We had decided to visit six churches with our companions. That is a lot of churches to visit in one afternoon… and we were conscious that they are not everyone’s cup of tea. These ones, though, are all old and interesting, and each one of them marks a point of the hexagram in the landscape with which we would work. We had assigned each of the churches to a place on the fire or water triangle, which carried with it a planetary attribution and colour, and each companion had chosen ‘their’ church by drawing lots.
We hoped it would be an interesting exercise and give a taste of the ‘thrill of the chase’ that we get when we are on the trail of mysteries, although you can neither predict how others will feel, nor assume they will feel as you do…or as you hope they will. We would have to wait and see.
We started with the Church of the Holy Rood, in the village of Buckland Newton. The area is rich in archaeological remains, with traces of prehistoric settlements, dykes, barrows and forts on every hill. Ancient trackways converge on the area and it seems to have been a hive of early activity. Dungeon Hill, an Iron Age hillfort, lies to the north of the village and Roman remains too have been located.
The church stands apart from most of the village and, on arriving, seems to be alone with the manor house opposite. The old manor is probably one of the reasons why the church appears to be rather grand for its surroundings, set as it is amidst green fields and farmland. Another reason is that historically, the church also served the villagers of Plush and, it seems, they were assigned their own door on the north side… the side traditionally reserved for the Devil’s Door, through which the demon could escape when baptisms were being performed. It makes you wonder what the relationship was between the two villages…
The tower is the first thing that strikes you, being very tall for the proportions of a village church… a feature we would find was common to the churches we would visit. There are old yew trees throughout the churchyard, which is always a good sign. You are watched by some rather odd gargoyles as you approach too.
Another good omen for our quest were the four, six-pointed wheels carved on the sundial…. Not a bad start when you are looking for a hexagram.
The south porch is very grand these days, thanks to the carved lantern. Above it is an old Parvise, a little room kept for the priests visiting from Glastonbury Abbey, to whom the church once belonged. The porch gates and lantern were given by John Bishop IV of Massachusetts, in 1989, to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of the marriage of his ancestors, Alice Dunning and William Bishop. They were married in 1589, and John emigrated to America around 1600.
The church is an old one, originally built eight hundred years ago, though the figure of Christ in Majesty that greets you in the porch is a hundred years older than that. No mention is made of its origins, and I have to wonder about an earlier church on the site.
Much of the chancel dates to the thirteenth century, while the nave and the font are fifteenth century. Near the ‘Plush Door’ is a heavily carved Poor Box, that has collected alms for the past five hundred years.
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