Tuesday, 12 April 2011

I Spy With My Stone Eye - A Fallen Statue at St Marys Church, Bampton

In the far off county of Oxfordshire there is a village called Bampton. And in that village there is a Church. And in that church, a statue fallen from grace - Cast down during a great storm in 1990. He is John the Baptist released from the stone about 1270 and along with three other statues he stood at the foot of the spire, but still high above all of the comings and goings of that place. For over 700 years he witnessed all - There was nothing that was hidden from him. For if this statue had eyes just think of all that he has seen….

St Marys Church, Bampton in Oxfordshire



St John the Baptist c.1270

From Plague to Peasants Revolt. From the destruction wreaked upon the Kingdom during the Wars of the Roses to the destruction wrought upon countryside, hearth and home, family and friend during the Civil Wars of the 17th century. Indeed it is with some certainty that I can say he would have seen the siege of Bampton Castle by then the site of a manor house. As a local historian writes, in 1645 Cromwell and his army were in mid-Oxfordshire, and on arrival at Bletchington, was advised that there was a sizeable body of Royalists at Woodstock, on their way to Faringdon. Cromwell immediately decided to engage the enemy, which he did at Bampton. The Royalists holed up in what Cromwell described as a ‘pretty strong house’, but after an overnight siege, eventually surrendered to superior forces. Quite which building was the ‘pretty strong house’ is not unequivocally known, although Bampton Castle is favoured by many historians. The Castle is south west of the church, affording John a perfect view from where he once stood watching.

John's friends of old still on high

He would have seen the enclosure of the large strip fields that came late to Bampton, yet still had the same effect, for he would have seen the building of the poor house where many of those who lost their meagre strips of land would have been forced to go.

St Marys viewed from the fields to the North

If the statue had eyes he would have seen so much, over a dozen lifetimes worth of watching. Yet imagine if he had had ears, for the having visited Ranworth Church in Norfolk and climbed the tower there with my good friend Munro, I can tell you from experience that the sound travels upwards with a clarity that if the passers by below were aware they would speak in whispers.

He would have heard earnest discussions about changes to religion, and perhaps during the time of the siege, many heated words. He would have heard deals being done in the church porch, perhaps even those that sealed the fate of many a poor farmer - what secrets he has kept! And from up on high he would have witnessed the best and worst of people - The best and worst of all that life has to offer. From birth to death, he was well placed up on high above the church porch to see the celebration of new life, many a happy and maybe not so happy marriage made in haste and the sadness of loss. Perhaps it is well his heart is made of stone, for he must have witnessed wailing and grief many times over... Yet I suspect there was welcome relief on a late summers evening when many a giggle wafted up from the porch below and many a maid scurried from the churchyard adjusting her dress, closely followed by a lusty youth with an all too smug look upon his face!

The view from John's new home

But now that has ended. He truly has had a fall from grace - He has come down in the world. Stuck now looking at the four walls of a pretty if heavily Victorianised church, and I suspect a prison to one who has witnessed so much. But there John will stay replaced by a new statue, although he'll have to weather many a storm if he is to beat John's record. Only another 700 years to go!

Johns's Replacement

But just imagine if he had eyes to see and ears to hear - what he will witness. Already he has seen a minor revolt this year over the closure of the local library, a sight all too common everywhere. But what else will his hard gaze settle upon? I suspect what ever it is, it will not be that different from all that John saw before…

+Many Coats+ R.S.A.R

6 comments:

  1. Enjoyed it very much, and the sepia tone photos are excellent.

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  2. Thank you Yellow Fringe and I will pass your comments onto the Contributions Secretary, for if he had his way the whole world would take on a sepia tint. I suspect he would like your comment very much!

    +Many Coats+

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  3. Oh Sir, one of your very best pieces of writing. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Compelling!

    ~ Munro Tweeder-Harris, Esq. ~

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  4. Thank you for your kind words my friend. Do you perchance remember that day up high in Ranworth? It was a good one. Ragged Rambling at its best. Good company, good laughs and a dam fine rood screen!
    +Many Coats+

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  5. I remember it well. I recall that I cried with laughter a one point! Huzzah to the memory!

    ~ Munro Tweeder-Harris, Esq. ~

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  6. As I recall,I laughed till I hiccuped liked a donkey. I also brought up some flask tea....
    +Many Coats+

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