New fangled things - the 17th Century font at Wensley Church, Wensleydale
In late summer when the fields are ripe and swallows with the insects soar, sit calmly on your horse dear friend and let your eyes rise forth…
Ah, late summer, when the harvest’s in, that’s the time to share in the beauties of our land. Should your horse ever take you to Wensleydale, then here too can your spirit rise. If we can ride this vast dale and just take in the land around us then we rise above the commonplace and into the world of angels. We have entered heaven: but, as you know, any Yorkshireman will tell you that…
Wensleydale is a place to go to lose awareness of the troubles of our times: wars, riots, bombs and plots. Here, among the looming hills and ever-changing cloudscapes, you can lose yourself in the sublime beauty of nature.
Of course, in times past – the times I knew well – these lands were far from safe and that is why today you can still see the ruins of the glorious Bolton castle standing proudly on the side of the dale. Not far off is that other fastness: Middleham, a house so strong a thief would need to knock to gain entry.
These lands were strangers to safety then, but no more; today they are the companion to serenity. Breathe this air dear reader and fill your lungs with the bucolic balm of old England – and let me share with you Holy Trinity Church at Wensley, a favourite haunt of mine when resting from my quests.
What can I tell you of this place? Today, it is run by a body called the Churches Conservation Trust – no doubt a sign of our times (or yours). Strangely, since last I was here, there have been new additions. The tower looks new for a start – although I am reliably told it was built in 1719 (new by my standards though). There’s also a striking font bedecked in the puritan style with letters and numbers less complex than in my day. And the Bolton family pew seems a little too modern for my taste.
But looking around I see some older fittings whose place I remember well. Behind the current family pew is a much older and more spectacular fitting, exquisitely carved from oak although sadly, dear reader, a little worse for wear today. I still see the reliquary containing the relics of Saint Agatha where once I bowed and kissed. And on the walls, some remains of the paintings which once filled me with joy and dread at the same time. Our Lord guides us as he frightens us. We are in His hands, but motes of dust on the vision of creation.
But reader, let me tell you more. When I last visited this church over 500 years ago, I remember making acquaintance with some very special friends in the choir and, to my delight, they are still here! Bors the Dragon; Jankyn the Hare; Lancelot the Lion and many more. Oh, what joys! How I used to talk to them in private moments and how they talk to me now, whispering the secrets of the centuries in my ears! They will talk to you too, if you let them.
What a special place this is! Many years ago, long before your time, a good friend of mine lost a jewel in these lands near Middleham – a very precious golden square jewel bedecked with the names of the saints. I remember him saying to me in tears that he valued his jewel beyond price and even beyond love. Ah, what folly!
I told him then, as I tell you today, that there is greater jewellery in nature than ever could be made by man. Perhaps I was too harsh on the poor soul – today you can judge for yourself: take in the beauties of the dales and go and see a replica of his jewel in the church at Middleham.
It will be the perfect full stop on an exquisite day spent in these most beautiful lands.
Please note: many churches in Britain today are supported by the Churches Conservation Trust. These beautiful buildings are lucky to have such friends in times like these. Should you wish, you can learn more, become a member, and support the Trust here.