Monday, 12 September 2011

Guilden Morden, Cambridgeshire

Following the disappointment of Steeple Morden, St Mary was a pleasant surprise with a fine exterior and tower in the Hertfordshire style (not surprisingly as we're right on the county border)

In the reign of William the Conqueror, a Norman nobleman named Picot was Sheriff of Cambridgeshire. His wife Hugolina became seriously ill, and she promised that if she recovered, she would dedicate a monastery to St. Giles, her patron saint. She did recover, and at her request Picot founded a church and offices for six canons near the castle of Cambridge. A charter was given to them in which was included, "The Church of Mordon" or St Mary.

The Rood Screen probably dates from 1325-75, and is a rare and beautiful work, judged to be the finest of its kind in the country. The figures of Bishop Erkenwald and King Edmund, were probably painted in medieval times, although it appears that there has been some later overpainting. Bishop Erkenwald of London was brother to Ethelreda who founded Ely Abbey, later to become our Cathedral.

Disaster struck here when the battery in my camera decided to run out of juice resulting in limited coverage both here and at  Litlington and Abington Pigotts. This will necessitate a re-visit.

ST MARY. The biggest church in this corner of Cambridgeshire, though of course much less ambitious than Ashwell over the Herts border. St Mary appears entirely Perp outside. It is of pebble and stone rubble and embattled throughout. The W tower alone is of ashlar (and the small otherwise unpretentious vestry N of the chancel with small straight-headed windows). The tower is broad and square. The bell openings are a pair of tall transomed two-light windows on each side. Behind the battlements rises a lead spire. Not one window is earlier than Perp. The S view is enriched by a high embattled rood-stair turret. On entering the church the historical impression changes. The arcades - six bays long and with rather short piers - are C14. So is the chancel arch. The S arcade represents two phases. The E part of three bays comes first. Its octagonal piers with plain moulded capitals and a little nail head enrichment and its double-chamfered arches may represent the previous size of the church. The date of these three arches could be c. 1300. Then the N arcade was built and the S arcade lengthened to the W. These parts have quatrefoil piers with fine shafts in the diagonals and rather finely moulded capitals, arches with divers wave mouldings and hood-moulds with - only on the N side - heads as stops. The chancel arch rests on three-shaft groups as responds, with the middle shaft filleted. - FONT. Circular on five supports, the four outer ones circular, the central one polygonal. Along the rim of the bowl heavy beaded spiral-moulding. - ROOD SCREEN and PARCLOSE SCREENS. Re-assembled, it seems, as a double rood-screen, i.e. with a kind of pew l. and r. of central passage-way. Three designs are represented, two v similar and clearly not too late in the C14, the third E Perp. The earlier ones have circular shafts with shaftrings divide the lights from each other and big, simple ogee arch plain or intersected, with large quatrefoils or trefoils in spandrels.

Chancel screen (1)

Chancel screen (3)

GUILDEN MORDEN. Far away as we come to it we see the massive church tower with its crown of pinnacles and its needle spire, all 15th century except for its arch, which is 14th. The rest of the church, with its stately porch and its ten clerestory windows, is generally 15th century, but the 14th is here again in the arcades, traced from its beginning in the clustered pillars to the end in the octagonal ones. A seat for a priest has been fashioned out of a windowsill in the chancel, on which eight angels look down from the hammerbeam roof. The bowl of the font is Norman, and the oldest possession of the church, but the best possessions are the two oak screens, both 600 years old. The one in the tower has delicate tracery, but the chancel screen is something unique; we do not remember anything like it, for it has two compartments like small chapels one on each side of the middle opening. The screen has needed a little patching, but it remains a fascinating piece of medieval craftsmanship, gay with green and red and white and gold. About 500 years ago an artist came along and painted two saints in its panels, Edmund in an ermine gown, and Erkenwold with his mitre and crozier as Bishop of London.

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