A visit to Tissington

The day was bitterly cold. Icy winds and heavy skies meant that it was definitely not the weather for tramping the moors on search of ancient stones. Instead, we had a run out to Tissington, knowing that one of the windows in the little Norman church there would be perfect to illustrate the post we were putting together for the Silent Eye’s April event.

The village is tiny… just a few old streets clustered around Tissington Hall in Derbyshire. The Hall has been the home of a single family, the FitzHerberts, for centuries and the ghosts that walk there, from cellar to landing, are their own. Orbs and lights, tobacco smoke and footsteps may follow you in the cellars… and a man dressed in black. In the Library, the temperature is prone to drop rapidly, while lamps move and vibrate and a spectral cat is a prowling presence whose voice has been caught in EVP recordings.

The most tragic story, however, is that of young Wilhelmina FitzHerbert, who died in 1862. Wilhelmina rose from her bed one night and picked up her lit candle; the breeze from the window caught her nightdress and set it alight. It was too late when they came and found her, terribly burned. She lingered in agony for three weeks before she died. Her room has an oppressive atmosphere. A dark shade has been seen by the bed in her room… a bed that shakes in the middle of the night… and the perfume of lavender lingers.

But it was the church we had come to see. We parked near the Hall Well, a spring that runs through the village and is decorated with flower-petal paintings for the well dressing ceremony each year. Between the well, the earthworks and the church, there has been a sacred site at Tissington since before recorded history.

There was a place of early Celtic worship here that later knew the Saxons, and the present church was built in around 1100 by the Normans. The tower and parts of the church are from this latter period, making them nine hundred years old. The tower, with its walls four feet thick and its ancient window, must have seen much history from its vantage point on the mound.

An avenue of majestic yews shelter the main entrance to the churchyard. At present the green space holds a promise of spring, dotted, as it is, with swathes of snowdrops, celandines and daisies.

Within the churchyard is a huge memorial cross in the Celtic style, the base of another, much older cross, and many fine gravestones, including a memorial to Frank Richard Allsop, a local man who died on the Titanic in 1912.

It was too cold to linger outside. Although we have been here before, I had forgotten about the doorway. It had come as a surprise the first time too. I’ve seen a fair few Saxon and Norman carvings since then, but this is still one of the strangest. There are none of the scenes of beasts or the mythical depictions we are used to. You might even miss the strangeness, so plain it seems at first glance. But look closer…

snow weekend 104
In the centre of the simple patterned semicircle a cross is inset with the small carved blocks, but it is the two figures that catch your attention. They are crudely carved, far more so than the deep reliefs we have seen. Very simple in style, almost like a child’s drawing. They stand, one either side of the nine hundred year old arch, arms akimbo, watching.

snow weekend 105

At first glance, we thought of the idea of the Divine Twins again, a theme that keeps cropping up in our wanderings. But there are differences. Perhaps they are not twins, but two sides of One thing? The one on the right is slightly taller and wears a longer robe. He seems more severe in his expression, or perhaps quizzical, than his smaller companion with his knee-length coat and an unmistakable smile. You cannot help but wonder to what the masons who carved them were making allusion. What story were they telling? A Christian tale from the Bible, or something older that lingered in the hearts and minds of the local people?

Inside the little church is a peaceful place of old wood, graceful arches and treasures of times long gone by. There is a rather splendid organ for a small church, made by Albert Keates of Sheffield.  The Norman chancel arch separates the nave from the altar, but has lost one of its uprights to an ornate tomb.

The Communion rail before the altar is beautifully carved and dates from around 1570. The chancel contains several seventeenth century memorials and is lit by three bright and relatively modern windows.

Many of the memorials are to members of the Fitzherbert family. One, surmounted by fat cherubs, is to Mary Fitzherbert, who died in 1677.  On the other  side of the altar is a more severe memorial to William, who died twenty years later, aged seventy-two.

Throughout the church there are monuments and traces of the Fitzherbert family who have held Tissington Hall and the village for centuries.

The most impressive is the tiered seventeenth century memorial to the north of the chancel arch, with its kneeling portraits of Francis and his family. I have to wonder about the story behind the heraldry. the upraised fist usually signifies fealty but the blue crescent is an odd detail.

snow weekend 126The Norman font though, has to be the most fascinating artefact in the church. It stands in front of the organ near the base of the tower, a simple, unattractive and ancient bowl… at first glance, anyway. But again, look a little closer…

snow weekend 119

The carvings may occupy us for some time to come. A pair of figures yet again, standing side by side. Follow the design round and there are large and ferocious beasts with strange, serpentine tails… lions, perhaps, carved by someone who had never seen one? Or stylised wolves? Following the design, one beast captures a delicate deer whose head is in its maw while a bird flees its grasp. Further round there is another beast, and this one holds a human head in its mouth.


Just what story are we looking at here? Because they were stories… myths, legends, pagan and Christian… Saxon, Norse and Norman stories all seem portrayed in these ancient artefacts. We do not have the certainty or knowledge to say this is what they were saying. We can do the research, learn what the experts may think, except the experts all seem to say little more than that the carvings are crude and badly done!

Ultimately these images, like the very architecture of these sacred places, were designed to speak without words to something deeper than logic. By looking and trying to join the dots of missing centuries, perhaps we may come closer without knowledge to a truer understanding. Sometimes I think, we think too much.

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 albion, Ancient sites, Art, Churches, Don and Wen, mystery, Photography, Spirituality, Stuart France and Sue Vincent, symbolism, The Silent Eye and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

57 Responses to A visit to Tissington

  1. Hmmm… ‘Jessica Orb and the Blue Altar’…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sue, I love when you take us on these journeys with you. The church is beautiful and mystical. I can only imagine the vibes you got while visiting. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jenanita01 says:

    And brimfull of secrets, too…


  4. stevetanham says:

    Reblogged this on Sun in Gemini and commented:
    From Sue…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mary Smith says:

    What a fascinating little church and I’m intrigued by those two figures and what they represented to the people who carved them.


  6. A most interesting place to visit, Sue. I really enjoyed the ghost story although it is a tragic tale.


  7. macjam47 says:

    Sue, this is one of your most fascinating posts. The ghosts that walk Tissington Hall, the church, the figures on the door and on the baptismal font – the history of it all makes this one of my favorite posts. Love and hugs, dear friend. ♥️♥️♥️


  8. macjam47 says:

    Reblogged this on BOOK CHAT and commented:
    A fabulous and extremely interesting post by Sue Vincent. Please enjoy and check out Sue’s blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Very intriguing. I think I would have enjoyed this outing, even though there were no stones in circles 😉


  10. What a fascinating place, Sue, beautiful and rich with layers of history. I was particularly mesmerized by this one. “The experts seem to say little more than that the carvings are crude and badly done!” So much for experts! The mysterious carvings are amazing glimpses into another time and the people who lived there.


  11. Pingback: A visit to Tissington — Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo | O LADO ESCURO DA LUA

  12. Darlene says:

    Fascinating as always. I agree, perhaps we think too much into these things which were most likely very simple ideas.


  13. Hélène - Willow Poetry says:

    I so love these journeys with you Sue. You make it all come alive with fascinating photos, information and descriptions. It must be awesome to visit such places. I would definitely enjoy walking through the FitzHerbert house.


  14. Widdershins says:

    Yep, turning the ‘thinks’ of often leads to deeper insights. 😀 funny how that works. 🙂


  15. blosslyn says:

    Now that font is interesting, has got me wondering 🙂


  16. Ste J says:

    Great photos! I loved Tissington when I lived in that part of the world and your photos bring back some good memories.


  17. willowdot21 says:

    Such a beautiful place 💜


  18. A lovely reminder that when visiting these wondrous old buildings we should give more than a cursory glance taking in the whole. Examine things closely, without embarrassment and try to get inside the minds of those who’ve come before. Your search will be well rewarded.


  19. Pingback: Tissington | Haunted Derbyshire – Tales of the Paranormal

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