WHIT WALK 2023 (PART 3)
Concluding the white walk with a visit to Bolnhurst and Keysoe. May 2023
The ‘Whit Walk’, which was held on a glorious Saturday in May 2023 continued. We had left Colmworth and headed towards neighbouring Bolnhurst, the fourth church of the day in what was scheduled to be a five church walk. We had started off with breakfast at Ravensden, moving on to Wilden where we stopped off for coffee and cake; then on to Colmworth where we had lunch. There was a short service at each church and the dozen or so, plus one dog, taking part were in good spirits; and to be fair pretty full of food.
The church of St Dunstan at Bolnhurst stands isolated in fields, off to the south west of the village; the square battlemented tower visible above the trees as we approached from the east. A track led across a field and we entered the church grounds through a gap in the trees which pretty much encircled this delightful church.
There was a priest mentioned here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086 but the present church has 13th century origins, with the majority of the structure dating from the 15th century.
The chancel dates back to the 13th century, but with 15th century alterations. The west tower, nave, south porch and nave roof all date from the 15th century, with the roof having a date stamp of 1666, showing the date of repairs.
This is a pleasing church visually. Not for the first time today, we have a church with no aisles or clerestories, which consists of west tower, nave, south porch, north vestry and chancel.
The four stage west tower is heavily buttressed, with the tower and nave battlemented. The chancel has steeply pitched roof and a closer look at the chancel wall from the east shows where the original chancel was rebuilt. The base of a medieval churchyard cross can be seen to the south. This is a simple, elegant small village church. I liked it very much.
Moving inside, the visitor is struck by an impressive surviving wall painting of St Christopher, in its usual place on the north wall opposite the south doorway. This one sadly has a roof support punched through St Christopher’s head.
Nave is separated from chancel by a 15th century rood screen. Moving in to the chancel, the altar is small with red altar cloth; with red being the liturgical colour used for Whitsun/Pentecost. Against the east end of the south wall is a double piscina, with a sill alongside acting as a sedilia; the seating for the priests during the Mass.
On the north wall is a recess which has in it a coat of arms in it. Close by, under the north window, there is a small rectangular recess which might possibly be a compartment used as an Easter sepulchre. If yes, this would be another glimpse in to the life of a pre Reformation church in Catholic days. Here, a cross and other sacred elements would be placed in to the recess on Good Friday, where a vigil was held over them until Easter Day when they would symbolically be taken out; this replicating the resurrection of the risen Christ after three days.
There is a good amount of stained glass here. The east window of the chancel is of three lights and has stained glass on two levels. The top level shows, from left to right, Jesus at prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he prepares to drink from the cup that he is drink from. Disciples sleep in the foreground.
Central we have the crucifixion. Mary the Mother of Jesus and John occupy their traditional places alongside the cross, with Mary wearing a blood red cloak over her traditional blue one. Mary Magdalene is at the foot of the cross, in deep despair, but is behind the cross rather than in front as she is normally found. A fourth male character may be John the Baptist; it is hard to tell and whoever it is wouldn’t normally be there.
The third panel depicts the resurrection, with the risen Christ emerging from the tomb in front of sleeping Roman guards.
Below is a three light depiction of the nativity, with the wise men and shepherds together. At the risk of sounding even more boring that you already suspect I am; when wise men and shepherds are shown together, the shepherds and normally to the left as we look at it. Here this is reversed.
A two light window shows Jesus being presented to Simeon in the temple and Jesus being baptised by John the Baptist. One further window shows the Last Supper, with John leaning in to Jesus whilst Judas looks away clutching a bag of money. We also have the ascension.
A three light panel shows the baptism of Jesus and the four Gospel writers are shown in another window, along with the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God. Also shown is Pelican Piety where a mother Pelican tears at her chest and feeds her chicks her blood. This is often used as a Christian analogy for the blood that Christ shed for us.
Finally, we have a depiction of a bishop who I am assuming is St Dunstan after who the church is dedicated.
Once again the refreshments were top notch and our social time ended with a short service. We left the cool of the church, to be met with the heat of the afternoon as the part made its way south towards Keysoe, our final church of the day.
I have fond memories of the church of St Mary the Virgin at Keysoe, visiting there on a beautiful mid Summer Saturday in 2013 whilst on a four day cycling churchcrawl of the area. The church was open that day, with cream teas being served. A very pleasant time was spent, with a brief visit afterwards to a thatched Baptist chapel at nearby Keysoe Row. I had hoped that the walk back might take us past that chapel but I was informed that. Sadly, the chapel was closed and was now a private residence.
This final leg was quite flat and easy going, with the walk totalling a little less than ten miles. The tall spire of St Mary stood out above the trees and we walked through this pleasant Bedfordshire village, with the church off to the south west.
As we arrived the sun had moved around to the west. It had by no means started to set but it did make photographing the church from the east a little bit more difficult. The church here dates back to the 12th century, with additions up to the 15th century and Victorian restoration. It consists of west tower with spire, chancel with north aisle and clerestories, south porch north chapel and chancel.
The north aisle was added to the original 12th century church during the 14th century, along with possibly the south porch. The west tower and north chapel were added during the 15th century with the clerestory also being added at that time.
The perpendicular west tower is a fine, substantial structure; of four stages, heavily buttressed and battlemented with pinnacles at the four corners. A recessed, octagonal broach spire with three tiers of gabled lucarne windows rises up.
A very interesting wall plaque can be seen on the west wall of the tower, by the side of the west door. It tells the story of a worker called William Dickins, who fell from the tower whilst working on the steeple. He cried out to Christ for mercy on the way down; surviving the fall and passing away 41 years later at the age of 73, which was a good age for those days. The full inscription (which my spell checker did not much care for) reads as follows…
‘In Memory of the Mighty hand of the Great God and Our Saviour Jesus Christ, Who Preserved the Life of Wilm Dickins Aprl 17th 1718 when he was Pointing the Steepel and Fell From the Rige of the Middel Window in the Spiar Over the South West Pinackel he Dropt Upon the Batelment and their Broake his Leg and foot and Drove Down 2 Long Copein Stone and so fell to the Ground with his Neck Upon one Standard of his Chear When the Other End took the Ground Which was the Nearest of Killing him Yet when he See he was Faling Crid Out to his Brother Lord Daniel Wots the Matter Lord Have Mercy Upon Me Christ Have Mercy Upon me Lord Jesus Christ Help me. But Now Almost to the Ground. Died Nov 29, 1759. Aged 73 Years’.
Gargoyles can be seen central on all four sides of the tower, lichen encrusted and in various stages of distress, with one holding its head in its hands, with the top of its head missing.
The south porch has an ancient trefoil headed recess over the door, which has a modern statue of the Virgin Mary after who the church is dedicated. A look at the south wall of the chancel shows an original 12th century priests door, with semi circular arch. A fine church!
As we went inside, preparations were under way for the evening sit down meal; a buffet with around 20 people sitting down to eat together. I took the opportunity to have a look around the interior
The north arcade here is of three bays, with octagonal piers and moulded capitals. This is thought to date from around 1340, a few years before the Black Death decimated Europe and Asia. High up to the north of the chancel arch is a doorway to the rood loft. The pointed chancel arch itself is thought to date from the 14th century.
Moving in to the chancel, there is a piscina and sedilia against the south wall and there is also a piscina on the east wall of the north chapel, meaning that the Mass was celebrated on each of these altars.
There is a two bay arcade separating the chancel from the north chapel, with the most westerly of these bays containing the church organ. The east window in the chancel is of three lights and depicts the crucifixion. Mary the mother of Jesus and John occupy their usual positions alongside the cross, with lilies symbolising purity and sunflowers immediately alongside the cross. Spiritually, sunflowers symbolise purity and true love. The script running below reads ‘By Thy Cross and Passion Good Lord Deliver Us’.
The east window of the north chapel is of tinted Victorian glass but there is a trinity shield on one small panel. This was a diagram which was often used to explain the concept of the trinity. It consists of four nodes. The three outer nodes would have been labelled with the elements of the trinity “Father” “Son” and “Holy Spirit”. The inner node would have been labelled “God”. Six lines connect the nodes and these lines would have been marked either “is” or “is not” Twelve statements can be made as follows…
The Father is God" "The Son is God" "The Holy Spirit is God" "God is the Father" "God is the Son" "God is the Holy Spirit" "The Father is not the Son" "The Father is not the Holy Spirit" "The Son is not the Father" "The Son is not the Holy Spirit" "The Holy Spirit is not the Father" "The Holy Spirit is not the Son"
The font is interesting; and is thought to date from the 13th century. This is unusual in that it has an inscription around the base in French asking for prayers for someone called Warel.
We sat down together, we ate together, we prayed together and we sang together. This was a wonderful way of spending a Saturday. It was time to head back towards Peterborough but I took with me some lovely memories of the day. For anyone that was part of the day who happens to see this, thank you for your company and it was great to be able to spend a little time with you.