Saturday, 10 November 2012

Brook Church

In my initial post on this blog, I mentioned attending Compline in a beautiful medieval church (now in the care of our Anglican brethren), during my student days.

The chruch in question is St. Mary's, in the village of Brook, in Kent (incidentally, not far from St. Simon's, Ashford, where Fr. John Boyle of the Caritas in Veritate blog was formerly Parish Priest).

The following is a quote from the Church of England's website, regarding St. Mary's:-

"St. Mary’s Church Brook is famous for its medieval wall paintings, their quality and artistic content place it in the top 20 churches in the UK regarding quality of medieval wall paintings. They derive from the 12th / 13th Century and were originally painted in red with gold leaf, and today appear as dark brown on white.

The paintings in the chancel depict the Nativity, Ministry and Passion of our Lord. Paintings on the south wall of the nave are slightly larger and done in red and white. These apparently show incidents in a saint’s life. A key to all subjects of the paintings is to be found in the red-backed booklet at the rear of the church in the vestry. This has been prepared from notes by Professor Tristram and later experts who have cleaned and restored the wall-paintings. Those on the north wall of the nave are a palimpsest and very difficult to make out. Low down we may discern two fourteenth century figures, with two large seventeenth century texts above.

Over the north door is a faded wall painting of St. Christopher.

The architecture of a priest room overlooking the congregation is a special architectural feature, which only 3 churches in the UK can claim. A faded painting of the Lord in the Priest Room gives this room a very special atmosphere for prayers, reflection, and for finding the presence of the Lord."

The church is quite interesting from a point of view of what was preserved by locals at the time of the Reformation. Firstly, the wall paintings mentioned above were effectively protected behind whitewash. Then there was the altar - this was removed during the protestant reordering when wooden communion tables were mandated, but the mesa survived, having been dragged just outside into the churchyard, where it was presumably mistaken for a gravestone until its rediscovery in the 20th. Century; it has subsequently been restored to the sanctuary of the church, and to use. When I was there in the 1980's, parts of the original rood screen (complete with Cromwellian saw marks) had just turned up following structural alterations to the pub next door, where they had been incorporated into part of the bar; these had been returned to the church and were being stored in the vestry, although I don't think there has been any plan to reinstate the screen.
Other interesting features include the large Westwerk tower, incorporating accomodation for a priest (the 'Priest Room' mentied above), complete with its own altar (the ruined base of this is still in situ) and squints lloking into the main church (good for both devotional and security purposes (?)). A further squint in the north wall of the chancel and marks on the exterior stonework indicate that the church also once had a small cell attached to it, probably for the use of a resident anchorite.
The picture below shows the chancel, including the altar and some of the paintings (try also to imagine an oak rood loft and screen with panelling to altar-rail height across the arch, and you should get an idea of its original appearance).

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