant, but the building is well cared for - it even has CCTV on the tower to deter would-be lead thieves from stripping the roof. The windows contain mostly non-representational glass, though St Edward (the Confessor) flanked by two other saints is in a South Aisle - so the Oxford Movement must have had its effect even here.

Remnants of an Easter Sepulchre
For me, the most remarkable and most moving element in the church is a recess in the north wall of the  chancel. It is the frame of the former  Easter Sepulchre. That much is clear from the beaurifully carved  Latin inscription, Venite, Videte.... 'come and see where the Lord was laid'. On the wall above are two censing angels. Such sepulchres had a vital role in the Easter Triduum. Another such is at Patrington in the East Riding of Yorkshire. There, carved sodiers sleep below the tomb slab. In other places, an actual tomb provided the resting place for the Corpus on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Classical Capital and Angel in a roundel beneath the frieze
The  quality of the carving, and the classical details show that this was a costly addition ot the church, made probably only a few years before the devastation of the 'reformation'. It reminds me of 'Voices from Merebath', when the Vicar provides new vestments which will also be made useless by the 'reformers'. How much art, how much beauty, how much scholarship, how much pastoral care, how much great architecture was vandalised, all so that Henry VIII could buy his supporters, fight off Catholic Europe, and marry his mistress. Ichabod, the glory is departed.