We ran down into Castleton in search of further refreshment. It is easy to see how this place got its name as the ruins of the Norman Peveril Castle perch above the valley tantalising when time is short… It just made it plain that one of these days we would have to come back and explore. Especially given the extent of the Iron Age remains in the area.
A pub, however, was what we had in mind, and Castleton seems to have more pubs per capita than many places I’ve seen. Of course, we had to park first, and the trouble with that was the only space I could find was right outside the church… Well, the next bit was inevitable… An obviously old church in a place like this? We were almost obliged to go in an explore.
The board said it was dedicated to St Edmund… a bit of a rarity that, which is strange as Edmund was, according to legend and history, King, Saint and Martyr. He has cropped up in several places, particularly medieval wall paintings, but I couldn’t recall seeing a church in his name before. The stories say he was an East Anglian King at the time of the Viking invasions of Britain. He was taken by the Vikings, bound, beaten and tied to a tree where they threw spears at him until, according to Abbo of Fleury, ‘he was entirely covered with their missiles, like the bristles of a hedgehog’.
He was beheaded and his head thrown into the woods where, the story says, it was guarded by a wolf until it was found unharmed. We had found a painting of the wolf close to my home in another medieval church and of course, the magnificent wall paintings at Pickering show the martyrdom in detail… though as with most depictions arrows, not spears are shown and at first glance you would assume it is St Sebastian they are portraying.
The church at Castleton, however, was originally built as a garrison chapel for the soldiers of Peveril Castle almost a thousand years ago and the first thing that strikes you as you walk through the doors is the great Norman chancel arch. It is one of those places where, although there is the inevitable overlay of the ensuing centuries the fabric of the building itself seems to shine through in a timeless manner. Patches of plaster are missing here and there, showing the tell-tale traces of medieval wall paintings here too, newly rediscovered and as yet to be restored to sight.
A small case holds a ‘breeches bible’ and information on the fragment of ancient glass and the rails by the aumbry in the chancel are set with gilded arrows. The ceiling is painted blue… something that seems immediately to take the place back to an older time as eyes were raised to heaven and the atmosphere is one of calm, reflective peace.