The Saxon Church in the Buckinghamshire village of Little Missenden is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.
The oldest part dates from around 975 AD. The chancel, North Chapel and porch were built in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries respectively.
By the 18th century it appears that some repairs were urgently needed, for it was then that the exterior of the south aisle was rebuilt in brick.
The church, however, is especially known for its 13th century murals which really serve to enhance the sense that we are visiting bygone times.
All in all, a nice bit of history without undue Victorian intervention.
My pictures are grouped, partly by subject and partly by the order in which I took them. The lighting within a church is not always that good, so to some pictures I needed to give the GIMP treatment; however, I hope you will get some idea of the interesting aspects of this church.
The church greets us as we enter Little Missenden from the wooded hills opposite to the north.
When entering the church, the first impression is that the interior is rough-hewn - walls and roof. However, closer inspection reveals that at one time, all the walls in the nave were painted with murals.
The nave was at one time painted with many murals, most of which have suffered at the hand of time. Likewise, some roof timbers have needed replacing over the centuries.
The altar area is reached without the rood screen found in many parish churches.
Murals - or wall paintings - were used to impart scenes from the Bible to the parishioners, many of whom were illiterate. Indeed, reading and writing in English and Latin were often confined to the priest and to the village squire and his family and any local nobility.
So, speech and pictures were the only ways to impart the religious message to many of the local populace.
Oliver Cromwell, Puritan that he was, thought that murals, instead of educating the populace, would do just the opposite. He had the murals in every parish church in the land whitewashed over, and it is only in recent times that this medieval art form has come to light. In Little Missenden, that happened in 1931, by which time Cromwell was long gone and his religious strictness confined to the past.
The best preserved mural greets visitors as they enter the church.
This 13th-century mural shows Saint Christopher with a young Jesus.
As you may know, "Christopher" comes from the Greek and means "bearer of Christ".
Memorials make interesting reading since they can provide an insight into times past and often reveal interesting connections with other parts of the globe. Of course, only those of the upper echelons of society had wall mounted memorials. Those half way down the social ladder often made do with stone slabs, preferably placed as close to the altar as possible. The rest had to be content with their memories inscribed on gravestones outside the church, gravestones which were subject to the effects of the elements, lichen and anything else that gradually but inexorably eroded the stone. Perhaps their memories survived in dusty church records. Time marches on relentlessly!
These two pictures are of the memorial to Mary, younger daughter of Francis Style.
Mary had two children, and it seems that she died while they were still young. "She departed this life the 30th of January 1671 whose pious life & godly end may serve as a good example for the imitation of those left behind her." (This is direct quote from the memorial, so the English may appear a tad strange to us 345 years - almost 3½ centuries - later.)
The adjacent slab, slightly closer to the altar, commemorates Mrs Sarah Style who left us in 1679. The crest is the same as in the previous memorial and seems to be that of the Style family. I have "cut" the slab into three sections for clarity, but did not wish to move the altar kneelers covering part of the lower slab - at least not without contacting the churchwarden.
Anyway, Sarah was twice married. The first time she married John Penn of the village of Penn, a little to the south from here. Yes, you have probably guessed it - "Penn" has connections with Pennsylvania in the USA.
Sarah married a second time, this time to Robert Style - hence the connection with the Style family.
Another stone slab commemorates Charles Philipps, who died in 1743, aged 40. What was his claim to fame? Well, he probably had some prestige in Little Missenden, since he is commemorated by this stone slab (part shown here) gracing the church floor. By today's average standards for the UK, he died young. You can download his will (0.5 MB and £3.50) from the National Archive Office.
I bet he didn't know that!
We move on about half a century - having metaphorically survived the effects of the French Revolution! - and come to Colonel Badock's wall-mounted monument. Now he certainly was a person of local prestige - at least as far as the inscription (and I quote the first part) tells us.
"Near this place are deposited
the remains of
Lovell Badcock Esq
of Little Missenden Abbey and Bledlow
Magistrate of this County
and formerly Colonel of the Bucks Militia
who departed this life on the 17 of July 1797
aged 53 years.
A "militia" is generally raised from the local populace and supports the main regiments of the land. As such, the Bucks Militia may also have acted as a local police force. In addition, Colonel Badcock also became a magistrate. I suspect there may have been some parallel with London's "Bow Street Runners" (1745 - 1839) which are regarded as a nascent police force and were founded by the magistrate (and novelist) Henry Fielding.
The militia maintains the law, the magistrate dispenses it.
Now we move on 82 years, to the Victorian era.
This monument (and I quote a little bit) refers to a Mary Bird.
"In Loving Memory of Mary Frances Bird
who died on the 7th of December, 1879, in the 60th year of her age
It goes on to speak about her work for the poor of the parish. This reminds us that there was no state social support in those days. Another aspect for reflection as we proceed through our daily lives!
A parish church is often filled with many more artefacts. Here I focus a little on carvings, stained glass and a nicely executed board describing benefactions to the parish. I can't say that I know too much about their respective wider contexts, but I'll try my humble best!
In Little Missenden's church, as we mentioned above, the altar area is not separated from the main congregation by a Rood Screen. Be that as it may, there are some interesting examples of stained glass as well as some carvings. Examples of the latter are also elsewhere in the church.
Here is a detail of the carving to the right of the altar. It obviously depicts Mary and Child. It looks a bit new-age, but here is another gap - one of many - in my knowledge.
You may be able to fill the gap!
In AD 634 the Roman missionary, Saint Birinius, founded a cathedral at Dorchester-on-Thames (no, not the Dorchester further south). To cut the story short, the Wessex Bishops of Dorchester were succeeded by the Bishops of Winchester in AD 660. These clerics seemed to get about, even though the horse and walking were really the main forms of transport on land. I'm not sure about the Leicester connection, depicted in the window;
however, dear reader, you may be able to enlighten me.
This stained-glass window was presented by the Vicar - which one and when I don't know. As you can, see, it represents biblical scenes. Cromwell would not have approved!
This shows information about the benefactions to the parish and refers to the years 1775 and 1787. The French Revolution had just been raging further south across the channel.
Here I have "GIMPed" the picture. It makes intriguing reading. There was no State provision for the poor in the 18th century. That had to wait for the post-WWII "From the Cradle to the Grave" policy. The sums and items shown appear rather patavinic by today's standards.
How times have moved on over more than two centuries!
This is the place and opportunity to thank John Churchill for his excellent walk today and for introducing us to this excellent statement of England's past. I would like to thank everyone for their interest in this splendid building. Some of us in CLOG first encountered this gem of a church almost four years ago on Nick's fine walk from Amersham to Wendover, a walk which covered part of this route. Repetition is often a good thing, and is the way we preserve pleasant experiences - as brought out by BBC4's "Inside Science" program at 16:30 a few days ago.
As mentioned before, when describing Otford Church in connection with
Ralph's Otford walk, earlier this year, churches, of course, have a primary religious purpose. However, village churches also used to have the secular purpose of a Village Hall and meeting place. In fact, religion and everyday life were very closely intertwined for practically everyone living in an English village; thus village churches are a splendid reflection of the history and culture of that locality and very often of the nation as a whole. This is why I find such churches so particularly fascinating! It's all part of my life-long education.
Here is a last look at Little Missenden's church ...
... which recedes as we head towards "down-town" Little Missenden
As mentioned, these pictures were taken by me on Sunday, 28th February 2016, on
John Churchill's fine CLOG walk around Amersham
. Thank you John, for suggesting and leading this walk. Thank you all for your good company on this walk - and for putting up with my penchant for delving into matters historical and cultural.