History Group visit

Here is account of our visit to Fairford Church on Jan. 15th. Wendy Morgan


Fairford Church is famous for their 28 Pre-Reformation mediaeval stained glass windows, which are the only surviving complete set in the country. During the English Civil War Cromwell’s troops smashed windows, statues and religious objects and used churches for stabling their horses and the mystery still is how these windows survived when no other churches did. Theories include whitewashing the windows, protection by influential people or a popular one was a local resident took them down and hid them. In fact the latter idea actually happened during the 2nd World War when they were all hidden in stone vaults under a Fairford Park house. 17 members of the History Group made their way to Fairford on January 15th to see these extraordinary windows which filled the church with colour as the sun shone through, there seemed to be more windows than walls! A church guide gave us a short history of the church including how a wool merchant John Tame built a new church, St Mary the Virgin, on the site of a Saxon one which was finished in 1497 with the glass windows placed soon afterwards. John Tame’s plan was to make the windows a complete picture bible to educate the people with the windows divided into four parts with a story in each. The guide took us around the church starting with scenes from the Old Testament and then in the Lady Chapel with two windows on the life of the Virgin and Jesus as a child, next the Chancel with the life and death of Christ in a magnificent East window. Going around the church the following windows were scenes from the New Testament ending with the Ascension, after which were pictures of all the Apostles, the Saints and the Prophets and the West window of the Last Judgement. High up near the roof are smaller windows depicting the death of martyrs on one side and traitors such as Judas and persecutors such as Herod on the other. After the tour we were free to walk around and see the other interesting church objects such as the 14 Misericords (tip up seats) and the High Altar in the Chancel, the lovely carved altar reredos in the Lady Chapel, the choir stalls under a central Tower above which are the bells. From the guide book I read that once high in the Tower was a Rood (cross) and figures of Mary and St John each side of it also a gallery for singers and musicians, used before a choir and organ were introduced, but all has long been demolished. We all enjoyed our time in this unique church and finished our visit in Fairford with refreshments in a little teashop across the road from the church.

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