The church with the feet

I was running out of time, but it was only a small church and it did not look overly promising. The stonework looked too regular…modern… except for the tower which looked as if it didn’t quite match, and the enclosure of the church itself, right at the heart of the village, which looked older still. And if there is one thing we have learned for certain in our years of ‘church tapping’, it is that you really cannot judge a book by its cover or a church by its masonry. Too many have been rebuilt, the lily gilded and the ancient stone ‘restored’ by the Victorians. What lies within may not match the face-lift.

There are early Neolithic remains in the area, showing that it had been settled for millennia. Not just traces either; the impressive Thor’s Cave is right on Wetton’s doorstep and a couple of miles away is the Neolithic and Bronze Age site of Long Low. Two huge cairns of fifty and seventy-five feet in diameter, connected by an earthen bank, within which local antiquarian, Samuel Carrington, had excavated the remains of thirteen people, along with cremations and tools in 1849 . There was every reason to suppose that the church had stood there a long time, in spite of appearances.

The church proved to be exactly what it appeared to be though, built largely in the nineteenth century on simple lines. The tower, however, dates back to the 14th century, and there is a record of a vicar as long ago as 1230. Pevsner, whose cataloguing of architecture remains unparalleled, suggests that the style and size of the tower’s corner stones could date the original construction to Saxon times, if not even earlier. Which means that once again, the exterior does not reflect the antiquity of the site.

Architecturally, though, there was little of interest within the accessible parts of the little church. A pleasant, airy nave, devoid of the magnificent stained glass seen in so many country churches holds only the pews and a very simple altar. There is peace in its simplicity, but, apart from the two plaques on the east wall displaying the Creed and the Commandments, there were only a few memorial plaques to see.

Beneath the All-Seeing Eye, one such plaque caught my gaze and seemed to sum up the battle we must all face between the self-serving of the ego and the finer aspects of our natures. A respected gentleman, curate of the parish, had bequeathed a thousand pounds to the community and his servant…a huge sum of money in those days. The twenty-one pounds a year to his servant, Hannah, would have been a comfortable pension and kept her fed and housed for life. The other bequests were equally substantial… without doubt, a generous and noble gesture. Yet, one phrase stood out… that he was also funding the marble plaque, not to commemorate his life or death, but his bequests.

It was as if he needed to be seen to be doing good, where true generosity acts quietly. There is nothing wrong with being remembered or lauded for such acts of kindness, but as in other areas worthy of praise, that praise and gratitude must come freely from others before it holds value. Had the community raised the plaque for him in thanks, it would be a different matter. As it was, I felt obscurely saddened that, probably because of the times in which he lived, our good and generous  curate had somehow missed the mark.

There was, however, something else of interest in the church…something I had never seen before. A display board ran the width of the west end of the nave, covered with pictures of footprints. The ornate designs are to be found high up on the tower roof, etched into the lead.

It is a local tradition and, 291 foot and hand designs have been found up on the roof, dating back as far as  1721. The outline of the appendage would have been scribed into the soft surface of the lead then decorated with designs, initials, names and dates.

There is a plan of where the prints were found and many photographs showing the changing shape of footwear over the years. They also show a range in ages and perhaps even sexes… they are referred to as either ‘plumbers’ or ‘lovers’ marks. One mark, though, is neither hand nor foot, but a figure with what looks like horns and tail…

Even the antiquarian, Samuel Carrington, climbed the tower to leave his footprint. Today, the prints have been removed and samples conserved. It may have been necessary, but it seems a shame. Somehow, the hands and feet of its parishioners gave the little church a heart.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She has written a number of books, both alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. 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
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31 Responses to The church with the feet

  1. willowdot21 says:

    What a fabulous idea about the footprints, the soul history of the church.😉💜

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jenanita01 says:

    Nice play on words there, soul or sole? Fascinating place though…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Erik says:

    How fascinating! To think that they built again and again underneath and around the tower, but were somehow able to keep the tower untouched. Would I ever love to go up into that tower and have a look!

    Regarding Reverend Ward and his plaque, I wonder if he might have had another motivation (one in which there would be quite a story to be told, perhaps even an entire book to be written). I wonder if he was concerned about a tendency toward self that existed in his congregation; and so, to protect the allotments to Hannah and the other local parishes, he made sure that his wishes were posted publicly for all to see. In other words, perhaps he had had reason to believe his parishioners would have somehow “lost” his paper will and testament and kept all of the money, had he not found a way to make it very difficult for them to do other than as he wished. And if this is so, was there something about Hannah that caused her to be an outcast or one looked down upon by the general congregation? Perhaps she didn’t attend at all, or was even known to hold an entirely different faith from that of the church. And having grown up in a controlling and self-centered church who taught from the pulpit that other churches weren’t really Christians and that their members were all going to hell … it makes sense to me that Rev. Ward might suspect they would only pay the annual $5 to each of the other churches if his wishes were posted in a way that held them to it, however begrudgingly.

    I know — how did I get all of that out of a plaque! But it could have happened!

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    • Sue Vincent says:

      I did wonder that too, Erik… a sort of insurance policy in marble. In some respects, I think I would prefer that explanation, though given the way the society of the day worked, I have a feeling it was the other one.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Erik says:

        Even today, I get a kick out of churches that have a signs out front that say things like, “This Sunday: The Honorable Right Reverend James P. Hoodly III” … as if any passersby give a care about that title. “Ooooh, honey, look who’s speaking at the Third Most High Church of the Apostles this Sunday! Let’s go!” LOL

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  4. Leeby Geeby says:

    Brilliant. Loved it! Many thanks. Sharing this one with my auntie in Australia who loves this kind of stuff.

    Like

  5. Colline says:

    Thank you for sharing your interesting visit with us.

    Like

  6. fransiweinstein says:

    Love the footprints, such a wonderful idea! As for the plaque, that’s very interesting. Here, where I live, hospitals and many other buildings have essentially become billboards for those who have donated generously. It has always bothered me — I am with you — true generosity shouldn’t seek or need that kind of public recognation.

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  7. Eliza Waters says:

    Footprints – who would have thought it? A very personal record.

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  8. That is very cool. What a find. 👣 And love this: “you really cannot judge a book by its cover or a church by its masonry.” So true! 😂

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I loved the personal touch of handsa nd feet on the roof. It seems a shae that they have been removed, but given the frequency with which lead is stolen, they are better safe than melted down.

      Like

  9. paulandruss says:

    Love your posts about these oddities of old churches.

    Like

  10. macjam47 says:

    I found the footprints interesting. I agree with your assessment of the curate’s need to post good deeds. Again, I’ve never seen anything posted like that before where a person must tout his good deeds (well, except for the one who currently lives in a big white house in Washington, DC).

    Like

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