The Reformation and Civil War
Essentially the structure of the building was complete by the middle of the 13th century. Let’s try to imagine how it would have been, say, a hundred years later, around 1350. We do not have much stained glass, and what we have is 19th century or later. Very possibly, there was a good deal more stained glass in the medieval period, as the glass, as we know, was a means of teaching the Christian faith using incidents and individuals, in a pre-literary age. Any medieval glass would have been destroyed either at the time of the Reformation or during the Cromwellian period. Wall paintings would have served the same educational purpose in medieval times, and would likewise have been defaced as idolatrous in the post-Reformation period. Some evidence of such wall paintings survives around the crossing.
Let’s move forward to a very formative period in English history – from the time of the Reformation under Henry VIII, through the turmoil of the English Civil War period, up to the Restoration Settlement in 1660 and afterwards. How different would the church have been in that period?
Sir Roy Strong has written recently about the use of space within church buildings, and has reminded us of a church’s function as a community centre and meeting place in medieval times, as well as a place of worship. Seating here in the Middle Ages would probably have been very limited, benches round the walls and not much more.
The focus of the interior would most certainly have been the High Altar, away at the East End, where the priest would celebrate the mass in Latin. There is evidence to suggest that there was a rood screen in medieval times. This separated the chancel and sanctuary, the holiest places of the church, from the nave where the congregation gathered.
Font water was often stolen for black magic purposes. The Puritans thought all this was superstitious nonsense, and took the cover away. From that time the water of baptism has had to be blessed anew each time it is required.
The Civil War
The font also lost its lead lining in the Civil War period. It was used to make bullets. Remember this was a war zone, with the Battle of Cheriton taking place just along the road, in 1644. The present font lining is a late 17th century replacement.
One addition in this period was the royal coat of arms above the south door, signifying that after the Reformation, the monarch, rather than the Pope, was the head of the church. Our coat of arms dates from 1613, from the reign of James I. Note the misspelling of ‘droit’…..
The remains of the four soldiers from the Civil War period were curiously buried upright; their remains are marked by the ‘Amens Plenty’ stone, now in the South Transept.The inscription is a sarcastic reference to the use of this expression for ending prayers.