Dunster's Grade I listed Church is dedicated to Saint George. It is mainly 15th century but the 12th and 13th centuries also feature in its fabric. This, along with the churches in Minehead and Bishops Lydeard are known as "wool churches" since their construction and internal decoration benefitted from the wool trade in the Middle Ages. In fact, Dunster was a kind of mediaeval business centre founded on sheep! As can be expected, many of the monuments are connected with the Luttrell family who used to own Dunster Castle. Anyway, the church simply oozed history - lots of history. What is interesting is not just the artistic aspect of many of the monuments, but of course, what can be read into them regarding the conditions of the time. The church was indeed a fitting "preface" to our visit to Dunster Castle.
The fine Mediaeval Carving is one of the artistic highlights of Dunster Church.
So here is what these pages have in store for you. Even if you were not able to join us, here's your chance to find out about this cultural ingredient to our enjoyable Bank Holiday walk - Minehead Circular via Dunster.
Enjoy your visit!
As we descend along the Macmillan Way into Dunster, the fine mediaeval church comes into view. We can appreciate the church in the context of the surrounding landscape and the Bristol Channel beyond. There is still a little way to go as we negotiate the thriving allotments which provide a pleasantly creative pastime for "Dunsterians".
As we approach Dunster, its church appears against the backcloth of the Bristol Channel.
The lych-gate beckons us ...
... and the church flowers welcome us.
A splendid mediaeval rood screen ...
... and a fine roof amaze us.
Dunster Church was one of the local "wool churches", and the wealth generated by the wool trade expressed itself, as in the case of the other "wool churches", in the fine intricate carvings which grace the rood screens and the roofs.
As we have just6 seen, there is more than one rood screen. This is the main screen, ...
... which looks even better with enhanced lighting.
And here is another view so that you can appreciate the splendid work of the mediaeval craftsmen.
This is one of the side roofs. Each boss appears to be different.
Beneath the church tower is this carved roof with its ornate crest in the centre.
When I was here in 2009, floodlighting made this fine mediaeval work really stand out,
but you can still appreciate it in this view.
And why! I've just found the 2009 picture!
The monuments were mainly to the Luttrell family, although there was a mediaeval floor slab which I did not have time to decipher. In a way, Saint George's church was a sort of mausoleum to the Luttrell family.
The opening lines of the description, Elizabethan English, read:
"HERE LYETH THE BODY OF THOMAS LVTTRELL ESQVIRE
DEPARTED THIS LYFE IN SVRE HOPE OF A MOST JOYFUL
RESVRECTION THE 16 DAY OF JANY. ANO. DOM 1570 ANO. 13 of ELIZA
BETH LATE QVEEN OF ENGLAND BEING THEN HIGH SHERIFF OF ..."
This monument has been got at. Perhaps a mediaeval misdeed.
It's probably one of the Luttrells.
This monument bears the following Latin inscription.
Hic jacent Cinerea
Dilectae Uxoris FRANCISCI LUTTRELL
filia et haeredis
CAROLI STUCLEY de PLYMOUTH armigeri
Quam post breve sed felicissimum spatium vitae
Conjugalis, Mors immatura abstulit :
Grata Amicis, benigna Pauperibus Omnibus cara
die Octobris 1731 Aetat 21
Relinquens unicam filiam
Spem et Solamen
Here is my humble translation. Latin scholars might wish to suggest improvements!
Here lie the ashes
the dearly beloved wife of FRANCIS LUTTRELL
and daughter and heir of
the bearer of arms CHARLES STUCLEY of PLYMOUTH.
After a short but very happy term of married life,
she was snatched away by an untimely death.
loved by her friends, kind to the poor and beloved by all.
mourned by all
on the 30th day of October 1731 aged 21,
leaving behind a single daughter
[a source of] hope and solice
to her most unhappy husband.
Here are my initial humble observations.
(1) Anne died when she was only 21. No indication is given in the inscription, but her passing away may have been as a result of child birth, or its immediate aftermath.
In the 18th century, medical knowledge, even for the more privileged members of society, had not advanced to the level we can enjoy today.
(2) Even in 1731, cremation was an option instead of interment.
I didn't have time to decipher the inscription on this mediaeval floor slab. However, as you can see, the style of writing is the first hurdle when trying to find out what an august lady this person was.
Hatchments are usually very colourful and generally painted very beautifully with the crest of the departed person. Hatchments are actually "Attachments" to the coffins when their occupants make their last journeys. The hatchments here in Dunster are placed high on one the walls of the church - in fact, very close to the roof. I managed to photograph six of a total of (I think) eight hatchments, despite the lack of sufficient light. As a guesstimate, I would humbly reckon that these hatchments each measure about 3' between opposite tips.
Many of the hatchments bear the Luttrell motto, namely:
"QUAESITA MARTE TUENDA ARTE",
in other words,
"That which is acquired by war must be closely defended."
There are mediaeval remains at the foot of the steep descent from the south west coast path.
These are presumed to be of a thanksgiving chapel for members of the Luttrell family for their safe return from engagements in Burgundy. In this case, it is possible that some of the Luttrells' great wealth may be derived from these engagements. Of course, the wealth had to be defended against the actions of other interested parties.
The time has come to leave this interesting church. The castle beckons. However, before leaving we notice the Royal Coat of Arms of Charles II. Then we enter the life of the here-and-now in Dunster's busy High Street.
Charles II ordained that all churches should show a copy of his royal coat of arms.
This is Dunster's contribution.
A neat flower arrangement in the porch bids us farewell.
We leave the church ...
...through the churchyard with its lush summer grass.
Then it's 2017 again.
Dunster Castle awaits.