Tideswell, the Cathedral of the Peak

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Memorial window for William Newton (1750–1830), ‘the Minstrel of the Peak’, made by Alfred Fisher of Chapel Studio in 1996

After the meeting in Great Hucklow on Friday, we drove the three miles into Tideswell to do a bit of local research and, while we were there, revisit the church of St John the Baptist, known as the Cathedral of the Peak. It is a fine old building, erected on the site of a smaller, earlier church, traces of which can still  be seen in the Chancel. The current building, though, has an integrity of design found but rarely, being built in its entirety all in one period.

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The Chancel, with evidence of an earlier structure

Work commenced on the new church in around 1320. Work continued for the next eighty years, delayed by the incursions of the Black Death. There have been few later alterations and what remains is a beautifully proportioned church. Even the Victorian restoration was just that… restoring the building rather than the wholesale remodelling inflicted upon many of our ancient churches.

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Two unknown ladies who died around seven hundred years ago

It is one of those places where history is laid out before you, not only in the architectural details, but in the names and faces of the people who have lived and worshipped here, from the Baptismal rolls,through the names of the incumbents of the parish, to the lords and ladies of earlier ages.

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A few older pews survive in the Lady Chapel

Worn pews show centuries of worship, tucked away in a corner of in the little Lady Chapel, where medieval ladies sleep beneath the painted Victorian organ. Above the altar, a bas relief of the Virgin and Child wears flaking paint as if bound by a vow of poverty, but is no less beautiful for the faded colours.

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Perhaps the most obvious treasure in the church is the quantity and quality of the wood carvings. In the nave and chancel, beautifully carved pews by a local man named Advent Hunstone are finished with finials showing the work of the ecclesiastic within both church and community. Saints stand beside their symbols and, beneath the pews, are some finely carved misericords – ‘mercy seats’ to give support during the long, standing services.

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The original carved wooden screen separates nave from chancel and is echoed in the later balustrade around the choir pews, carved with birds, animals and fantastic beasts…and, appropriately enough, a Green Man. Some of this is the work of a Mr Tooley from Suffolk. There is another Green Man on the main door into the church, small enough to be missed amongst the simple bosses that adorn the old, bleached wood and dragons curl through the rafters.

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The Green Man guards the way

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The watcher

In the south transept is the Bower Chapel. An empty niche in the corner of the wall is still supported by a strange creature. He looks down upon a carved altar showing the instruments of the Passion.

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The inscription speaks of the bread and wine of communion.

Close by stands a tomb whose dedication declares it to be that of Sir Thurstan de Bower and his wife Lady Margaret, who died around 1395. There is some doubt as to whether the base of the tomb and its inscription are accurately attributed, but the alabaster effigies, though scarred with graffiti and worn with time still seem to take you back to a more ancient time with their detailed portrayal of the clothing and armour of the couple.

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Sir Thurstan and Lady Margaret de Bower

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From nave to chancel, separated by the screen

It has not always been a place of peace and tranquility. Bear-baiting and cockfighting are both mentioned on an old map of the town and the church itself was the scene of bloodshed when, in 1250, the monks of Lenton Priory took up arms to steal wool and sheep from Tideswell. On the orders of the Dean of Lichfield both sheep and wool were brought into the nave of the church for safe-keeping, but, ignoring the sanctuary of the church, the monks broke in, their trampling horses and weapons spilling the blood of the lambs before the altar.

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“…by the blood of the Lamb…”

Now Mary Magdalene who looks down with compassion at the scene of slaughter, holding the jar of spikenard with which she anointed her Lord. Behind the high altar in the east, a Tree of Jesse window charts the His lineage.

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“…my perfume spread its fragrance…”

In the centre of the chancel is a large tomb with pierced, open sides. The top of the tomb is inlaid with heraldic brasses and, in the centre, the symbol of the Trinity. Look through the openings and you see the carved cadaver of a knight in his winding sheet, his head supported by the arms of an angel. This is the tomb of Sir Samson Meverill (1388–1462), a knight said to have fought at the battle of Agincourt on St Crispin’s Day, 1415, when Henry V of England defeated the forces of the French king Charles VI.

Heraldic griffin.

Heraldic griffin.

Sir Samson also later fought under the Duke of Bedford against the armies inspired by Joan of Arc. He was not, however, always a perfect and godly knight. During a land dispute, he kidnapped all the jurors brought in to judge the case. It is for the artistry, the beauty, the history and above all, the people who have left a human legacy of stories such as these that I love these old churches.


Image via Wikimedia by Tideswellman (CC BY-SA 3.0)



About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
This entry was posted in Ancient sites, Art, Churches, England, History, Photography, travel and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Tideswell, the Cathedral of the Peak

  1. davidprosser says:

    Fantastic artistry Sue and brilliant photographs.
    xxx Ginormous Hugs xxx


  2. Pingback: Smorgasbord Easter Egg Hunt – Bloggers who are ‘Jolly good eggs’ | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  3. Helen Jones says:

    Another beautiful church, Sue. I love the stories in churches as well, especially those found on gravestones.


  4. Beautiful photos of some amazing craftsmanship.


  5. macjam47 says:

    I love these old churches you find. Your photos are fabulous. Thanks for sharing this bit of history, Sue. Hugs.


  6. Beautiful pictures and amazing architectural creativity. I especially like the stained glass windows of such old churches… 🙂


  7. socialbridge says:

    Love the photos, Sue. Beautifully captured.


  8. Eliza Waters says:

    The carvings are so beautiful and the history of these churches always blows me away. We have nothing even remotely close to it!


  9. adeleulnais says:

    What a fascinating history and beauty this church is. Thank you for sharing.


  10. Thank you for sharing this beautiful worship space with us, love the way you unwrap it for us.


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