Psst. Pssst. I hear there’s a great old church up in Elkstone. 12th century. Norman arches — zig-zag jambs. You in? What, you’re not sure? 15th c font, 14th c porch, Jacobean altar rails, 12th c grave cover and 17th c table tombs in the graveyard … all in excellent condition … this is some good stuff. The village is in the Domesday Book. C’mon, it won’t take long. Just try it, if you like it we’ll stay, maybe see some more stuff.
This is how I’ve started talking to my family. I’m a pusher of antiquity. I’m hooked, and I want to hook them too, so they’ll come with me down whatever single-track pheasant-infested rickety-bridged lane I feel called to travel along at any particular moment.
This weekend, it was Elkstone Church, built in 1160 and dedicated to John the Evangelist. It’s the highest church in the Cotswolds (1000 feet above sea level) and something entirely unique. A walk through a misty and cold wooded graveyard, entry through a heavy wooden door through an unlit porch passage and then the final heavy door opens: I gasp and the interior breathes back at me.
Small churches in this romanesque style aren’t flashy or pyrotechnic like later gothic churches. They create space at a human level. The eye doesn’t bounce and soar and get tangled in tracery and dazzled in light — but the lungs can open, the eyes rest, the spirit calm.
We’re in the habit of lighting a candle at whatever church we visit, but Elkstone Church has a tradition I hadn’t seen before — a ribbon tree. How lovely, and fire-safety-conscious.
The chancel arches are simply amazing … you won’t find too many of these in England. To the left a small door to the dovecote above (locked today). Straight ahead, what feels like the glowing heart of the church, the 1929 stained glass virgin and child in original stone window arch.
To the right, the eucharist plate, so simply kept, where it has been for almost a thousand years. (A thousand years! Really think about that … hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of moments, standing in just that spot, looking out just that window, saying the same prayerful words.) Wish my camera were superior — the light was like a Van Eyk painting.
Turning around to walk to the west end of the church, we note the vampires
Here’s that 15th c font — I was getting a very Van Helsing sort of vibe at this point.
This is where I’ll be when the dark falls.
The tower is a later addition, with a very different feel
I came to marvel at the ancient stone but it’s just as marvelous to realize this is a living church. There are cushions in the stalls; fresh flowers in the windows; even the village cookbook for sale along with postcards and gospels. We brought home a cookbook.
Psst. Pssssst. I got a lead on some medieval stained glass windows. 28 of ‘em. The only complete medieval glazing scheme to survive in England. It won’t take long. Want to give it a try?