The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Bishops Lydeard
To find the church using sat. nav, our post code is TA4 3AT.
The village of Bishops Lydeard belonged in the earliest times to the Bishop of Bath and Wells. In 1291 King Edward I granted a charter to Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells, to hold a weekly fair in the village, and two annual fairs, each for six days, at the Feasts of the Nativity and the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The original charter is still in existence. It was acquired some years ago by the village, and is now kept in the church.
There has been a church on the present site since Saxon times, but the oldest part of the present building is the north arcade, which dates from the end of the thirteenth century.
The church is built of red sandstone, with a tall, typically Somerset tower embellished with facings of creamy Ham Hill stone. It was built about 1450. It is one of the earliest of a group with the towers of Isle Abbots, Kingston and Staple Fitzpaine. On the south side of the church, east of the porch, note the Rood Turret housing the spiral stair leading to the top of the Rood Screen.
Inside, the north arcade, the older, is distinctly lower than the south arcade. The present form of the interior, though, is decidedly Victorian and later. The chancel was rebuilt on the original foundations about 1860, at which time the north aisle was extended east (it originally finished level with the chancel arch).
The Rood Screen was made, probably in Taunton, early in the sixteenth century. It is typical of the fan-vaulted screens being installed throughout Devon and Somerset at that time. it is complete, since when it was built there was no extension of the north aisle as there is now. It is unusual in that one band of the ornament along the richly carved cornice contains the Apostles Creed in Latin in an ornate Gothic script. The lower panels contain elaborate tracery. The colour was restored by Sir Ninian Comper based on traces found when it was being repaired. The figures of Our Lord, St Mary and St John are also the work of Comper, and were erected in 1948. The end of the barrel vault over the nave butting onto the chancel arch is richly embellished. This, the “Celure of the Rood” is an original medieval feature, and was placed there to form a canopy of honour over the figure of Christ crucified.
The pulpit is Jacobean, again with its colouring restored to agree with traces of its earlier colour. The stone base on which it stands is modern.
In the nave there are carved bench ends, mostly carved by a group of itinerant Flemish wood-carvers around 1540. People quite rightly come from all over to see them! Emblems of the Passion and of the Church, together with Green Men and local scenes, are represented. The small selection of photographs to the left have been kindly provided by Dr. Ed Fox, whose website has a magnificent set of 88 photos of the benchends in our church. These pictures may be enjoyed at https://www.flickr.com/photos/146827547@N03/albums/72157677306059712
The sanctuary, as redecorated by Comper in 1925 is a memorial to those killed in the First World War.
Passing through the screen, the chancel was furnished and re-ordered by Sir Ninian Comper as a War Memorial. The High Altar with its riddel posts surmounted by winged and gilded angels, with curtains to match the altar front in the liturgical colour of the season, is in the style that he advocated as the traditional English altar. Above it is a square tester or canopy, similar to the one which Comper erected over the altar of the Lady Chapel at Downside abbey. It has little angels at the corners, bearing shields of the Boles arms. The gilding round the east window, with the figures of seraphim, is also part of Comper’s scheme.
Except for a few small fragments assembled in a window in the old vestry, there is no surviving medieval glass. The stained glass in the aisle windows is all Victorian. Both the chancel east window and the Lady Chapel east window are by Comper, the chancel window part of the war memorial scheme, the Lady Chapel a memorial to Beatrice Ringrose, wife of Sir Denis Fortescue Boles of Watts House (now Cedar Falls health Farm). The parish was fortunate in the years leading up to World War I and between the wars in having two land-owning families, the Lethbridges of Sandhill Park and the Boles of Watts house, who both notably embellished the church.
It is strictly incorrect to have a Lady Chapel in a church dedicated to Our Lady. The second altar here, with its little chapel behind the screen, is sometimes known as the Jesus Chapel. However, the East window above the chapel altar depicts The Annunciation, so perhaps it should be known as the Chapel of the Annunciation.
In 2016, A Brief Guide to the Stained Glass Windows was researched, written and produced by Penny Gale, a member of St Mary’s congregation. In the Introduction to her booklet, Penny explains that the main ‘lights’ are described, with their associated biblical reference where possible. These have been taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV). The stained glass windows are Victorian and Perpendicular in style. Most are memorial donations and any dedications can be seen at the foot of the lights. The windows include the symbols of the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; The Annunciation (as mentioned above in what is described as ‘Lady Chapel’), the window depicting The Angel Gabriel pointing to Mary, Madonna Lilies and Mary, the Virgin holding a Bible. The Raising of Lazarus is depicted in the window on the South wall.
In the South aisle on the South wall, we are treated to depictions of St Peter, Jesus and St Paul; on the South wall in the Font area we have The Law and the Prophets: Elijah, Moses and John the Baptist. Also on the South wall in the Font area, but West facing are depicted the story of the Expulsion of Adam from the Garden of Eden, Jesus in Glory and Christ Crucified.
In the Tower area, West facing is a window depicting the Baptism of Jesus.
In the North aisle, West facing are two windows showing two different scenes from The Parable of the Talents, and a third depicting Jesus at the house of Martha and Mary at Bethany.
Remaining in the North aisle, but North facing are various scenes again from Jesus’ visits to the house of his friends at Bethany. In the window above the North door, there are depictions of Peter walking on the water; Jesus preaching from the boat; and Jesus asleep in the boat before stilling the storm. On the East side of the North Door in the North aisle, we can see Sarah and Isaac from the story in the Old Testament; Christ and the children from the Gospels; and Eunice and Timothy from one of S. Paul’s epistles. Also in the North aisle North facing, the windows show S. Christopher; S. John the Evangelist; and King Alfred the Great. There is yet another window, but this is clear lattice.
In the North aisle, at the East end over the door can be found the Four Evangelists, mentioned earlier above.
The East window above the High Altar in the Sanctuary is a First World War memorial, designed by Sir Ninian Comper in 1924. Also in this window are inserts at the foot of each light: Bishop Martin of Tours; The Virgin Mary; and S. George.
In the Sanctuary, South facing we find depictions of The Resurrection, and The Ascension.
In the Flower Vestry, there is a small late 15th or early 16th century window consisting of fragments of Medieval glass. On the left a Baptism is depicted; the right hand side shows the Virgin Mary holding Jesus. Above them is an uncrowned head and what appears to be the white rose of York or – possibly – a Tudor rose.
It is hoped that this very brief description, taken from Penny’s book and with her permission, will whet your appetite to come to see this amazing treasure trove of wonderful stained glass windows for yourself – and that you will be inspired to pay for a copy of Penny’s book so that you can take it away with you to enjoy at your leisure and as a reminder of your visit.
The unique tower at St Mary’s, houses a typical Somerset ring of 8 bells. The tenor, or heaviest bell, weighs 23¼ cwt. They were cast in 1776 by Thomas Pyke at Bridgwater. The bells were rehung in 1992 and lowered in the tower. Since that time the tower has been granted recognition as a teaching tower, gaining national status in 2004.
The tower was restored in 2006/7 during which time when the bells, which could not be rung due to scaffolding round the tower, were again given a new set of bearings and the clappers overhauled.
There is an active band of ringers who take part in many local ringing activities.
Anyone wishing to learn the fascinating art of English Change Ringing would be most welcome on a Tuesday evening when a beginners’ practice is held prior to the main practice.
For further information about the tower please contact Mike Hansford whose email is firstname.lastname@example.org