Friday 15 March 2013

If Church Architecture Guides Were Written by the Congregation not the Vicar

Welcome to St Angelo's.

It is believed that the Church is on the site of an ancient pagan site. At least, that's what that pagan told us, and she was pretty weird, so she should know.

After St Augustine and his Hippo came to England, the first church would have been built. We don't know when precisely, just "after". It would have been made of sticks, or dung, or something, so would have caught fire, or washed away.

In any case the first proper church was built in olden times and consisted of the chancel. Which is the bit at the front, or maybe the bit at the back. We know the vicar keeps going on about the "nave" and the "chancel", but we just pretend we know what he's talking about. Or maybe he's pretending he knows?

In the next phase, the nave was added, which solved one source of confusion but added another. The nave was in Perpendicular Style, which is to say the walls are at right angles to the floor. The Lady Chapel was built in an Old English style, by the Old English.

Then they all got Black Death, so nothing much happened till the Reformation.

At the Reformation, Henry VIII came round and smashed the stained glass, removed all the statues and banned Latin. This however did not make us a Protestant church, or at least not according to the vicar. He should know, as he's the only one who can remember which is the nave and which the chancel.

Under Bloody Mary a load more statues were put back, but then 90 years later they were all smashed again. The fine mural was whitewashed over by the Puritans. There were six vicars in a couple of years at that time, as you can see on the list of vicars on the wall. Some of them weren't proper Anglicans, either.

The 18th and early 19th centuries were a time of great architectural beauty. The bell tower, West Gallery, St David's Chapel, church porch and a whole host of beautiful monuments and stained glass were put in. Much to the relief of the congregation. They'd been moaning about the unglazed windows since Tudor times, but the old folks had said that there were no glass in the windows in their fathers' day, and they didn't see any reason to change now.

So by the mid 19th Century, St Angelo's was a beautiful structure, reflecting the building tastes off generations and possessing all the features we associate with an English Church.

The Victorian improvements consisted of removing the whitewash to reveal the beautiful Last Judgement mural and renovating the old box pews. And then knocking the whole building down and replacing it with the red-brick box you're currently standing in. So I suppose we'd better guide you round it.


As you came in, you will have noticed our ancient Norman Font. The Font family have lived in Sitwell Magna for 500 years, and Norman has been our Churchwarden for most of that time. He doesn't actually have a house - he just hangs around in the Church, polishing the family brasses and telling visitors about the times when the Fonts were a local force to be reckoned with.

Standing in the nave (or possibly the chancel) you will be able to see the Victorian stained-glass windows. You will notice that Mary Magdalen has particularly red hair, while St John bears a striking resemblance to a young man that Fr Jarrow was quite fond of in 1873.

Among the Victorian memorials on the Victorian walls, you will notice the framed list of vicars of St Angelo's. The list has just enough room to fit in Fr Milton when he finally retires, but after that we've a dilemma. We'll either have to buy another frame, or close the church.

The pitch-pine pews are original Victorian, but not originally for this church. As a result of successive modernising vicars over the last century, these pews came from St William's, Sitwell Parva, when they had a modernisation and Fr Clifton wanted to put things back as they were here. St Gilbert's, Sitwell-in-the-Marsh, has our original pews, while St Gilbert's are currently at St William's.

Note the pew three to the right of the door, four rows from the Formica lectern with which Fr Bromwich replaced the one that was carved out of the last elm in the Churchyard. That's Agnes's pew. DO NOT SIT THERE! Not even on a weekday. She will know, and she will hunt you down.

Try to ignore the musty smell of all the Books of Common Prayer. We're waiting till the vicar leaves, then we're going to throw away the Common Worship books and we'll try and persuade the next one that we've stuck to the BCP all along. There's an ancient well down in the village, and we throw all the new books that vicars introduce down there when they leave. ASB, Sounds of Living Water, Church Family Worship, the Roman Missal - they're all down there.

Turning right towards the nave (or possibly the chancel) you would see the Rood Screen in front of the choir stalls. You would, if Fr Eccles hadn't nailed that iconostasis to it in the 60s. He didn't actually get a faculty for it, but he's fixed it on so hard, with such terrifyingly large screws, that we daren't take it off.

At the end of the nave (or possibly the chancel) you'll see the Altar. To the right, the cupboard in the wall is what we call the "Aumbry". The PCC agreed that Fr Stockport could put one in, but the more protestant members said they'd leave if we actually used it. So we leave the door open, and keep a pot of flowers in it. It's important to keep everyone happy.

The door to the left of the Choir leads to the vestry. We keep that locked except on Sundays so you can't steal the surplices. If a dark, scary figure should emerge, looking like the Phantom of the Opera, that'll be the vicar.

We used to have processions out of the vestry, down the side of the church and up the main aisle towards the chancel/nave. But we had to give those up in these well-nourished days, when we realised only three people can fit in the vestry.

We wouldn't advise you actually to attend a service at St Angelo's - you'd never understand it, and we look at strangers a bit odd - but please feel free to drop a contribution to the building's upkeep in the money slot near the damp-distorted postcards. Please note that the safe is very well cemented into that wall, it is alarmed, marked with "Smart Water" and probably only contains 6 Pfennig and a few Smartie tops.

We hope you've enjoyed your visit to St Angelo's.


  1. Is this copyright, Eileen?
    I might use it as a template for all church visitor guides in our online resource on rural church buildings :-)

    1. I'm sure I picked it up somewhere in Oxfordshire?

  2. Don't you have any framed photographs of former clergymen, many of them with quite astonishing beards? Men don't seem to grow beards like that these days.

  3. You forgot to mention the porch notice-board with its archaeological layers of old posters. :-)

    1. Thanks for the idea. I've been out in the rain all afternoon, making Burton do exactly that.

  4. Even by your standards - wonderful!

  5. No Childrens' Corner? No Mothers' Union banner?

    But I still enjoyed the visit.

    1. "In the South-West corner of the chancel (or possibly nave), that space with a bit of old rug on the floor where we removed a couple of pews is the late-60s Childrens' Corner. During the prayers, you may be lucky enough to be hit round the head with a flying toy-box."

      That sort of thing?

  6. And the British Legion banner, with its red, yellow and blue union flag in the corner?

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  8. Us folk at the Tabernacle of the Quivering Brethren be so heavenly minded that we couldna tell one wall from the nether nor the floor from the door.


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