St Michael & All Angels, Bishops Cleeve - with Oxenton, Woolstone, Gotherington, Woodmancote, Cleeve Hill & Southam

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Home St Michael's Church Building

Our Rood Painting - its meaning and symbolism

tn_rood1The Rood Painting at St Michael & All Angels Bishop’s Cleeve, Gloucestershire

PJ Crook, 1986


Click on the picture for a full-size version, or click here for a PDF copy of this article

 

‘Rood’ is an old English word for a pole, which came in time to be associated with the Cross of Christ in a church. Paintings of the crucifixion came to be known as Rood Paintings, and when paintings or crosses were set up on a screen across the church the screen came to be known as the Rood Screen.

At St Michael’s we have a very modern, and very fine, Rood Painting hanging above our chancel arch.

It contains a wealth of Christian imagery commemorating Jesus’ Crucifixion, marking St Michael’s victory in Heaven, and celebrating the lives of the saints; and finally it invites us today to see ourselves as Christ’s disciples joining in fellowship with him and with each other at his table.


In the centre is the Crucified Christ; he is flanked by the Blessed Virgin Mary and the ‘beloved apostle’ John. At Mary’s feet is her emblem, a lily; while John holds a book (representing his work as an evangelist) and below him a chalice with a viper symbolises the cup of poison which legend suggests he was challenged to drink by a high priest of Diana at Ephesus.

The smaller figures immediately next to Christ are Mary Magdalene with her pot of ointment, taken (but not used) to embalm Jesus’ body; and John the Baptist with his symbols of lamb, book and cross. (John pointed to Jesus as The Lamb of God; he also preached and pointed others to Jesus; and the cross reminds us that he was himself the first Christian Martyr.)

Either side of Jesus’ hands are the traditional symbols of the four gospel-writers, known as the four ‘evangelists’: clockwise from the top left these are Mark (a winged lion), Matthew (a winged man), John (an eagle) and Luke (a winged bull). The scrolls in their mouths and their hands represent their Gospels.

The dark sky around Jesus recalls the midday blackness of the crucifixion.

The INRI scroll above Jesus’ head recalls the sign nailed to the cross by Pontius Pilate: INRI is short for the Latin ‘Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum’, or ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’. Above that is the Paschal Lamb, representing Jesus the Lamb of God sacrificed for us.

Above the scroll and the Lamb is a scene of heaven, with St Michael and the angels, the dedication of the church. The rainbow is the sign of hope given after the Flood, while the Dove in the centre is the Holy Spirit. So the scene is complete with Father Son and Holy Spirit alongside St Michael and All Angels.

Immediately below those standing sit two Guardian Angels holding globes as guardians of our souls. Just below them, at the entry to heaven, are St Peter (with the keys of heaven) and St Paul (the Apostle to the Gentiles.)

Along the frame are the words KYRIE ELEISON, the Greek words meaning Lord have Mercy which are sometimes used in our times of confession. The response CHRISTE ELEISON is echoed faintly on the lower edge of the frame; and with the blood from Christ’s wounds dripping onto those words we are reminded that his sacrifice and our forgiveness are not abstract ideas but are directly intended for us.

On the extreme left beyond the lion and the bull are Saints Polycarp and Irenaeus. Polycarp was a disciple of John the Evangelist and later became Bishop of Smyrna, so he forms an important link between the Apostles and the early Christian Church. Irenaeus was an important early Bishop who studied with Polycarp as a boy: he was instrumental in collecting and preserving many early Christian documents.

On the right are a Franciscan friar and a little boy: the friar is St Antony of Padua, popularly regarded as the patron saint of lost things.

The edges of the central part of the frame show a variety of saints. On the left are four:

  1. Catherine of Alexandria: patron of young girls, students, the clergy, philosophers, nurses and all craftsmen whose work is based on a wheel. Catherine was tortured on a milling wheel which broke under her, and she is usually depicted with a broken wheel.
  2. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order. He was noted for a love of all God’s creatures but also for sternness of character and a close identification with Christ’s sufferings. He is shown with the marks of the stigmata, a replication of Christ’s wounds in his own body.
  3. James the Great, one of the three Apostles (with Peter and John) to witness Jesus’ Transfiguration and his Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. The first Apostle to be martyred, his shrines were immensely popular in the Middle Ages; he is often depicted as here with a pilgrims hat and the scallop shell associated with Compostella.
  4. On the narrow part of the centre - Walburga, Abbess of Heidenheim: a notable example of the Anglo-Saxon monks and nuns who helped Boniface with his missionary work in Germany. Her feast day, 1st May, coincides inappropriately with the pagan festival for the beginning of summer – Walpurgisnacht – and symbolic ears of corn come from this confusion. It is supposed that healing oil, represented by the phial in her hand, flows from her tomb.

On the right of the frame there are five further saints:

  1. Theresa of Avila: virgin and founder of the Reformed Carmelites, she produced many inspired writings on prayer and contemplation. Just discernible to the upper right of her head is an arrow, symbolising the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Martin of Tours: a former soldier in the Roman Army whose commitment to Christ was such that in conscience he gave up being a soldier. Legend has him dividing his cloak with a beggar, who subsequently turned out to be Christ. He is sometimes shown with a goose because geese often migrate around the time of his feast day, November 11th.
  3. Stephen Harding: Abbot of Citeaux, largely credited with the growth of the Cistercian order.
  4. Monica, the mother of St Augustine. In her patient loving care for him, ending in his conversion, she is seen as a model for Christian mothers.
  5. St Augustine himself: Bishop of Hippo and a prolific writer whose works have proved more influential in the history of thought than any other Christian writer since St Paul.

In the bottom part of the painting the branches of yew, often found in churchyards, symbolise immortality. Meanwhile the modern rendering of the communion scene, while referring to familiar paintings of the Last Supper, clearly invites us to see ourselves as part of the group. Blood flows from Christ’s wounds into the chalice, echoing the cry higher up of CHRISTE ELEISON – Christ, Have Mercy on Us.

 

 

 

St Michael & All Angels Church Building - History

westdoor1This account is copied almost verbatim from Eunice Powell's excellent booklet published in 1994, which is on sale at the church. Copyright and credit for the work remain with Eunice, but she has kindly granted permission for it to be reworked for the church's website. 

There is also a printable PDF copy of this article


The Anglo-Saxon Settlement

The first known reference to a church at Bishop's Cleeve is found in King Offa's charter of AD 768-779:

'Hence I [Offa, King of Mercia] and Aldred, sub-king of the Hwicce, together grant for the Lord Almighty's sake and the eternal health of our souls, fifteen hides of land, that is, the place called Timbingctun, to the monastery which is strictly speaking called at Clife [Cleeve] and to the church of the blessed archangel Michael which has been found there, giving this land freely into ecclesiastical possession. It is in fact that place lying under the cliff, which in the old tongue is called Wendlesclif, on the north side of the brook called Tyrl. It is adjacent to the land of the aforesaid monastery...'

The meaning of this seems to be that a grant of land known as Timbingctun was given as an additional estate to an existing monastic community which was already well established by the time of the charter. No trace remains of this Angle-Saxon church and community, and no charter of its foundation has ever been discovered: but this reference in King Offa's charter allows us to say that Christian worship has been practiced at Cleeve for least the last 1200 years, and probably longer.

Archaeological work in the mid 20th century, and the 1989 excavations at nearby Gilders Paddock, have established that an Iron Age settlement existed on the site of present day Bishop's Cleeve. Finds of pottery, grain pits, and graves point to an agricultural community, probably covering a wider area than the excavation. Further evidence of occupation during the Romano-British period has also been found. In that time the Hwicce were a major tribe: their land covered what we would know as most of Gloucestershire east of the Severn, Worcestershire and west Warwickshire, and was a sub-kingdom within the kingdom of Mercia. They had their own king (though by the time of the Cleeve charter he (Aldred) had been demoted to sub-king and was subject to Offa.) The Hwicce were converted to Christianity during the 7th century, the first bishop being appointed in 679: the cathedral was at Worcester, and the diocese stretched as far as the Bristol Avon.

In the 7th and 8th centuries the old English word 'monastery' was loosely defined: it could apply to a large and formally organised group of monks, but equally it could refer simply to a small community of priests who lived  in community. Both groups would have followed the Benedictine Rule, but the Rule was given different interpretations from place to place.

The monastery at Cleeve mentioned in Offa's charter was probably like the second kind - a small community of priests who would have lived under monastic discipline but would have spent much of their time acting as ministers and missionaries to the surrounding area, teaching and converting the local people. The people of this clearly defined area would pay their tithes ('tenths' of their income) to the monastery, would bring their children to be baptised in the church, and would bring their dead to be buried. The foundations of the future parochial system were being laid.


The Viking Invasion

From the 9th century the people we know as "Vikings" invaded England progressively from the east. The Danelaw (their area of control) never formally extended as far west as Cleeve, but the area was still seriously affected. It would be reasonable to assume the monastery at Cleeve suffered some depradaton and loss: or at the very least that in such a time of unrest its work would be severely curtailed. Its missionary role was probably hard to sustain, and this, coupled with a decrease in numbers (perhaps simply due to a smaller population), led to the eventual annexation of the church and its lands by the Bishop of Worcester. This probably occurred by the end of the 9th century and left only a small parcel of land as the Rector's manor. A rectory was built on the land on or near the site now occupied by the house known as the Priory. This was distinct from the Bishop's manor house, built in Cleeve in the 13th century, which became the rectory after the Reformation.  

The Domesday Book of 1086 recorded only one priest living at Cleeve, and by the 13th century the settlement had become known as Cleeve Episcopi or Bishop's Cleeve: the name indicating its new ownership under the Bishop of Worcester and distinguishing it from Prior's Cleeve (which is about 18 miles north, near Evesham, and is now known as Cleeve Prior). 


The Norman Conquest

The Norman Conquest from 1066 onwards brought immense changes to England, including a complete overhaul of how the church operated. The Saxon hierarchy was replaced by the invaders, who embarked on a vast programme to overhaul what they considered a haphazard and badly-organised society. They particularly looked down on the existing monasteries and churches, and the hierarchy that went with them - though unusually Wulstan, then Bishop of Worcester, earned respect from the Normans by his high standards of honesty and holiness. He was allowed to continue as bishop, and in fact by 1080 was the only Saxon bishop still holding office. But Norman rebuilding was pretty well inevitable. 

The Norman style of architecture was massive and durable: there is still a considerable legacy of buildings from wherever the Normans conquered, stretching from England south through Europe to the Mediterranean as far as Sicily. Their style was based on the classical round arch, and it came to be known as Romanesque - a feature still very evident at Bishop's Cleeve. Thick walls gave a great strength to the structure, which was supported by solid, sometimes lofty, round piers. Allied to this solidity was an impression of simplicity, though buildings were often decorated with rich detailing - as, again, can be seen at Cleeve. 


The Norman Church at Cleeve

Around 1170 the church at Bishop's Cleeve was completely rebuilt in the Transitional style which, as its name suggests, comes late in the Norman style and blends it with the emerging style called Early English: typically is appeared around 1150-1190. Enough of this early church remains to indicate what it was like originally: indeed even today it is still essentially a Norman church, though it has had some alterations over the following 800 years. By comparison with the churches in Cheltenham, St Michael's ranks alongside Leckhampton (a Norman church was founded in 1133 but none of it survives); Charlton Kings (which dates from a little later in 1190 but again does not have much surviving Norman work) and Cheltenham Parish (where various parts date from around 1200, including the tower.)  

The Norman church was cruciform (cross-shaped) with a chancel (shorter than the present one, and propably with a round apse at the end), large North and South Transepts, and a Nave enclosed on either side by narrow aisles. At the crossing there was a tower, rather shorter than the present one. At the west end two external turrets with pinnacles and inner winding staircases led to a high west gallery. The round-arched doorways we see today were all there, as was the South Porch with its Upper Room, reached at this time by an external staircase.

All the windows in this building were narrow with round arches and had deeply splayed interiors to admit the maximum amount of light - the classic Norman window style. These have fared less well over the years, since most were enlarged over the next three centuries: indeed only one of the originals remains in the main body of the church, at the west end of the South Aisle. (Happily there are two others in the North and South transepts, and both are fine examples: the one in the North Transept is still open; the one in the South Transept was blocked when the Ellenborough Memorial was installed in the South Chapel - but it retains some beautiful painting on its splayed sides.) 

The internal walls were covered with plaster and painted with pictures and patterns in brillant colours of gold, black, white, red and blue, while the outside walls were generally lime-washed.


The Mediaeval Church

The 14th century saw the start of three major changes to the church's "footprint": the chancel was extended, and the narrow North and South Aisles were widened to (more or less) line up with the ends of the Transepts. On the north this meant the existing aisle was simply widened, with a new roof; on the south, though, the builders created a new South Chapel between the existing Porch and the South Transept. This allowed at least four Chantry Chapels to be constructed within the church building, which by now would have felt like it was divided into very separate areas for varying functions and for different groups of people. The larger chancel in particular would have been the Collegiate part of the church, kept solely for the use of the clergy, deacons and acolytes; and cut off from the rest of the building and people by a Rood Screen. On top of the screen there would probably have been a organ.

By the end of the 15th century this establised the "footprint" of the church largely as it is today: further changes were made to the internal structure in 16th and 17th centuries, but its boundary walls have not changed for at least 500 years. 


The Post-Reformation Church

Bishop’s Cleeve continued to be part of the Diocese of Worcester until the Reformation, when it was absorbed into the new Diocese of Gloucester created in 1541. The Protestantism of Henry VIII (up to 1547) and Edward VI (1547-53) was slow to affect the contents and practice of the church ‘on the ground’, and change was reversed when Catholic practice was restored under Mary (1553-1558); but Protestant ways started to take firm hold from 1558 under Elizabeth I. Chantry chapels were abolished, rood screens and lofts were removed, wall paintings were covered over with whitewash, and all sorts of church ‘equipment’ - vestments, communion vessels, bibles and services books - was changed. Internally the church would have appeared much more "open" than it had done for the previous 200 years.

Bishop’s Cleeve does not appear to have adopted the new ways rapidly, and the Bishop’s Visitation of 1576 noted a number of failings, one being that the priest ‘weareth a surplesse in perambulation’. Surplices were worn during divine service, but were frowned on for use during perambulations (processions) around the parish – as was done, for instance, at Rogationtide. It was also noted that ‘they lacke the Bible of the largest volume, the paraphrase [two volumes by Erasmus which all parishes were supposed to purchase] and the table of the X [ten] commandments and they have a crosse a censer two bells two candlesticke a pix and certain vestments and copes’.

Cleeve's slowness to adopt the new ways was probably more due to its being a sleepy rural church than to any fierce doctrinal opposition to the new ways, but it may also reflect something of the parish's unusual status as a previous manor of the diocese of Worcester. Technically, Bishop’s Cleeve was still a ‘peculiar’, meaning a parish where the rector had certain special historic privileges, powers and exemptions. These included being able to ‘prove’ wills and having immunity from the Archdeacon’s visitation, though not from the Bishop’s – so there may well have been an element of resistance to ‘interference’ from the Archdeacon! (The privileges of 'peculiars' persisted for many years, but they were eventually abolished in 1843.) 

A common practice at this time was to display the Royal Arms and important texts in church, usually the Apostles' Creed, Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments. None of this was formally demanded by law, but the provision of the texts allowed the people to join in the service even if they had no access to service books, and their provision was often demanded by church authorities and public taste. Given that more significant rebuilding works occupied their minds in the 1690s it's perhaps understandable that Cleeve was slow to follow good practice, but the churchwardens' accounts for July 1708 show agreement at a parish meeting 'with Mr John Acock of Gloucester Painter to paint the Queens Almes the Creed and the Lords prayer to be don well and in good Coollers against the walls for which the Parish is to pay him the sum of seven pounds to be payd when the work is finished and approved on'. The work probably involved painting the texts on boards positioned above and either side of the new chancel arch, facing the congregation; but it is not known for certain where they were placed or under what circumstances they were eventually removed. 

As well as the public display of texts noted above, the Acts of Uniformity (various dates, but particularly 1662) had introduced the Book of Common Prayer and enforced compulsory church attendance. The congregation were expected to take a more active role in the service, and a more substantial commitment to teaching - meaning a sermon or at least a 'homily' - was required at all main services. Church furniture began to change to accommodate these requirements, and over the years a variety of pulpits and reading desks were introduced. There is a suggestion that at St Michael's a three-decker pulpit was installed around the end of the 18th century: its location is supposed to have been on the south pillar of the chancel arch - though by the end of the 19th century a plan of the church shows a large reading desk with steps leading to it on the north pillar of the arch, with a large pulpit on the south pillar. The change may be explained by an entry in the churchwardens' accounts for 1837/38:

Rec'd for old pulpit 0  10s  3d
Pd Thos Jackson's bill for putting up a new reading desk and 3 small pews        19  13s  3d

Whatever the physical arrangements, the order of service would have had the Parish Clerk (who for several hundred years, in this parish, was a member of the Tarling family) leading the congregation in their responses either from the reading desk or the lower level of the pulpit; and the priest would have delivered his sermon from the upper level of the pulpit. 


The Modern Church

After the exertions of the 18th century the church fell into a sad state during the 19th, and was in a very dilapidated state when restoration was undertaken in the 1890s. Lack of a proper drainage system had caused damp to seep through the floor and walls, and rainwater had leaked through the roof. The south-west corner of the church was in an extremely dangerous condition due to the lack of proper foundations and drainage problems. A fireplace, which had been set into the west wall of the upper porch room, had further weakened this part of the church, and a particularly ugly chimney marred the roof line. Outside, the constant use of the graveyard over the centuries had raised the level of the ground higher than that of the interior floor; heaps of earth were piled against the exterior walls, and the tombstones were in many cases broken and half buried.

The Victorians' approach to 'restoring' churches was sometimes over-drastic, but here it was largely done with skill and sympathy thanks to the efforts of the architects. In particular they saved the gallery from destruction, despite the wish of the rector (Rev B F Hemming) that it should be removed. Sadly the condition of the north wall was so bad that only a small part of the mediaeval painting on the north wall could be saved when the whitewash was removed; in fact the wall was so unsafe that it was largely rebuilt. But a small part survies even today.

Restoration continued into the early 20th-century. The 14th-century trussed rafter roof of the nave was renewed, and also the north aisle roof. After this, only minor alterations or improvements took place within the church, including the rebuilding and resiting of the organ and the installation of the clergy vestry within the north transcept. There was also some re-ordering of church furniture such as choir stalls and pews.

The Millennium provided an opportunity to re-examine the church's facilities and to re-open a long-standing question - could we install toilet facilities anywhere on the premises? It's usually thought that "you just can't do that in a Grade 1 listed Norman Church" - but we managed to fit one, very sensitively, under the gallery. At the same time we also refreshed the gallery and the west end of the church, with particular attention to re-laying the stone floor.

Our concern going forward is to ensure the building stays in a sound structural condition and also meets the needs of its 21st century community.   


A walk round the Outside

 

It's a good idea to begin a  detailed study of the church with a walk round the outside, to gain an impression of the general size and shape of the building and to note its more interesting external features. You may like to remember that you are walking round walls which have stood here for at least five hundred, and in many cases over eight hundred, years.

The church is built of the oolitic limestone typical of the Cotswold area, in the style of masonry known as ashlar (stone smoothed and squared off and used for facing.) Not all the walls are so solid inside, though: walls and pillars were sometimes constructed by filling an outer stone skin with a core of rubble or other masonry rubbish. The north wall of St Michael's is built this way, and when it was repaired in the 19th century it was found to contain two old stone coffins as part of this core.

The Cotswold area is rich in Norman churches and, since masons were mobile, it is possible to track the work of particular groups at several churches, often at some distance from each other. Masons usually marked the cut stones with their own personal identification marks to facilitate payment: several of these marks can be seen in St Michael's, particularly on the SE and SW pillars of the nave arcade. Comparison of Bishop's Cleeve with Malmesbury Abbey or, closer to home, Elkstone Church, shows that the same masons worked on these buildings.

It's useful to remember that for many years the church was covered with a white wall-coating of limewash. Limewash is applied to weatherproof buildings and improve their appearance, though it works best where the stonework is a bit rough or where the walls aren't stone at all: it's used on many old cottages including the one at the eastern end of the church. At St Michaels the old limewash didn't cope well with the natural expansion and contraction of the stone and wasn't really doing anything useful, so most of it has fallen off or been removed. But on the north side, naturally cooler and damper, there's still quite a lot of it clinging to the walls. 

It's also good when looking at St Michael's to know a little about the different styles of architecture. The first to note is Norman, which is dated around 1080-1180. Norman buildings have round arches, look very solid and geometric, and often have zig-zag or chevron patterns marked on the stonework. Hundreds of parish churches started off in this style, and St Michael's is a particularly good example. See this Wikipedia Article on Norman Architecture if you'd like to know more.

After Norman came Gothic, though since the boundaries are necessarily rather vague it's useful to allow for a Transitional period between the two: St Michael's spans this period and shows an interesting mix of Norman and Gothic features. Gothic is notable for pointed arches and a less chunky look, because stonemasons by then were learning what parts of walls were critical for holding the building up and what parts could be left out.

Within Gothic there are three very discernable styles known as Early English, Decorated, and Perpendicular. The dates assigned to these are listed below, along with some idea of how they differ - though the boundaries are always rather fluid in a rural area like Cleeve:

  • Early English (c. 1180–1275) - generally simple, smaller windows with strong vertical lines; often quite dark because masons didn't yet have a full understanding of stresses in the stonework. St Michael's has only a few examples because most of our windows were either earlier (Norman) or were replaced later in the Decorated period.
  • Decorated (c. 1275–1380) - more fancy, larger, particularly with lots of patterned tracery made possible by better understanding of the stresses in the stonework. St Michael's has some stonework from this period (mainly the North Aisle) and lots of windows, because most of the older Norman windows were replaced at this time.  
  • Perpendicular (c. 1380–1520) - the lightest of all: generally simpler patterns than Decorated but noticably flatter at the top as masons learned even more about how to manage the stresses in stonework. St Michael's has examples from different times during this period, and they show the clear development of the style.  

For a fuller explanation, try this Wikipedia Article on English Gothic Architecture.

At St Michael's there are plenty of examples of all three styles added to the Norman building; and also of later work in the Classical and other styles. 

 


stmichaels1Starting at the West, this frontage is largely original Norman work from the 12th century: apart from the Decorated window which was inserted in the 14th century period as a replacement for an earlier smaller window.

westdoor1

The West Doorway is a fine example of Norman stonework, with two layers of beautifully carved chevron mouldings. The arches are supported on sturdy-looking shafts either side of the doorway, and the outer hood moulding, decorated with small carved fleur de lys, ends in a beast's head on one side and a serpent on the other.


turrets1The two turrets either side of the west doorway, also Norman and dating from the 12th century, have pyramidal stone roofs and are decorated with chevron arcading. They have inner staircases which makes them weaker than they appear: and in addition the thrust of the nave arcade has pushed them outwards from perpendicular.


buttress1A large buttress was added in the 14th or 15th century to support the northern turret and prevent its possible collapse: so far, it seems to be doing its job.

carving1Looking up to the roofline on the north of this turret, there is a carving of a man with his arm around someone's, or something's, head. Local anecdote suggests it depicts a boy caught climbing on the roof, though it actually looks rather more a dog or some other beast. Either way, it reflects a typical touch of humour from the stonemasons.


perpendicularwindow1On the north side of the West Door there is a Perpendicular window, inserted some years after completion of the new North aisle in the 14th century (and out of keeping with its generally Decorated style.) This window is almost invisible from the inside of the church because the Organ blocks it out.  

 


northaislelimewash1Moving round the church to the north side, there are plentiful remains of the limewash which once covered the north side of the church.

Limewash is an exterior coating applied to weatherproof and improve the appearance of buildings, particularly where the stonework is a bit rough: it's used on many old cottages and the same idea is present in the cement rendering on many houses in Cheltenham, though limewash and cement are very different materials. If you want to know more, here's a link to the very informative Minerva Article about Exterior Limewash. At St Michael's the old limewash has been removed where it became weak, particularly around the mortar joints; our policy for the moment is to let it decay and monitor its progress rather than indulge in an expensive and possibly damaging restoration.


northaislebattlements1The North Aisle was widened in the early 14th century and is supported by buttresses of this Decorated period. The parapet is battlemented and decorated with four gargoyles (two are now headless) which act as rainspouts. Unlike the Perpendicular window on the West Front, the three-light windows here are contemporary with the new aisle and reflect its Decorated style.


northtranseptwindow2The North Transept is largely original 12th century work apart from a later Decorated window inserted in the north wall, which again replaces an earlier Norman window: it matches the window in the South Transept. Other characteristic Norman features are the flat, shallow pilaster buttresses supporting this transept.

The Norman 'string course' (the horizontal line in the stonework) is still in place, unbroken apart from where the later window interrupts it.


northdoorway1A 12th century doorway in the east wall of this transept was blocked when the chancel was widened: its outline can still be clearly seen both inside and outside. The doorway is surprisingly simple, perhaps reflecting its relative unimportance compared with the other dorways in the church: it has just a simple round arch and a plain tympanum.

Cutting through the top of the arch there is a roofline in the stone. There is no record of any building ever standing here, though this and another line higher up suggest that a structure existed here at some point. 


Anorthtranseptsidewindow1bove the blocked doorway is an elegantly simple rounded-headed window, with another roofline cutting across. The window had been blocked until the 19th-century restoration, which confirms the view that a building of some sort existed here. But there is no evidence of any doorway from such a building into the main church. 


northtranseptcorbelstones1northtranseptcorbelstones2northtranseptcorbelstones3northtranseptcorbelstones4Above this window there are a number of corbel stones of varying designs supporting the roof.

chancelwindow1The Chancel was extended in the 14th century. Its walls are supported by buttresses, and have 2-light windows of the Decorated period with moulded hoods ending in carved animal heads - a particular feature of Decorated period windows. The windows themselves are all of the same pattern: two trefoil headed lancets with bar tracery above, and attractive 5-petalled stars at the top. But the most westerly windows on either side of the chancel are of noticably inferior quality, due to being repaired by local masons when the tower fell down in 1695. 


northfaces2northfaces1northfaces4northfaces3northfaces6northfaces5northfaces8northfaces7

eastwindow1The East window has a noticably "sharper" look than the others: it was in fact restored in the 19th century, replacing earlier inferior work which itself replaced the original 14th century window. The overall composition is still characteristic 14th century Decorated Gothic: the 5 lower lights contain 2 copies of the chancel windows, while the upper part is an ambitious eightfold flower with a hexagonal centre.

The only truly 14th century work remaining is the ball flower ornamentation in the surround. 


priestsdoor1Coming through a small garden to the South side of the Chancel, we find more of the simple 2-light Decorated windows. There is also a small "priest's door", which was restored around the Millenium (2000). The outer stonework is much weathered, but it is still possible to discern the fine ball flower ornamentation and to admire the elegant ogee arch.

southtranseptwindow1The South Transept has a fine 3-light Decorated window, matching its counterpart in the North Transept and again replacing an earlier Norman window. The wall to the right-hand side of the window was partially rebuilt in the 14th century, but on the left the Norman string course survives; and an original 12th century flat pilaster buttress on the south west corner is still visible. 

southchapelwindow1southchapelwindow2The 14th century South Chapel fills in the space between the South Transept and the Porch, and has a battlemented parapet with three gargoyles.  The buttresses match the Decorated period, but the three windows reflect later 15th century Perpendicular styles and were inserted at some time after the building of the South Chapel. 

The Porch is Norman in origin but has some 14th century features, perhaps reflecting a strengthening of the walls to support the upper room which dates from about this time. There is a 12th century shallow buttress either side of the doorway, and above are two sundials.

sundial1The main sundial is cut from a separate flat stone and is mounted on top of the other so as to partially cover it. The lower dial is scratched into the surface of the stone. Yet a third rudimentary dial is scratched into the stone to the right of the doorway.

The dials were used as an early way of knowing the time of Mass or indicating when the bell should be rung, before clocks were introduced in the 14th century.


schoolroomwindow1The 2-light window in the upper level has been changed by later restoration, but like the lower level it displays some characteristically Transitional features. It has three deeply incised mouldings within a point arch, resting either side on slender columns with scalloped capitals.

southporch1The outer doorway of the porch has two arches of chevron decoration carved at right angles to each other - a typically Transitional feature - set between a series of roll-moulded arches. The arches rest on slender engaged columns with capitals originally decorated with stiff-leaf carving, though both columns and capitals are now much weathered.

The Perpendicular window in the south-west angle of the porch has a lintel of an earlier window above.

tower1The Tower was rebuilt in 1700 after the earlier one collapsed in 1696. According to Samuel Rudder, writing in the 18th century, the original tower had a spire. 

We do not know exactly what collapsed, or how much damage was done, but since most of the stonework visible from the nave is Norman it looks like the collapse did not actually mean the whole tower fell down, nor that it did huge damage to the other walls and roofs. Judging by the amount of rebuilding in the surrounding walls and windows the greatest damage seems to have occurred on the east (i.e. the chancel) side; though there is also the question of why, and when, the main nave walls were rebuilt (see the Interior discussion below for more on this.)

Rebuilding work of any kind in the middle of an existing structure must have been a disruptive undertaking, even if some of it was done away from the main interior of the church. Most probably the arches of the 'crossing' were reconstructed on top of the existing capitals, or at least bolstered substantially: and since Norman towers were not usually very tall, the new tower was almost certainly more ambitious than the old. Viewed from the outside, the lower part appears to build on the original stonework still present in the church and then presumably replicates the old work for a while - particularly at the level of the small vertical windows in the tower. Above this, the Belfry appears to have been largely new work, constructed ambitiously and filled in due course with bells installed from 1700 onwards. The Belfry windows offer a rather half-hearted mix of Perpendicular tracery at the top and simple stone louvres below; and above here the tower continues energetically with plain upper walls, battlements and four pinnacles at the corners. 

It's an interesting exercise to stand in the churchyard today and imagine what the church would look like without such a dominant central tower and a lower spire instead, but with the two west towers as they are today. It may be that the two west towers, easily overlooked today, would have caught the eye rather more and might even appear to match the shape of the original spire.


clock1The clock faces on the south and west walls date from after the restoration: before then there was only one clock face, on the south wall. This clock face in fact had only one hand: at that time clocks with two hands were still a rather new-fangled idea, and were considered not entirely necessary.

The current clock mechanism dates from around 1890...(more detail to come here)...so there was probably at least one other clock between the one-handed one and the 1890 one.

There is a tradition the clock used to play the Old Hundreth psalm and Abide With Me on the bells every four hours, though it seems hard to associate this idea with what we know of any of the various clocks or the bells. The tune of the Old Hundredth dates from around 1551, so it could have been in use before the tower fell down; but before 1700 the tower probably didn't have a peal of bells anyway, so it couldn't have played the Old Hundredth. From 1700 onwards various bells were available, but Abide with Me was only written in 1847 and its tune, Eventide, in 1861. And in any case neither tune is feasible on only 6 bells.

We don't know what clock equipment was in place before 1890, but again when we look at the current clock mechanism there is no evidence it was ever able to play these tunes. So the 'tradition' remains a bit of a mystery.


weathervane1The weathervane is a modern sculpture of St Michael Triumphant, designed by Anita Lafford and erected in 1961.


Inside the Church

innerporch1In the Porch there are fine examples of Norman and early English carving, of exceptional quality.

carvingsintheporch1The inner doorway has a wealth of chevron decoration with a crenellated arch below and two intricately carved beasts resembling dragons, their forked tails linked, forming the hood mould.

 


carvingsintheporch3carvingsintheporch2Each beast is swallowing another beaked creature or bird.

greenman1At the base of the arches to the left, in the horizontal band of decoration, is a carving of the Green Man with foliage flowing from his mouth - a link to the pagan past.

porcharcade1Contrasting with the richness of this inner dooway, but no less beautiful, is the simplicity and grace of the arcading on the walls of the porch; an excellent example of Transitional work. The delicate interlaced arches have a raised trefoil moulding forming an inner arch at each intersection, and rest on slender shafts; while their bases are hidden by stone benches placed there at a later date. 


innerporch2In mediaeval times the porch was an important place for both religious and secular activities.

Various ceremonies took place including the Baptism and Marriage services, and the Churching of Women. Penitent sinners were given absolution from their sins here before re-entering the church.

Secular transactions of all kinds centred on the stone benches: the business of signing contracts, the swearing of oaths, debt collection and the sale of church ales all occurred here.


A mediaeval board game appears to have been carved into one of the benches, and the inner and outer doorposts bear many pilgrims' crosses. Pilgrimages often started at the church porch, and the crosses were a promise that the pilgrim would return to give thanks for a safe journey.

porchvault1porchvault2The roof of the porch is again simple but beautiful, and is a fine example of Early English style: a quadripartite vault with diagonal ribs, decorated either side with downward projecting chevron work. 

schoolroom1Above the porch there is an Upper Room, now accessed from inside the church but originally detached and accessed by a separate staircase. The roof had gables at both ends: not only at the south end at present, but also at the north end rising above the aisle roof.


The room was extended at the end of the 15th century to join the main building: this accounts for the odd section of fan vaulting, resting on four-centred arches, at the west end of the south aisle, which forms the floor of the extension.

At the east end of this extension, at the joining of the two different roof levels, an old stone carved with a Celtic cross has been set into the roof, forming the underside of a raised area which juts into the porch room.

Access into the room from inside the church was gained by breaking through from the turret staircase and adding a few steps.


schoolroom5Inside the porch room there is a well-preserved section of a Norman corbel table looking extraordinarily fresh and clean cut, and wall paintings attributed to the schoolmasters who used the room at various times as a schoolroom. The majority of the drawings are said to be the work of Mr Sperry, a schoolmaster in the early 19th century. The room now houses a permanent exhibition tracing the growth of Christianity as shown through the church building, as well as the history of the porch room. (A more detailed pamphlet on The Porch Room is available in church, or click on the link.)

interiorsouthdoor1interiorsouthdoor4Entering the church through the south porch, we come into the original narrow South Aisle. Looking back at the entrance, it is decorated with small crude ball shapes with a pierced pattern having some of the characteristics of ball flower decoration. The arches rest on small relief panels carved with dragon-like creatures.

holywaterstoup1On the east side of this doorway is a Holy Water Stoup of the Decorated period with an ogee arch, but a closer look reveals an older rounded arch behind it. Above it, and also on the other side of the doorway, is a section of Norman string course.


The Nave is unmistakably Norman in origin, with its solid massive piers topped by scalloped and fluted capitals: but here an unusual piece of rebuilding occurred in the 16th or 17th century. The original six-bay arcade was altered, in the interests of creating space and improving visibility, to three bays by removing alternate pillars. The result is a rather ungainly sprawling shape with flattened arches, though these are interesting in their own right. Beginning at the east end of the nave, the chevron work on the springing of the original arches is visible before the later arches take over: then these launch boldy out, before descending again to the remains of the original narrow arches. (Local tradition suggests the chevron work is a more recent attempt to recreate the Norman chevron work; though since it is only present in the original parts it is hard to think that this is a 'recreation' of anything. It could, though, have been worked over at some time as a well-intentioned piece of 'restoration'.)

Near the top of the spreading arches the walls have a slight bulge, which presents some interesting curiosities for anyone wondering how the walls were re-made when the pillars were removed. Were the walls rebuilt, or merely propped-up and refinished in some way? Why is the bulge lower over the back arch of the three? What precisely was the order in which the stones or the walls, and the arches, were put together? And how much are the visible stones structural or merely decorative? There is plenty here to occupy the mind during long services!


The Norman church had narrow side aisles, made very clear by the roof lines still visible above the doorways into the transepts. These doorways, which are also original Norman work, have impressive arches with crenellation and chevron work similar to the south and west doorways. 

The south wall of the south aisle was removed in the 14th century during the early Gothic period, and was replaced by an open arcade with slender octagonal shafts: there is some ball flower work on the capitals. A Chantry Chapel was created beyond the arcade, with an altar behind the present De La Bere monument.  

The square bases of these pillars are out of keeping with the current floor level and the usual forms of pillars like these: because of this it has been suggested that the original floor of the chapel was higher than the present level and the floor of the main church. The height of the piscina also suggests that the altar, at least, must have been at a higher level. But there are other examples of 12th-century stonework around this chapel which suggest the original level was much the same as at present. Without further evidence it is impossible to say which view is correct. 

The position of the altar is indicated by the piscina to the right of the monument. It has dual basins: one to accommodate those priests in the 14th century who refused to drink the remains of the wine, and the other for the washing of the priest's hands.

The De La Bere Tomb in front of the altar commemorates Richard De La Bere, Lord of the manor of Southam, and was erected by his widow Margaret in 1639. It was very much the fashion from the mid-17th century for wealthy families to build elaborate and ornate tombs, and although it looks rather sad at present this is actually a very fine example in alabaster and marble. It shows Richard De La Bere and his wife in 17th-century costume; while behind them on the wall are the arms of various members of the family.

The iron grille is rather ugly, but is at least contemporary with the tomb.


Alongside Richard and his wife there is a smaller recumbent effigy of a lady. She looks rather like a nun, but in fact is merely dressed in clothes typical of the period: and the effigy is said to have been brought from Southam. She may be a member of the Huddlestone family, who were earlier lords of the manor of Southam.

There were known to be four chantry altars in the church: they were dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Catherine, St Nicholas and All Saints.  The other three altars were located in the north and south transepts, and the present Lady Chapel in the North Aisle - but which altar was dedicated to which saint in particular is not known.

It was customary for wealthy parishioners or groups to leave endowments to pay for priests to sing masses for the souls of the founders, or others; the money could also be used to maintain the lights in the church, particularly the Rood Light.

A chantry priest's duties were usually fairly light, and he would take on other tasks such as teaching children; here in Bishop's Cleeve the porch room was no doubt used for this purpose, as well as providing accommodation for the priest.

Evidence of such chantry priests and altars can be found in wills such as that of William Hobbys, the Elder of Southam in 1542:

'Soule to God. To be buried in the Churcheyarde of Cleve. To High Auther [High Altar] of Cleve for the Forgottyn...

To the Rode Lyght a bushell of whete. To the mayntenance of ye torche liyght a bushell of barlye. To our Lady Auther a bushell of whete. To the mayntenance All Syntes Auther Saint Katherins Auhter and Saint Nicholas Auther, to every one of them a bushell of Barlye. 

To a honeste pryste to synge for the Father and my Mother's soules and my solle for ye space of hole Yere within the church of Cleve £4.13.4d'

This must have been one of the last endowments of a chantry in Bishop's Cleeve church, since the far-reaching changes of the Reformation were well under way following the Act of Supremacy in 1534. The new doctrine disapproved of the idea of purgatory and of masses for the dead; the Chantry Act dissolved chantries altogether from December 25th 1547, and the endowments pertaining to them passed to the Crown.  

It is likley that the empty recess with ball flower decoration on the south wall of the chapel held the tomb of the founder: this too would have been removed following the dissolution in 1547.


The west wall of the chapel is the original external wall of the porch, and like the transept wall it retains the remains of the roof line where the south aisle abutted the porch. There is also a Norman string course along the wall, a continuation of the one outside. High up on this wall is the lower half of the porch room window, blocked in the 15th century when the roof for the new south chapel cut across it. The earlier roof covered both the nave and the aisle, as can be seen from the weathering above the doorway to the south transept. 


The window frames in the south chapel are in 15th century Perpendicular style, though the stained glass is modern. The South East window by Powell (1911) depicts St Michael; the central window is by J Eadie Reed (1897), and represents the nativity. 

The window to the west of the porch is Late Perpendicular; the glass is modern, by Burlison and Grills (1897), and the figures are St Peter and St George. The window commemorated Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.

The small window at the west end of the south aisle is one of the original Norman windows, having a typical small round arch with the inner side splayed. It contains fragments of old glass from elsewhere in the church, gathered together as all that remained after the vigorous restoration work of the 1890s.

Beneath this window, probably dating from the earlier part of the 19th century, a door was inserted with a sort of porch or vestibule inside. No doubt this allowed easier access to the porch room when it was used as a school. The porch and south west corner of the church was in a highly unsafe condition before the restoration, and the strengtheing and rebuilding of this part was the first to be undertaken. At this time the door was filled in and the vestibule was removed. 

Retracing our steps to the original Norman doorway, and passing into the South Transept, we see some of the earliest wall painting in the church. The simple black and red pattern decorates the interior splayed arch of the Norman window in the west wall. 

The window, filled in when the south chapel was built in the 14th century, was revealed during restoration work in the early 20th century. The painting is typically Norman, with a chequer-board pattern of stones, a small motif in the centre of the stones, and an overlay of foliage and fleur de lys. In the early church this window would have looked out on to the graveyard.


All the west wall and part of the south wall are original, as indicated by the Norman string course. The remaining part of the south wall and all the east wall are 14th century, the Decorated three-light window being inserted at this time.

Beneath the window is a 14th century wall tomb containing the recombent effigy of a knight of an earlier date, probably the 13th century. The recess is an igee arch, pinnacles either side, decorated with crockets and ball flower ornamentation over inner cusped cinquefoil tracery. At one time the stone figure of the knight was painted, and it was possible to discern the chain armour and the arms on the shield, but these are no longer visible. The knight holds the hilt of his sword with the right hand, ready to draw, his left hand holding the scabbard.

Tradition names the knight as "Gilbert the Bold", the earl of Gloucester and Hereford: but there is no evidence to support this. The effigy was obviously not intended for the recess but it is impossible say what was here originally.


To the west of the wall recess is an original Norman Pillar Piscina, reinserted when the wall was rebuilt in the 14th century; there is a Decorated ogee arch above the recess. To the right of the recess is a groove which supported a wooden shelf for the cruets, the containers of wine and water used in the Eucharist. The piscina served the altar located on the east wall of the transept. Steps at the base of the altar have been removed, leaving the piscina, which originally stood on the steps, elevated above the present floor level.

The Chancel probably ended with an apse (a round end) in the original building, but it was extended eastwards and widened slightly to the north at the beginning of the 14th century, probably around 1310. As a result of the extension, the chancel is no longer symmetrically aligned with the nave. More elaborate ritual and an increase in the numbers of priests, deacons and acolytes serving even the smallest parish churches were often the main reason for such alterations - but although this would explain the lengthening of the chancel it is not clear why the whole north wall was moved just a couple of feet with its resulting unfortunate effect on the overall alignment of the church.

Interestingly the chancel does not 'lean to the side' like many other chancels - a feature usually caused by changes to the mediaeval calendar and calculation of the position of the midsummer sun. But the mis-alignment is still quite noticable from the main body of the church.


The windows in the north and south walls of the chancel are in the Decorated Gothic style, but while the four to the east are of decent quality, the two nearest the tower were damaged and rebuilt by local masons after the collapse of the tower. The work is crude in comparison with that of the earlier masons.

The original High Altar stood immediately under the east window beneath an image of St Michael the Archangel. The will of William Baxter DD, a former rector of Bishop's Cleeve, dated 1514/15, says:

I bequeath my body to be buried in the chance of the said church [Bishop's Cleeve] near the high altar before the image of St Michael...)

This stone altar was pulled down at the Reformation and the stone re-used as gravestones. Two of these altar slabs are set into the nave, one bearing four Consecration Crosses; the altar would originally have had five such crosses. A long cross has been cut into each gravestone, and they bear inscriptions and dates. One has 1568, the other 1577; and on both are the words 'Of whose soul God have mercy'.

The present altar was the gift of Richard Cook of London, formerly of Bishop's Cleeve, in 1794: his initials and the year of installation are painted unederneath.

The Triptych was painted by J. Eadie Reed in the early 20th century and depicts the Crucifixion.

The Altar Rails are the work of R. Patterson of Cheltenham in 1965.

The arches of the chancel crossing were rebuilt in 1700 after the collapse of the tower. Half-sections of the 12th-century pillars having cushion capitals with turned bases are set into the corners of the chancel crossing.

The Parish Altar, known as the Jesus Altar or the Altar of the Holy Cross, was situated in the nave in front of the chancel crossing - i.e. a little forward of where the Communion Table is usually placed nowadays. This altar was used by the people of the parish, with the High Altar being reserved for use by the clergy.

The North Transept retains several early features. Its Norman west window, originally looking out to the the exterior of the church, was blocked up in the 14th century when the church was extended to the north. The east window was also blocked, though when and for what reason is not clear. 

A doorway on the east wall of the transept was also blocked when the chancel was widened.

The north window was inserted in the 14th century during the Decorated perios replacing the original Norman window.

Another chantry altar was located in the north transept on the east wall. The altar was set in a recessed arch with a wall painting forming a reredos. The arch was blocked, probably after the dissolution of the chantries, and was not revealed until the 19th century restoration. 

The painting, thought by the restorers to be of the Crucifixion with St Mary, St John the Baptist and a king, possibly Offa, was simple but effective. It is now much faded.

The narrow stone staircase in the north east corner of this transept gave access at a higher level to a gallery running along the east wall to the rood loft which in the 15th century housed the organ. Although the staircase is undoubtedly 12th century, the door arches appear to be of a later date and to have been cut from the original lintel. Closer examination of the central shaft suggests the staircase originally continued up to the roof, with the upper portion being removed when the 11th-century window was inserted in the north wall.

The other staircase in this transept leads to the belfry, the clock room and the ringing chamber: it dates from the 15th century. The lower part consists of stone steps. At right angles to these, the longer uppoer section is a wooden affair which is as much a ladder as a staircase. The treads are cut from solid oak logs; the rail is one continuous piece of elm and rests on wooden panels; and the whole affair is supported on one huge stone corbel let into the west wall. Though it all looks rather perilous the staircase is in regular use by bellringers, the clock engineer and visitors: this justifies the claim that this is one of the oldest wooden staircases of its kind in continuous use in England.  

The North Aisle, extended in the 14th century, held the last of the six altars known to have been in the mediaeval church. Above the present modern altar is a delightful ornamental stone cornice of the Decorated period, delicately carved with the quatrefoils and small battlements.

The recess in the north wall near the altar was probably used to hold a screen creating some privacy for the chapel.

The paintings on the north wall are all that remains of the very extensive murals which originally covered this wall. Thes were covered over with whitewash following the Reformation: the Commandments were added in the 18th century, but nothing remains of these. The eels and fishes in the painting point to St Christopher as its subject. Such a painting was usually found on the wall opposite the door of the church, because of a belief that seeing it offered protection from sudden death.

There are two pieces of decorated stone inserted into this wall. It is likely that they were part of the 12th century wall of the original north aisle. One part is a border carved with foliage and bearing the words 'Me Jesu'. The other is carved with a cross which appears to be on its side. This latter stone may be a Consecration cross, dating from when the church was consecrated or re-consecrated - but there is no documentary evidence to support this. 

The windows in the north aisle are of the Decorated period, early 14th century, but the stained glass is modern. 

The east window represents the Ascension.

The central window shows the Crucifixion. This image is said to be notable for the six toes on Christ's right foot, though these are hard to make out; a more obvious connection for Lord of the RIngs readers is that Christ looks remarkably like Gandalf the Grey.

The north aisle roof was replaced in 1671 and renewed again in the 19th century.

Across the west end of the nave is a Gallery, a magnificent example of early 17th century Jacobean work, lavishly carved in oak. At present the choir sing there, and no doubt in the late 18th and 19th centuries it was used by church musicians and singers at a time when organs were out of fashion. The orchestra here included violins, a bass viol, an oboe and a bassoon. The church wardens' accounts of the period have several references to the purchase of strings and reeds for wind and stringed instruments:
1794 Pd. for a Bass Viol Lincielo [violincello] String 0.2.0d
1795 Pd. for a new Bassoon 3.3.0d
1821 Pd. for Strings and Reeds for the Church Musick 0.7.6d

At some point in the 19th century the violinists were Neighbour Kearsey, George Bowles and George Oakey. As well as their duties during the Sunday service they practised the customer of escorting wedding parties to the church door, to the tune of the old country dance 'Haste to the Wedding'. Accompanying the happy couple down the path after the ceremony, they would halt the party by means of a rope stretched across the gateway - which  would only be removed when the wedding party had duly paid the fiddlers with small coins.

Neighbour Kearsey was known to keep his earnings in two hat boxes labelled 'to marry me' and 'to bury me'. A well respected and prosperous farmer, he was also a confirmed bachelor. There is, however, a delightful account of his wedding at the age of 61 to a Miss Fanny Webb, a lady 30 years his junior, when the accumulated rewards of 50 years of fiddling were put to happy use.


During the 19th century when the fan vaulting at the end of the south aisle was in an unsafe condition it was supported for some time by a wooden pole resting on the gallery, which it eventually split. The vaulting was strengthened with steel reinforcing during the restoration, and the gallery was saved by the architect Henry Prothero. It is much admired by experts.

The gallery was further restored and refurbished in work for the Millennium (2000); this work also included provision of a modern lavatory and complete replacement of the floor at the back of the Nave.

Supporting platforms of an older west gallery can still be seen high up by the doorways to the turrets. According to Hanson there was also at one time a large pew against the west wall above the Jacobean gallery: it was spanned by a huge arch on which was painted in gilt a cherubim and the word Alleluia

The octagonal Font beneath the gallery is 16th century; its wooden cover is modern.

Up to 2000 there were about four 16th century Oak pews under the gallery. Plain high-sided pews made of Deal (a much cheaper wood) occupied the whole of the church prior to the 19th century restoration, but these were not in good condition: the restorers hoped to replace them all with oak, but money was not available for such a costly project. At the time of writing, it is not clear what was the fate of the surviving oak pews after the Millennium restoration. 

The Oak Chest near the door is made from one solid tree. Its 'dug out' form suggests a very early construction, probably prior to the development of joinery skills in the 13th century.

Chests such as this would have been used for a variety of purposes. One of the earliest mandates concerning such chests at the time of Henry II urged parishioners to 'deposit money therein' to help fund a Crusade.

The will of Richard Ewen, dated 1464, who was Rector of Cleeve in 1447, leaves £40...

to the parishioners of Clyve to be put in a common chest with two keys one of which the rector shall have and the keeper of the said chest the other. To the end that when the taxes some such as fifteenths and other subsidies very grievous to the poor they shall have a loan from the chest on condition of repayment in a fitting time...

In 1538 a mandate was issued by Thomas Cromwell (Henry VIII's Chief Minister) that every church should provide a 'sure coffer' just like this chest in which to place all the parish registers for safekeeping. (There's an Article by the Online Essex Parish Clerks if you'd like to know more.)

oakchest1oakchest2


A few pieces of mediaeval tiling are embedded in the floor by the chest. How much of the earlier church was covered by tiles is not known. (This may be inaccurate in view of the 2000 restoration, since the Chest was moved at that time.)

The octagonal pulpit has a painted panel representing the killing of the dragon by St Michael. It was painted by by J. Eadie Reed.

The Rood Cross above the chancel arch is the work of P. J. Crook, an internationally known local artist. It is painted on wood in acrylic. The central panel shows Christ crucified, with the Blessed Virgin Mary on one side of the cross and St John the Evangelist on the other; there are smaller figures of John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene. Above the cross is St Michael. The arms of the cross depict the symbols of the four Evangelists, and below the cross are the figures of St Peter and St Paul. 

The Organ

The first organ of modern times was installed in the gallery in 1859, having been purchased for £50 from an Oxford college. This organ was later removed to Postliip Hall and a new Nicholson instrument built and installed in the chancel. This in turn was superceded in 1965, when the present organ was placed at the west end of the north aisle, the gallery steps being moved to accommodate it. The console was originally situated in the gallery but was moved to its present position in 1985.

The organ was built in 1965 by Percy Daniel of Clevedon: he kept two stops from the old Nicholson organ but the instrument is mainly rebuilt from one bought for about £200 from the Primitive Methodist Jubilee Chapel in Scarborough. A splendid instrument, it was originally built by Foster & Andrews of Hull in 1963 at a cost of £245: it was housed in a handsome case of Grecian design, painted white and gold. THis proved unsuitable for its new setting and a wooden case was made.

The organ now has 2 manuals, 36 drawstops and electric action.


The Bells

The church has an excellent peal of eight bells: originally rung from the chancel floor, they are now rung from the chancel loft above. In addition a ninth Service Bell may be rung from the chancel itself.

The oldest six bells were all cast at the famous bell foundry of Rudhall in Gloucester, between 1700 and 1758; two more from Taylors of Loughborough were added in 1951 when the peal was rehung on a new metal frame.  

Weights, notes and dates of the bells are shown in the table below:

Bell Weight Nominal Note Diameter Cast Founder Canons Inscription
1 5-0-27 1280.0 Eb 28.38" 1951 John Taylor & Co F
2 5-3-1 1206.0 D 29.50" 1951 John Taylor & Co F
3 6-1-8 1073.0 C 32.13" c1700 Abraham I Rudhall Y Peter Cocks, Gent & Thos Beal Gent Churchwardens
4 7-3-16 956.0 Bb 35.25" 1758 Abel Rudhall Y Peace and good neighbourhood
5 8-2-11 853.0 Ab 36.88" 1740 Abel Rudhall Y Thos Paine, James Cocks, Thos Barnard, John Taylor, Churchwardens 1740
6 9-3-13 803.5 G 38.63" 1854 William Taylor Y William Taylor, Churchwarden, William Taylor, Bellfounder
7 13-2-7 717.0 F 43.50" 1700 Abraham I Rudhall R Prosperity to this Parish 1700 AR
8 19-2-21 638.0 Eb 47.50" 1933 John Taylor & Co F The living I to Church do call And to the Grave do summon all 
Service 0-2-10 13.88" 1695 Abraham I Rudhall Y Abra Rudhall
Further details of the bells are available at the Dove's Guide entry for Bishop's Cleeve web pages. 

Monuments

As well as the De La Bere monument already described, there are several wall monuments in the church as well as a number of tombstones set into the floor. Most of the memorials in the chancel and sacristy commemmorate previous rectors and their relatives. Details of some these are as follows:

Chancel

A baroque stone tablet, decorated with skulls, to Edmund Bedingfield, rector 1672-1695

A slate and stone monument to Catherine Norwood, widow of Edmund Bedingfield, died 1711

Pedimented slate and stone monument, decorated with skull and hour glass, to Jane Reed, died 1716

White marble moument to Mary Ramus, died 1809; also Henry Ramus and Charles Ramus. Mary was the sister of Samuel Pickering, rector 1770-1815

Monument dated 1794, recording the gift by Richard Cook of a marble altar (the present high altar)

Brass plate in memory of W. L. Townsend, rector 1827-1883

Memorial stones in the floor of the chancel and sacristy include:

Timothy Gates, rector 1611-1660, died 1660

William Curwen, rector 1698-1709, died 1709

John Watson, curate, died 1632

James Uvedale, rector 1709-1737, died 1737

John Cocks, died 1724 aged 20

John Cocks, father of the above, and Mary his wife, died 1729 and 1746

South Transept

Wall memorials of the Beale family of Swindon

Floor tombstones include:

Other members of the Beale family

Willian and Elizabeth Attwood and their infant son, died 1729, 1728, 1724

Thomas Cocks, died 1601, and his wife Elizabeth Holland. The stoe is inscribed 'both lived to old age blessed with ten sones and six daughters, all the sones living to be men many years before the recease of their parents'. Thomas and Elizabeth were buried in the chancel. The slab, damaged when the tower collapsed in 1695, was moved to its present position in 1700.

South Aisle

Wall memorial to Mrs Mary Smith of Cheltenham, died 1787 aged 82

Wall memorial to the Grafton family of Cheltenham

Floor tombstones include:

Members of the Webb family

Nave

Floor tombstones include:

Members of the Attwood, Hobbs, Warren and Kittermuster families

North Aisle

Floor tombstones include:

Members of the Winser, Surman and Yeend families.

Members of the Loringe (Lawringe) family, gentlemen of Haymes. The old stone at the eat end of the aisle, now barely decipherable, is inscribed 'Johannes Lavrewyge' in 14th century characters; the rest of the inscription has long since worn away.

Rectors of Bishop's Cleeve

1215 Robert, a monk
1273 Walter Scammell
1287 Robert of Wychio
1291 Peter of Leicester
1320 Robert de Valogues
1327 Nicholas Cobham
1374 John de Brian
1403 Nicholas Bubwith
1415 John Bromsgrove
1437 Edward Prentice
1447 Richard Ewen
(Date unknown) William Baxter
1507 John Claywood
1547 Nicholas Wilson
1549 John Parkhurst
1557 Seth Holland
1559 John Parkhurst
1564 Richard Rewe (or Prewe)
(Date unknown) Thomas Turner
1593 Peter Cocks
1612 Timothy Gates
1662 Robert Stubbs
1665 William Nicholson
1672 Edmund Bedingfield
1695 Robert Cooke
1698 William Curwen
1709 James Uvedale
1737 Francis Fitz-Edwards
1754 James Monteath
1756 William Reid
1770 Samuel Pickering
1815 Robert Lawrence Townsend
1827 William Lawrence Townsend
1883 Benjamin Francis Hemming
1895 Thomas Jesson
1919 Nigel McKenzie Morgan-Brown
1932 Thomas Jesson, Junior
1947 Kenneth Craydon Edmunds
1982 John Harold Mead
2001 Ian Calder
2009 Malcolm Allen

 


Lastly...

Christ, the fair glory of the Holy Angels
Thou who hast made us, Thou who o'er us rulest,
Grant of thy mercy unto us thy servants Steps up to Heaven.
Send thy Archangel, Michael, to our succour; Peacemaker blessed, may he banish from us Striving and hatred
so that, for the peaceful, all things may prosper

- a 9th century prayer

Daily prayer and Christian worship have been observed here for over 1200 years; and today St Michael's continues to serve the surrounding community as it did in the first years of its foundation.

 



Sunday 26 March

Mothering SUnday

8.00 Holy Communion (said)
9.30 Holy Communion
(traditional with organ & choir)
11.15 All-Age Worship 
(contemporary with music band)

Weekly Newsletter
News from Gloucester Diocese

Calendars

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Church Diary (internal use)
St Michael's Centre / Hall


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