Friday, 19 August 2016

Rood Screen and Tower, St John the Baptist Church, Carhampton

The colourfully painted and gilded rood screen in St John the Baptist Church in Carhampton is visually stunning and unusual. 

Rood screens are partitions, which were erected in medieval times to separate the chancel where the clergy worshipped and the nave where the people stood or sat.  They are usually made of wood and are often elaborately carved.  Rood is the Old English word for cross or crucifix and originally the screens would have had a statue of Jesus on the cross above them.  Often at each side of the crucifix there would have been statues of the Virgin Mary and St John.  Many roods and rood screens were removed during the English Reformation started by Henry VIII in the 1530s.

Some rood screens incorporate painted panels but it is unusual for the whole rood screen to be painted like the one at Carhampton.  Carhampton's rood screen has been dated to around 1500.  However the fact that it doesn't fit very well on the south side of the church where it ends in the middle of a window, indicates that it may have been moved to the church from elsewhere.  There was originally another earlier church located to the east of the current church, so it may have come from there.  The church was restored in 1862-63 and at this time the rood screen was painted by Miss Luttrell of Dunster Castle.

I have driven past this church hundreds of times but never realised that it contained such a gem.  We had parked at the recreation ground car park for a walk and on our return we realised that there was a flower festival in progress at the church.  We were able to climb up the tower and go out on the roof where we watched a steam train passing by.  The stone staircase is very narrow but it was possible to pass people going in the opposite direction in the ringing chamber and at the belfry. In the church a group of cheerful ladies were serving tea and cake at a very reasonable price.  The coffee cake I had was excellent.

The church has a ring of six bells.  They were originally cast in different centuries and by different founders from 1612 onwards.  However they were all melted down and recast in 1928 by Gillett & Johnson of Croydon. Each one has an inscription on it.  The one I could see most clearly said "repent I say be (baptised?)" and "Hugh Blackwell, Church Warden".

The theme of the flower festival was Authors, Poets and Playwrights.  Some of the authors chosen had local connections e.g. Hope Bourne (she wrote books and newspaper articles about Exmoor); Samuel Taylor Coleridge (the Rime of the Ancient Mariner begins in nearby Watchet); Hilary Binding (author of a number of local history books and regular member of the church until her death in 2014) and Cecil Alexander (author of the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful: she is reputed to have written the hymn while staying in Dunster and Grabbist Ridge is the "purple headed mountain" in the song). 

Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland
Rood Screen
Rood Screen
Old Meg Merillies by John Keats
Rood Screen meets the window on the south side
Rood Screen with Cross above
St John the Baptist Church, Carhampton
I'm not sure why the tower looks as though it is leaning.  It must be the angle from which I took the photo.
Looking west towards Minehead from the top of the tower

Pinnacle on the roof of the church
Looking north from the top of the tower
St George's Flag flying at the top of the tower
Ancient Mariner Display
Hope Bourne Display

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