Touching Place

St John the Evangelist, Shobdon

 

You’re John Bateman, a young 18th century viscount. Though you spend most of your time in London, you also have a country house in Herefordshire, which is in the latest Palladian style. The church next to it, regrettably, is about 600 years old, and lets the show down. Your uncle Richard has a friend in London called Horace Walpole, who has just built himself a new residence in a very smart Neo-Gothic style. Uncle Dicky, who has overseen the building of your house, now gets your old church replaced by one in Rococo Gothic in 1752–6. Result!

A visitor will probably approach the church from the northwest, noticing that the windows are very twee Gothic, with ogee arches and mouldings. The 12th century tower was retained from the old building, and given a facelift, including a west door in the same ogee style. Walk through the lobby under the tower, pull open the door, and get the shock of your life. Gothic pews and pulpit, plastered ceiling and walls, the whole painted in delicate pastel shades; 18th century glass in the transept windows (the east window is an intruder of 1907). Even the Bateman family pew in the south transept fits in (note fireplace). The whole interior is a Rococo Gothic confection (word chosen advisedly; was the architect let loose with an icing syringe?) apart from a splendid 12th century font, one of the best examples of the work of the Herefordshire School of sculptors, which survives from the Romanesque Shobdon. Oh yes, along with the Shobdon Arches half a mile to the northeast, the now largely eroded parts of the earlier church used in the 1750s to create a landscape feature in the park. Shobdon is not Die Wies or Vierzehnheiligen, but there is nothing else like it elsewhere in England.

Reflect: some churches are light inside, some dark, but it pleases God to make all of them his own. May they all speak to us of the glory of God.

Simon Cotton

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