15 February 2008

Wyverns in Sampford Brett

Sampford Brett is a very small village in the County of Somerset in South West England. My path often takes me through this village when I walk through the meadows, the woods and the fields around Williton (a village bigger than Sampford Brett). Sampford Brett is a village with some very old houses, with a beautiful garden (next to the church) that has stolen my heart and with an old church; a Gothic church naturally, The Church of St.George. Around the church there is an old cemetery (which is usual in the case of old churches in Europe). Some of the graves are extremely old. If you come across it by accident in the middle of the day, let's say in the summer, you will be delighted by the silence of this place, the beauty of the trees and the rose garden (by the entrance). Of course the present building of St. George Church cannot really be appreciated without some knowledge of how all this came about. This church is not the most amazing, or most beautiful medieval church in Somerset, but it has its own charm and attraction and an interesting history. The exact age of the church is uncertain but everything points to its foundation during the first q

uarter of the XIII century. By the end of the XIII century, the church consisted of a nave, chancel and a north transept. The tower was added in the XIV century, forming the main entrance to the church, and completing the basic structure which remained for almost five hundred years. In the XV century the use of the Perpendicular style of Gothic architecture was in full swing (and you can discover it in many medieval Somerset churches) and so the north transept of the St. George was extended, the walls of the nave and north transept were raised and new roofs added. Other major changes took place in XIX century. The style of this restoration is that of the early Victorian Gothic revival; very different in spirit and execution from the original. The results are still to be seen today, and they are the essence of the present church.

As you step from the porch into the nave your first sight of the interior of the church is an uninterrupted view through the nave and chancel to the east window. This is the body of the original church. The line of the roof still runs unbroken to the entrance to the chancel, confirming the medieval origin of the nave. The carved wooden roof bosses are part of the original roof. Although some of them are not in a very good state of preservation, they show great variety of style and subject matter. If you will look carefully you will find what I found, two creatures from the medieval bestiary; a pair of wyverns. Do you know what wyverns are? Wyverns are dragons with bat-like wings, long necks and only two legs. I also found in the roof of the nave a griffin and some vine leaves with a bunch of grapes. While you are outside the church if you look carefully up towards the tower you can discover a few remaining gargoyles; the evidence of the true Gothic style.

The most interesting and puzzling features of the church are the carved wooden bench ends. I couldn't believe that such a small unimportant village church in the middle of nowhere (who has heard of Sampford Brett?) could posses such incredibly wonderful artwork. No one knows how long they have been in the church, or how they came together as a collection. One of the wooden bench ends is associated with Florence Wyndham and the local legend about her. But expect more about this in my next post. See you soon.

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