ST. LAWRENCE CHURCH
A Guided Tour for Visitors
As you walk round, we hope to show you its many features and to demonstrate how the Church, as the Family of God, as well as the building itself, has adapted to the changes over the years This Church will enter its third Millennium in AD 2000, for its foundation lies well before the year 2000 AD. Each point of interest is described under a numbered 'station' These numbers you will see as you progress, together with other visua guides to your walk. We hope that you will enjoy your visit in every way, and leave feeling more informed and refreshed by your visit.
We must tell you a little of the history of this place; it is all in the Stones but they cannot speak modern English. They only speak mutely to the archaeologist. In the year 669 AD, St Chad was sent to be the first Bishop of the newly established Kingdom of Mercia. He had been brought up in the Celtic traditions of Lindisfarne, but, following the Synod of Whitby, he accepted the Roman system. He set up his Bishopric at Lichfield and, for three years, until his death, travelled throughout his area. He is recalled through many local place names such as Chadwell, Great Chatwell and St, Chads' Well. He must have trodden our local pathways.
To maintain and spread the Faith, the Saxon Church set up Monasteries, Minster churches and mendicant Friars. In this area, Stafford, Penkridge and 'Geneshalle', had Minster churches, which were of a monastic nature. For we11 over a thousand years, perhaps as many as 1200 years and despite visitations from Vikings, Danes, vandals such as the more extreme Cromwellians, and a few latter day misguided individuals, a great building, dedicated to Christian worship, has stood on the sandstone outcrop, overlooking the Doley brook. This ancient Minster has become the Parish Church of St. Lawrence, Gnosall.
Wherever you are in the Church, you can look across years of history, of change and of effort. Imagine, if you can, a small stone 'chapel' in the area of what is now called 'the crossing'; rather dark, lit by candles and probably cold and draughty. Outside, near the churchyard would be a few thatched houses, single storied, and, very close to the 'chapel', a dwelling for the four 'monks' who served the place Of worship and the local community. They were financed by the income from four 'small holdings' or 'prebendal manors', owned by the Church. These were called Chilternehalle, Morehalle, Sukarshalle and Merehalle. These names are still associated with certain places in the area. They were owned by the Cathedral, The 'four clerks' recorded were the 'Preberds of Gnosall'
The Norman Conquest made little immediate difference to the village life or the way in which the Church locally was organised. In the Domesday Book, we have the first written record of Gnosall. The community flourished and the second buildings phase undertaken, resulted in the Saxon church being over-built in the new, Norman, style. This had a tower, supported by massive pillars with rounded arches, a nave, chancel and transepts. The Appendix shows an extract from the Victoria County History.
The Norman church was still rather dark and draughty. The tower had been heightened and there was more space for a growing population. In turn, they needed more space and light; new thinking in the Church generally laid more emphasis as Christianity as a 'bringer of light' and this was reflected locally as the roof was raised and well lit side aisles enlarged and heightened. The clerestory windows were inserted and the fine West window installed in the more 'slender' or 'Gothic' style- slender pillars to the arcades and pointed 'tops' to the West window. Look up and you can see the old roof lines by the 'creases' in the Walls. Nowadays, all the windows are glazed with clear glass; earlier there would have been much fine mediaeval stained glass. The west window still lets in the rosy light of the setting sun, to bathe the church and dazzle the Vicar in his stall under the chancel arch!!
The next major change was that which took place during the Reformation, when the rood screen was removed and the church 're-ordered' to fit in, once more, with changes in theological thinking and in the demands of a changing population. Until this time, the services had been conducted, in Latin, behind the screen between the nave and the chancel; after the Reformation, the whole church was more 'open' in an architectural and liturgical sense.
In the early 19th. century, the walls were all plastered and a Gallery inserted with an external stairway. Improving texts on the walls were in vogue. The gallery was needed to accommodate the increase in the population and the fact that they were all supposed to attend church regularly. The pews were all of the old 'box' type, and the preacher, high in the Old double-decker pulpit, could see who was asleep, and signal to one of the churchwardens to wake the slumberer with a tap from his stave - you can see the two staves at the rear of the nave.
In the late 1870's,all the plaster was scraped or hacked off, destroying many of the old mediaeval frescoes; the gallery was removed and the pews as we see them today, installed At the same time the old organ was removed and the present one installed at a cost cf 300 guineas!. Records show that there had been an organ in the church as early as 1553. This gives you all a general introduction to the church and a sketch of its very long and varied history. Let us now proceed, Station by Station, to the numbered and Sign-posted points of vantage.
You are now, to start your tour, at the West end of the nave- the main body of the church. The diagram will show you the principal areas of the building.
You will see that the nave and the chancel ( beyond the Norman arch), are almost the same length- this is a key feature of this a 'cruciform' or 'cross-shaped' , church, and is a sure sign of its great antiquity. At this station, you have behind you, the West doors. Start to walk up the nave, from West to East. As you do so, note the two churchwardens staves with their motifs referring to St Lawrence the gridiron and the flames- relating to his martyrdom. Now pause at the first set of steps- for the next station.
Look up and see and admire the great West arch of the crossing, its massive piers to carry the immense weight of the tower. Note its wealth of Norman carved masonry, probably cut in about 1150. It is a useful exercise to study the different 'orders' or patterns of the carving. The zig-zag decoration is very distinctly Norman.
In mediaeval times, the nave was an area in which the village inhabitants met, using it in some ways, as a community hall. The church services and liturgy were conducted in the chancel, behind the Rood Screen, surmounted by a decorated Rood Loft. This was situated about the position of the present Communion rails, and upon it was set a 'payre of organnes' Through the Rood Screen,the general congregation would only just have glimpsed the priest at the High Altar, though they would have been able to hear the chanting and all would have been in Latin. The congregation moved up to receive their Sacraments. At the Reformation, the Rood Screen was done away with, to reveal the view of the High Altar and the East window, thus bringing the Sacramental part of the church closer to the people. This has now gone even further, now that we have the Altar under the tower. Some fragments of the old Rood screen remaining the new vestry and, particularly, as beams supporting floors in the tower. With the liturgy spoken in Latin, very few, if any of the congregation would have understood what was being said.
The Reformation brought in English as the language of the Church, with, in addition, the English language Bible, and, of course, the Prayer Book of 1662.
You will now appreciate how the services have been moved closer to the people - the altar and the choir are nearer the nave All this has occurred in the last 25 years. In the year 2000, we shall be bringing into use a new Prayer Book, which hopes to keep the best of the old and yet reflect the changes in thinking over the last few decades. The concept of marrying old and new, reminds us that, at the first step into the crossing, we see the wear of many feet over the centuries. This is the site where those being married kneel for blessing at the ceremony, before going forward and to the right, to sign the register. If you look to the right and at the base of the pier, as sign posted, you will see the 'dragon carving', executed by Rome nameless Norman craftsman, as are all the Carvings you will see if you lift your eyes .This ancient symbol has been incorporated in the new Bishops' chair; not to imply that he is a 'dragon', but rather to lend emphasis to the continuity from the past,
through the present, to the future. Look to the left and above the pulpit you see the blocked up upper half of a Saxo-Norman doorway. This is set in the original outer wall of the nave. The angled 'crease lines' of the old roofs can be seen above your heads. Follow them into the side aisle, and imagine the space of the Norman church of 1150. Move a few paces forward to STATION 3. You are now in the oldest part of the church- look at the carving on the top of the three quarter columns - the 'capitals' - and the 'string courses' which run around the walls, both inside and out. On the left is a 17th. century wall painting, and adjacent, the 'pull' of the Angelus bell. Remember, that until Henry VIII's little dispute with the Pope, this was a Roman Catholic church and the Angelus bell was rung twice daily as a call to prayer. Now it is rung to call people to church for the Communion service on Thursday mornings. Move now to the side of the new Altar.
You are now fully under the tower, supported by the Norman columns and the rounded arches. Within the piers lie remains; of the original Saxon church. Compare these rounded arches with the pointed ones of the next architectural period. How did they handle these great blocks of local sandstone masonry - there were no 'JCB's' in those days and all labour was by hand, or with the he]p of oxen, and , perhaps, horses. The construction of the Norman arches is what is known' as 'rubble laid', with ashlar, or shaped masonry, as face stone work.
While under the tower, take a look at the organ. It more or less fills the North transept. In relation to the rest of the building, it is a relative 'youngster', a mere 120 years old! There are about ]450 pipes in it, the longest 16 feet and the shortest only an inch or two! When a Russian recitalist was here recently, after the recital, he bowed to the organ as well as to the audience!
Move up the chancel now. Admire the chairs, especially the new, large chair, made by the local craftsman, Edward Scott, to replace one that was stolen. Note the carving on the chair, which refers to stonework in the church, unique to this building. As you pass into the chancel, remember that this was the area 1 very ancient times which was open only to the four prebends, who lived in a small dwelling to your right, now extended to form the Lady Chapel. For the moment, look left at the dip in the masonry, which we think is where the Normans had to fit their new stones into the then existing Anglo-Saxon piers. All the stone in the church came from local quarries. The chancel has been lengthened several times and you will see this more clearly when you turn into the Lady Chapel. The 'straight lines' show where extended masonry has been built on.
Move up now to the High Altar area. Note the shepherds' crook against the left wall - a symbol of Christ, the Good Shepherd. Note the little 14th century priests door and the Easter sepulchre niche in the wall adjacent. While here, look more closely at the East window. The stained glass dates from 1921, and was specially fitted into the old Stonework, of 14th century origin. The great brass eagle lectern is also worth scrutiny. Note the banners and especially, the plaque on the wall, the men from the Parish, killed in the First World War. Many local names are still to be found in the village. Beneath the chancel floor are tombs and vaults, where, in olden times, the wealthy were buried. Gnosall church, being a Minster church, had few gentry associated with it, which is why so few ornate tombs are to be found here. Now turn right to :-
This is the Lady Chapel, as has been said already. It has a very different 'feel' to it, compared with the rest of the building - less 'monastic' and more Victorian; 'High Church', perhaps. Note the little 'safe' to the left of the Altar, where the Sacraments are kept. These are especially important for the Catholic community, who worship here in considerable numbers, for Mass, early on Sunday mornings. We also share Services with our friends from the Methodist church. On the right of the Altar is the 'piscina', once used by the officiating priest, to wash his hands, the Chalice and other Communion vessels.
Note the inscribed lead slabs at the base of the piers. These were from the roof of the North transept, above where the organ stands. They were found during repairs and commemorate earlier work on the lead roofing. On the South wall of the Lady Chapel, is the Second World War Memorial plaque. Note that there are fewer names of those killed than on the other War Memorials To the left of the Lady Chapel Altar is a stone slab. This is part of a mediaeval coffin lid. This would have been a costly item. On it, sheep shears are depicted and a cross. The shears are a reference to the source of wealth of the departed. There is another such coffin lid, set upright, in the churchyard, near the North transept.
The effigy is early, very interesting and quite badly damaged probably in Cromwellian times. The notes will tell you about this important tomb. The site of the Lady Chapel was originally the position of the Prebends' home. When the Lady Chapel was extended eastward: and brought into the body of the chancel, the Prebends were given a new lodging to the South, as a small 'house' You can stile see the blocked-in aperture to this building in the South - probably a door cut through in the 14th century. Later, in the 16th century, a 'mansion house of four little chambers' was erected to the East. While in the Lady Chapel, note the 'Last Supper' tapestry on the wall and the signs of the old roof and ceiling above the arch, as well as the many 'straight edges' in the masonry. Now, move West to the next Station.
You are now in the South Transept. There is a door to the churchyard on your left. The door itself dates from Tudor times. In the corner is the door which leads to the tower staircase, which you will use if you visit the ringing chamber clock room, belfry and tower roof. There is an intra-mural passage or internal gallery with very fine Norman apertures which look down on the South transept. In this passage or 'mini triforium', there is a Holy Water stoup for the use of pilgrims who came to venerate saintly relics displayed on special occasions. We would like to think that these might be some relics of St. Chad himself. When not on display, these relics were stored in a strong room above the transept; you may be able to discern holes in the South tower face above your heads, where the floor joists of the strong room may well have been slotted. This safe area was approached via the redundant and relict treads which you will see up the tower stairs. In the South transept there is an ancient oak chest, used in olden times to 'store' records and vestments.
When the church was enlarged, heightened and the south transept made accessible to the nave aisle, the pointed arch was put in place , below the intramural passage. In doing this, three of the four Norman 'sedilia', or prebends seats, were done away with. Note the carving of the capitals of the remaining columns and the 'snake' motif, of Scandinavian influence possibly, above your head, as shewn by the arrow.
Now, via the arch, leave the South transept and cross to the North aisle, past the older font and the newer pulpit; you will arrive at the rear of the organ. Beyond is the little Chantry Chapel , once a very cramped vestry. Note the applique banner shewing various Gnosall landmarks.
As you walk to the rear of the church, note the slope of the nave wall; this is quite safe, as these old buildings were constructed so that they could move slightly over the years. A constant watch is kept, through the 5- yearly, or Quinquennial Inspection. This is done by the Church Consulting Architect. Now turn to the right and enter the foyer of our brand new vestry. It is now 'cup of tea' time!!!
The new vestry is the current generations contribution to the fabric of St. Lawrence Church, and was dedicated by the Bishop of Stafford, now the Bishop of Winchester. The vestry was designed by Horsley, Huber and Associates, Architects, of Stafford and the building was undertaken by Messrs Harvey Jones In the vestry, look at the old sundial plate; this used to be on the top of the pillar in the churchyard, outside the South porch. It was installed there in 1720, so that the church clock could be corrected. It was removed from the deteriorating effects of the weather in 1996. As far as is known, it is of unique design. In the vestry, note also the relic of the original Rood Screen- the grapes carved motif on the wall and the St. Lawrence finial in the apex of the roof- a recent addition.
On your way to the South door and the outside, note the heeled bier, and, as a final thought, the Baptistry to your right, backed by the engraved window depicting St. Lawrence, the patron Saint of this church, standing on the gridiron on which he was martyred in the 5th century. This window was engraved by a Stafford artist. On the left of the South door, is a holy water Stoup, where, in pre-Reformation times, those entering would wash their hands, as a religious act. The outside of the church and its graveyard has some interesting features. The yew trees are impressive, though not old enough to have furnished wood for mediaeval bows. One can see where they practised their skills, as the 'arrow whets' for sharpening the arrow points, are many and especially common on the outer face of the South transept wall.
Adjacent , on the buttress to the East, is a very weathered 'scratch dial'- a simple sundial originally, whereby the clerics in ancient times could tell the time and thereby space their Services at correct intervals. When, in the late 17th century, a clock was installed, a more: scientific method of time checking was needed. The sundial pillar dates from 1720, and was rebuilt in 1910. The gravestones are all rather sunken. This is due to the accretion of soil as a result of the action of earthworms, the accumulation of vegetation and the interral of some 25,000 to 30,001) bodies over the last 1200 years or more. At the West end of the church, note the 'crease marks' on the wall, delineating the lines of the Norman roof, and the less solid stonework of the later additions.
The prebends 'little mansion' was across Sellman St, in front of the Victorian vicarage, now a private house called 'Parkside' The present vicarage is just round the corner, in Glebe Lane. The house of the one time curate, is now St Lawrence Cottage at the junction of Sellman St. and Glebe Lane.
We hope that you have enjoyed your visit and that this guide has been of help to you. The structure and history of this very fine building demonstrates the changes which have taken place in the way the Faith of Christ has been observed and displayed over the centuries.
Finally, whether you come to Church or not, this is YOUR Parish Church. Now you see it in detail and, learning of its Work and Mission, perhaps we shall see you one Sunday soon.
the 'trail' by Charles de Boer and Peter Gillard (ChurchWarden)back