Church crawl to St Andrew’s, Banwell                Tuesday, 19th August, 2014
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‘The Cathedral of the Mendips’ - we don’t know who gave this soubriquet to St Andrew’s, Banwell, but it may be because of the height of the nave ceiling. It’s certainly a building which is constantly drawing one’s gaze upwards, when one can tear it away from the splendour of the screen, chancel, and chancel ceiling. Christopher Marsden-Smedley described the area as, again, one which bears evidence of worship from at least 1,000 years BC - caves, a skeleton, stone and bronze age artefacts. As early as 885AD, Alfred the Great established a minster in Banwell. It was the principal church at a time when churches were still few and far between. Banwell Abbey was built in the middle ages, and, following a dispute involving Bishop Jocelin 1218 the abbey was converted into four dwelling houses. There’s no evidence of a church before the Norman era, and the present building is believed to date from 1417. On the western face of the tower is a representation of the Annunciation. In the Virgin Mary's niche there is a lily pot symbol of purity, and a lily leaf motif also to be found in the font and pulpit. This is regarded by some as the best in the country, and is 15C, whilst its sounding board is 17C. The font, of late Norman origin, is the church's oldest possession. The rood screen was installed in 1552. There is some high Victorian stained glass, and 2 windows retain some fine mediaeval glass, preferred by some for its clarity and lightness of touch. One of them, at the east end of the south aisle includes an illustration of a gory incident when a local mother, going on a trip for the installation of a bishop of the time, left her baby swaddled securely in its cot, filled with water and over a gently burning stove to keep it warm. She was distraught when she returned 3 days later to find the water simmering and her baby parboiled. The story ends happily, as such stories tend to do, with the baby recovering miraculously. Below that window some 16C flemish glass glass is displayed. The other mediaeval glassed window is at the east end of the north aisle, somewhat hidden by the highly decorated organ. The window at the west end of the south aisle looks mediaeval but is modern, and shares the valued qualities of the mediaeval. Over the south door hangs a royal coat of arms dating from 17C but redecorated, as we see it, in 1805. Like Wrington, the tower contains a ring of 10 bells. Andrew Densham defended the builders of such magnificent churches as this in the SW area from the charge of ‘buying their way into heaven’, rather seeing them as displaying their faith and piety in a more passionate and devoted way than congregations of the present era. The Revd Tom Ekin led the saying of compline under the superb ceilng of the chancel, after which the party removed to the Langford Inn which caters for the inner man.
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