Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Great Canfield, Essex

St Mary the Virgin is locked but with this sign on the notice board:

Despite the number I didn't phone having had a frustrating day of locked churches wherever I went and so settled for exterior shots only. I'm not sure that I would have been able to gain access on the day anyway, the note sort of implies that you have to book an appointment rather than collect a key and I didn't particularly care for the tone of the note! For all that this is a charming church and an internet search reveals an interesting interior with a nice double headed monument to Sir William Wyseman and his wife (according to Mee there are two further Wyseman monuments - see below), a 13th century fresco of the Madonna and child and several columns carved with pagan symbols and swastikas, so it's probably worth arranging a visit at a later date.

ST MARY. Nave and chancel and belfry with recessed shingled spire. This is of the C15, as is the embattled stone S porch. Otherwise the church is essentially Norman. Norman nave and chancel N and S windows, as in many village churches. In addition a plain N doorway with columns with carved zigzag pattern and a more ornate S doorway with ornamented capitals (the l. one with a bearded face and two birds pecking at it), a tympanum with flat concentric zigzag decoration probably meaning the Sun, roll mouldings and a billet moulding. The remarkable feature of the church is the Norman chancel arch (one order of columns with scalloped capitals and arch with an outer  billet moulding*) behind which, at the E end of the straightheaded chancel, appear three round arches. Those to the l. and r. contain small windows, that in the middle must always have been connected with some form of reredos. It now enshrines a WALL PAINTING of the Virgin and Child seated which is one of the best C13 representations of the subject in the whole country, full of tenderness. It is drawn in red, with some yellow. Other colours have disappeared. The ornamental borders and other decoration around, also in the adjoining windows, is mostly of the stiff-leaf type. The date must be c. 1250 (cf. the Matthew Paris manuscripts). - PLATE. Cup and Paten of 1577. - MONUMENTS. Brass to John Wyseman and wife d. 1558, both figures kneeling, and children behind (chancel, floor). - Brass to Thomas Fytche, wife d. 1588 and children (chancel, floor). - Monument to Sir William Wyseman d. 1684 and wife with demi-figures holding hands, below a segmental pediment. Good. - Also Floor Slab to Lady Wiseman in the chancel floor. Black marble with no words but Anne/Lady Wiseman/1662.


GREAT CANFIELD. Behind the church and cottages of this quiet and charming place is a dense clump of trees. They spring from a mound 50 feet high and 280 feet wide, over which the walls of the castle keep of the De Veres rose high in the days of the Normans. Beyond it are the ramparts of the outer defences, which covered seven acres, and all round this great fortress we can walk in a dry moat 45 feet wide at its base and filled in ancient days by water from the River Roding. Aubrey de Vere, Great Chamberlain of England 800 years ago, dwelt here in a castle, probably built of wood, of which nothing remains. But the church by the moat has lost little of the beauty he gave it.

This little shrine is one of the most perfect Norman buildings in Essex. Save for the extension for the bell-turret added in the 13th century its walls stand as the Normans built them. Both the door­ways are richly carved, and in one the mason surpassed himself, the tympanum being filled with zigzags converging in circles, as if flashes of lightning had been transfixed in stone. So hard a stone did he choose that the tiny eyes still peep from the faces he carved on the capitals of the shafts. Two birds peck the bushy beard on one face and rolls of ribbon flow from the mouth of the other. On one of the posts are five fylfot crosses, one of the earliest of Christian symbols, and known to early man, carved on prehistoric monuments found in Italy, and something like the swastika.

The interior of the church is designed in a masterly way, the chancel arch perfect as a frame for a group of arches over the altar. A nearer view reveals a wall-painting as rare as it is lovely, a primitive masterpiece as old as any in our National Gallery and the work of an English artist. The painting shows a Madonna in a yellow robe nursing an infant Jesus; she sits serene on a throne raised on a dais, and experts declare that she was seated quietly here when Robert de Vere set out from the castle hard by to go to Runnymede.

The preservation of this painting is due to an act of vanity. On a side wall is an elaborate monument of Sir William Wyseman, holding the hand of his wife. When the monasteries were dissolved this family became all powerful in Great Canfield, so that there was no one to say nay when they decided to use the niche as a background for this monument. It was not till recent tunes that it was removed and the wall-painting found.

John Wyseman with his wife and their ten children are kneeling at prayer. He had grown grey in the hard business of auditing the accounts of Henry the Eighth, though he seems to have made a fortune for himself. Here, too, is his daughter Agnes with her husband John Fytche, who stands proudly with his head high and the date of Armada year on his tomb.

Flickr set.

1 comment:

  1. I believe Agnes was Agnes Josselyn before marriage. A huge family said to have come over with William the Conqueror. (My family line)