Thursday, July 17, 2008

Back from Graz!!! A Quick trip to a Saxon Style Church at Hailes

Well we are back! We had a fabulous time at Graz where 94 nations had competed for choral championships and --- we won a silver Diploma. Little Wales won a silver diploma when 35 choirs were not placed. Ten bronzes were given and ten silvers (we were no 7)We did very well-so I am pleased with this!!! We sang a Welsh Folk Song in four parts , Cyfrir Geifr, Kalinka in Russian , Tomorrow shall be my Dnacing Day by Rutter and Love Divine by Howard Goodall. I was very satisfied with this and the experience of Graz was wonderful!!!

Now I am very tired but ready to take up podcasting again!! And this blog. But recently, because I have been working up to the re evangelisation of England by St Augustine of Canterbury, thought I would visit the Saxon Church at Hailes in the Cotswolds. Hailes is more famous for its Abbey carrying the sacred relic of the Holy Blood to which many pilgrims flocked in the Middle Ages, but the Church is more interesting now, as it is in one piece-sadly the Abbey is ruins, but it contains some interesting stained glass from ancient times as well as wall paintings.

Photographing without superb equipment is difficult in the church. It is dark. There is no electricity and the church can only be lit by candlelight in the night hours for services and the candlight services at Christmas and concerts in the summer. The Saxon Church lies accross the road from Hailes Abbey.

The Chances are there was a wooden church here before this one. The name of the settlement Hailes comes from Anglo Saxon 'Health', 'Wholeness' and hence a state of spiritual health. There is also reason to suppose that the abbey too was preceeded by a Saxon one. The Church at Hailes exhibits none of the Gothic Romanesque style of other Norman Churches and looks more like the Odda's Chapel but larger with a bell tower which was probably a Norman addition.The first date given for the stone church is in the 12th century, when there are two sources referring to a church at Hailes. Sir William de Tancarville is said to have donated the Church to the monastery of St Geores de Boscherville, near Rouen. This family owned the manor of Hailes and were Chamberlains of aNormandy and England after the conquest and had their castle on the Seine (north of Le Havre).

The Church is also mentioned in the records of Winchcome Abbey which is nearby. It records, at any rate that the stone church was built at Hailes between 1139 and 1151.Ralph de Worcester had taken over the whole area, fortified a castle and built a church at Hailes, which was dedicated by te Bishop of Worcester.The monks at Winchcombe were alarmed as they thought it might affect their rights (burial dues) and tried to stop him.They were, however, frightened of Sir Ralph-a powerful Lord, who stole their daily supply of food and threatened them unless they allowed him to have the church dedicated.A comprimise was reached when he conceded the 7 shillings burial rites to Winchcombe.In 1191, the parish priest Father Simon refused to pay and there was a dispute with the abbey. Hailes was eventually recognised as a
"full Mother and Baptismal Church." Hailes still had to pay a fee of seven shillings a year to Winchcombe until 1309, when the payment was exchanged for some lands and tithes.

The Dedication-Our Lady of Hailes?

No dedication is recorded but Churches always were dedicated to someone, but no-one is recorded. All Catholic Churches, however were dedicated to the most Glorious Blessed Mother Mary, and this is likely to be the case here. Mary was the Vessel which gave birth to God and brought heaven to earth, so she is specially revered in church buildings and the Church as the Body of Christ.

Birth of Hailes Abbey 1246

Hailes Abbey was founded by a brother of Henry III when he had returned from the Crusade and the monastery was given to monks of te Cistercian order.Their rules meant they had to live ;far away from the concourse of men'and so the settlement of people at Hailes and monks of the Benedictine Order moved to Didbrook a few fields away. Only the church remained at Hailes which became part of the Abbey in 1248. Hailes churh became the visitors church, pilgrims and abbey workmen, as lay people outside the abbey were not allowed to used the abbey church, but monks probably staffed the Church for Mass.

Many changes architecture were made to Hailes Church in the 13th century to reflect its new association with Hailes Abbey. The eastern wall of the chancel was reconstructed with a round window, the Norman windows in the front were partly blocked, and Early English windows were added to the chancel and nave. The chancel was divided from the nave by a new pointed arch.

The font, sedlia and piscina were also added in this period. The piscina is known to be 13th-century because it has two drains: after the Lateran Council of 1216, which defined the doctrine of transubstantiation, the rinsings from the hands of the pirest after he had handled the Eucharist had to have their own drain. The wonderful wall paintings of the church were also added during this time.

Chancel ad Sanctuary

The church has a chancel is as long and as wide a the nave.
The nave floor is stone-flagged and tiled
The spectacular wall paintings are Early 14th C.
The roofs are 17th C renewals.
There is a sanctus bellcote.
The church was restored in 1905 by Prothero & Phillott.
The font is a 13th C plain octagonal stone bowl with a circular roll round the top. This bowl is mounted on an octagonal shaft set on a square plinth.
Four stone claws fill the diagonals. There are some fragments of 15th C glass in the stained glass windows of the church.

Saints of Hailes Church

St Christopher, Patron of Travellers

Located in the nave, opposite the entrance is a huge and superb wall painting of St Christopher in a place where he would always be found. The painting shows St Christopher, holding a staff and with the Christ child on his left shoulder. If you died suddenly without confession,(unshriven) it was believed that your soul went to hell, but viewing an image of St Christopher just prior to death would protect against this, hence they were often drawn on the walls of Churches

St Margaret of Antioch, Patron Saint of Childbrith

Devotion to this Eastern saint was very widespread in the middle Ages. A large shirne to venerate her relic was said to have been at st Tatheus' Church in Caerwent (now renamed St Stephens by the new Norman overlords, wo after all knew nothing about the British saint. It is reasonable to suppose that a similar painting would have been found at Caerwent during the Middle Ages. Devotions to st Marged were so strong that her Vita was even written among the Lives of the Cambro-British Saints.

St Margaret of Antiochis said to have encountered a dragon,was was swallowed by the dragon and freed herself by opening up its belly with her cross. In this painting, the artist has shown her thrusting the shaft of her cross down the beast's throat.There is a deal more about Blessed St Margaret, but I will keep it for a post on Caerwent Church.

The MediaevalFrieze and Bestiary

Located in the chancel, in the upper part of this photo, can be seen the painted frieze which used to form a continuous band of paintings depicting the Apostles and various other themes. Below this can be seen figures from the medieval bestiary, including a griffin (on the left, and the body of a lion and the head of an eagle) and a very cheerful looking elephant - with wing!

There is also a hare (on the right) and a goat fighting, with round shields.

Angels censing the Sanctuary

On each side of the east window, there are the angels kneeling and censing the holy Sanctuary. A lowered ceiling has broken into the border of vine leaf scroll with chevrons.Perhaps the window once contained an image of the Blessed Mother, which the angels were venerating.Basilisk and Griffon
On the right or the West window is the basilisk, whose stare was threatening. He was supposed to be able to kill a person just by looking at them, In the middle is a fruit tree and on the left is another griffon with a forked tongue. The eagle head is clearer in this painting than in the other.


Throughout the time of its building to the present day, there has been a problem with damp, because of the unique layout and landscape locally. I have a picture of a drain in the Abbey. The rood screen depicted also looks like it fits ill into the archway separating the sacred from the laity. The Nave (word means ship in Latin) where the ordinary people sat was meant to be like a ship taking worshippers to heaven. Like Noah, the congregation were in holy space, separated from worldly things, and pointing East towards Jerusalem and towards the Holy Altar, Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and images of heaven from Revelations. However these images will have been limed or chitewashed over in the time of either Elizabeth or efinately Cromwell, who trashed and ruined so many beautiful churches while rampaging around the countrysde. Without these magnificent pictures the church would indeed have been very plain. As the lime and plaseter flaked off the paintings were found underneath. The one of the Virgin is very fine and still quite preserved, as that of St Margaret of Antioch. There is also a hunting scene in the Nave perhaps warning against missing Mass for lesser persuits!

The font, near the door (because that is where baptism happens and life's journey begins) is also thirteenth century. It seems if Ralph did rebuild Hailes, he provided many beautiful artefacts to go in it. Missing is of course the original altar int which a saint's relic is always placed. In view of the only other saint in the sanctuary, it may have been a relic to St Margaret, who possibly may have been the dedicatee. Question is, what happened to the original altar with the relic? Is it buried somewhere in the grounds? Why would the paintings of Blessed St Margaret be there, as she would be more the subject of a parish church than that of men, childbirth, as it were, not being their preserve!

Please visit Hailes Church and Abbey. It is so charming, so calming and relaxing. The original holiness of the place has not gone away, in spite of the absence of the Virgin's statue in the Lily shaped apse, which must have been lovely at one time.

Such buildings were made glorious for God. In its paintings and 13-15th century stained glass windows, the one with the Blessed Virgin did not made it , it seems you can still see how wonderful this place was. Many of the tiles were still in situ on the floor of the nave and sanctuary. One of the Abbots of Hailes seems to have been buried in the sanctuary. The piscina still remains as I said. The bell tower is in good shape above.

The Shrine of the Most Hly Blood of Hailes

The shrine of the Holy Blood was given to the Abbey in the thirteenth century and from that time, the Cistercian Abbey at Hailes became a magnet for pilgrims from all over England Wales and Scotland. Many pilgrims will have celebrated Mass in Hailes Church as they would not have been able to use the monk's church. Of course the Abbey was callously destroyed by Henry VII officers. The Abbot tried to admit that the blood in the phial, brought from the Holy Land by the Crusading founder of Hailes Abbey Sir Ralph, which had no reason not to be genuine.It still amazes me what these evil men destroyed that was saced and precious. The new owner of the land was ....surprise surprise, the man who destroyed the church , moved into the abbey and declared the Holy Blood to be duck's blood! Spin was not invented in recent times. We learn from Eamon Duffy's book 'The Stripping of the Altars' that people actually loved their church and strenous efforts had to be made to turn them against it. The stone on which the Shrine was placed still exists at Hailes in the sanctaur area. For the longevity of existance of living tissue, I refer you to my post on the miracle of Lanciano.


I hope to be out and about in Monmouthshire next week and hope to be working on the following areas:

The St Bridget Dedications in Monmouthshire. Getting access to the church is always the difficult part! There are a number of St Bridget Churches at Wentloog near the sea West of Newport near St Mellons. At Skenfrith in North Gwent near Monmouth, and near Mathern in east Monmouthshire. There is also one connected to Llanarth known by the Welsh name of Llansantffraed. (Bride being the Welsh name for Bridget) She is an interesting saint.

Llantilio Crossenny

Llanvetherine Church Legendary burial place of Vortigern.

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