A little while ago, we visited Great Longstone church, but it was early on a Monday morning and the doors were closed. Even so, it had not been a wasted trip and we had found enough intriguing riddles in the churchyard to make us return later that day, after our visit to Haddon Hall.
We knew the church was plenty old enough to be part of the greater riddle in which we had become embroiled… and within walking distance of both Bakewell and Haddon Hall. We barely got through the now-open door before the signs and symbols hit us. The font is the first thing you see, and while the carved base shows biblical scenes… and in particular, John the Baptist, who holds a particular significance for the Templars.
The font is octagonal too… which, after the whole Bakewell thing, was significant. The biblical scenes around the edge, which also include Noah and the Flood, alternate with heraldic shields which are covered in various kinds of cross pattée …including some that unmistakably hark back to the Templars.
The font cover too is just oozing geometric symbolism… The trouble is, the font would be far too late for our original hypothesis, being part of the restoration undertaken by Norman Shaw in the late nineteenth century.
On the other hand, we were growing increasingly certain that this particular underground stream had never dried up, but had continued to flow discretely through the pages of history. We had seen a Masonic symbol over the door to the church… and there were Oddfellows buried in the churchyard too. What other possible connections would we find?
We wandered, as is our wont, looking at the geometries carved on the ends of every pew and looking at the stained glass windows, like the one over the altar that shows a tree of life, for we have often found that they hold clues. This has brought up an important question. We know that many of the oldest churches were built upon sites held sacred in pre-Christian days. It was part of the mandate of the early Christian missionaries to these islands to take over the ancient places of reverence… a subtle ploy to ensure that the people still came where they were accustomed for their spiritual needs.
Many of the older carvings that remain seem to echo a pre-Christian origin and incorporate older stories and symbolism… like the scenes of Norse gods on the Saxon Cross in Bakewell. Given that mandate, you can understand how such symbolism might survive, but how was it doing so in later additions to the churches…like the stained glass?
“The well is deep,” says one of the windows. If, as we suspect and as many confirm through both scientific means and less orthodox methods of research, these old churches are built on sites of ancient sanctity… and if those sites correspond to points along the lines of the earth energies known as leys, or dragon lines… and, even more controversially, if there are those who have served those energies by tending the leys, trackways and pilgrim routes… like, for example, the hermits and the Templars… it would follow that somebody knew what they were doing. Are there those who still know? Enough, at least, to choose to incorporate intriguing symbols into the ancient churches? Or it is an unconscious attunement with the energy of the land that suggests such imagery to them?
There is some very strange imagery, especially under the circumstances, up in the rafters of the church, where Green Men, heads and shield-bearing angels share the shadows with yet another Templar-style cross and a really strange creature that seems to have a human face with two tongues, the ears of a hare…or perhaps a deer… between which is a cross.
Now, the legend of St Giles, to whom this church is dedicated, tells that he was a holy man, a hermit, who lived in the forest near Arles in France, shunning all contact with the world. His sole companion was a deer who sustained him with her milk. The king’s men, out hunting one day, discovered his whereabouts when they fired an arrow at the deer. The saint held out his hand, allowing the arrow to pierce him instead of his companion… and from then on, he was revered. There is a similar story depicted in Bakewell, where St Hubert’s deer carries a cross between its horns. Is the strange creature in the rafters a depiction of deer and man combined? Because, if it is, it raises a few questions about the saint… and I can’t help thinking, the whole idea of shapeshifting.
But, that was probably not why we had been ‘prodded’ to come here. We were still on the track brought to light on the Riddles weekend. We had the feeling that we were right on the edge of piecing something together… bringing some piece of forgotten knowledge back to light.
As it turned out, we did not have far to look for further clues. A little chapel in the south aisle was probably what we had come to see. For a start, we very often find the Light of the World painting in significant places… and here it was as the focus of the altar.
On one wall is a brass plaque dating to 1624 and beside it, a drawing of what it now depicts only faintly. It shows a man and his wife kneeling on a chequerboard floor. Above then cherubs hold a veil of clouds between them and the name of God and between them the defaced remains of what appears to have been a cross…another legacy of the Reformation. The gentleman is one whose name had already cropped up over the weekend… Eyre.
The brass commemorates the life and legacy of Rowland Eyre of Hassop… a village just a mile or so away… and his wife Gertrude. It lists his numerous children and bequests to the poor,to be paid yearly in perpetuity by his heirs… on the feats of the “Annunciation of the blessed virgin St Marie and St. Michaell ye archangel”.
That, at least, explains the presence in the lady Chapel of windows depicting the Annunciation and all three of the archangels who have also been beatified… St Michael, St Raphael and St Gabriel… though we were still at a loss to know why and archangel would need to be a saint too. As intermediaries between God and man, did it reflect their ‘foot in both worlds’? And why was St Michael wearing a cross pattée like a chain of office?
More to the point, what was another Eyre memorial suggesting, when the inscription is on the remains of a marble pyramid, encircled by Ouroboros… and watched over by the All-Seeing Eye? All of which are symbols in the Templar/Masonic tradition.
Had we needed any further confirmation as to why we had been ‘nudged’ to visit Great Longstone church, there was a final clue fair screaming at us from the screen around the chapel… the crest of the Eyres, that is also that of the Foljambe family.
It would get even odder when we drove past Rowland Eyre’s old home in Hassop on the way back, where Francis Eyre had built what must be the most incongruous church in the dales. Researching the church later, we found that a modern-day Order of Hospitallers, garbed in robes emblazoned with the cross pattée, still held investitures at the church… and under the eight-sided tower at Bakewell. Had we been making mountains out of molehills? Seeing connections where none existed? Looking at the Order’s website, it certainly does not look that way… and all we had done was follow the breadcrumb trail.