Monday, 1 November 2010

Stebbing, Essex

St Mary the Virgin is imposing, especially when the village is approached from the south, sitting at the top of a hill dominating all. It has everything you could want in a church but, rather oddly, I missed the brass of an unknown widow so a return visit is in order. Of particular note is the rood screen and the carving thereon but the whole ticks all the right boxes.

I re-visited and how I missed the brass is quite beyond me, it's as clear as day in the nave.

ST MARY THE VIRGIN. Entirely a C14 church, and perhaps rather earlier than c. 1360, the date suggested by the Royal Commission. The tracery of all the windows has Dec forms, the Sedilia and Piscina don’t look later either, and no Perp feature appears yet anywhere. The W tower (with angle buttresses, battlements and a recessed lead spire) has a W window with (renewed) reticulated tracery. The S porch is given one original feature; the side openings are small and of quatrefoil shapes (cf. Great Bardfield) one on the l., two on the r. The N and S arcades of the large nave inside have piers of an uncommon section, four slim polygonal shafts and in the diagonals four round ones. Complex arch mouldings in the two-centred arches. Head and leaf stops. It is important to come to some conclusion about the date of all this, because of the one distinguishing, and at the same time most effective, feature of the church; the stone rood screen, filling with a bold tripartite openwork design the whole of the tall chancel arch. This motif exists in only one other Essex church, at Great Bardfield,* and there we have every reason to assume that it is later. The Stebbing Screen has basically three stepped lancet arches and then many ogee arches, some quatrefoils and some ball-flowers in the decoration. That should not be later than c. 1350 and may well be a little earlier. In the middle part an embattled transome runs through the arch at the point of its springing to hold, on three plinths, the three figures of the Rood. - The chancel roof is of flat pitch with arched braces carrying tracery in the spandrels, and collar-beams. Wallplates with foliage trails and battlements; embattled purlins. The nave roof is also flat-pitched. The principals rest on stone brackets, the sub-principals start with figures of angels. Two bosses on each sub-principal. - REREDOS at the E end of the N aisle. Very defaced. Traces of a rib pattern in the soffit. - COMMUNION RAIL C18, with alternating slim balusters. - BRASS to a widow, c. 1390, large (nave).

* And besides at Trondheim in Norway 

St Mary the Virgin

Nave (2)

Rood screen (4)

Thomas Jernegan 1608

STEBBING. Any traveller would stop here for the splendid church, but Stebbing has more. It is as old as Domesday Book and has a moated mound older than the Conqueror and an extraordinary wealth of cottages and farms, at least 50 of them having been here 300 years. The nearest house to the mound is one of Shakespeare’s day, and, walking up the village street with its pretty cottages, we come to a group on high ground about the church. One is a little 15th century cottage by the churchyard gate; another is 17th century; and a third is Church Farm, a Tudor building with original carvings round a gabled dormer window. Some distance away is Porter’s Hall with its moat still wet, an Elizabethan house with a thatched dovecot. But it is the church that draws all eyes, for it is a magnificent example of the work of the l4th century builders just before the Black Death swept over the land. Its tower has grotesque gargoyles and looks westward at a view of great charm over the valley. Its doorways are handsome. Its interior is spacious with a high tower arch and arcades of five bays. And its glory is a rare and beautiful screen of stone under the chancel arch. The screen has three bays divided by clustered shafts, which rise to form charming lancet arches, enriched with flowers and other ornament. The middle bay has more elaborate tracery, and an arched transom helps to support the Cross and the two pedestals for the attendant figures. Very interesting it is to see that in all this rich carving, set up at one of the most sacred places in the church, the 14th century craftsmen were not afraid to include two of the grotesque figures they loved to carve. Beautiful, too, are the richly carved sedilia in this long chancel, which has on the wall the wooden block of the pulley used for raising the Lenten veil in medieval ceremony, a rare object to find in a church today. The piscina is a double one, and there are two others, one in the 14th century vestry and a beautiful one in the south aisle. The north aisle has something left of an elaborate canopied reredos, with traces of colour, from the 16th century. There is a 15th century font, a chest of the same age, an old oak pulpit said to have been made from a medieval screen, fragments of foliage and tabernacle-work in 14th century glass, and altar rails and a communion table of the 18th century. Two of the roofs are remarkable, that of the chancel being of Henry the Seventh’s time with foliage on the wall-plates, and that of the nave a little younger, with wooden angels holding shields. A splendid brass shows the costume worn by a widow who looks as if she might have walked out of Chaucer’s Tales.

Flickr set.

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