Touching Place

HOLY ANGELS, HOAR CROSS, STAFFS

The late Canon Colin Stephenson once said, ‘I have never ceased to admire the single-minded devotion of the really converted high church woman’; such a woman built Hoar Cross church. Widowed at 31 when her husband died following a hunting accident, the Hon. Emily Charlotte Meynell Ingram (1840–1904) promptly commissioned Bodley and Garner to build this church in his memory.

On high ground on the edge of the Needwood forest, the tall central tower, modelled upon Ilminster, can  be seen from afar. The pink sandstone exterior is impressive enough, but the interior is awesome. The dim aisled nave is lit by well-drawn Burlyson and Grylls windows in muted colours that do not distract. The foundress was the sister of Viscount Halifax, and shared his religious convictions. Mrs Meynell Ingram had the Stations of the Cross carved by De Wint and Boek in Antwerp, later gilding making them about the most splendid you will see. Few Victorian Anglican churches have Stations; here they even have doors for Passiontide.

A carved and coloured rood screen with loft and rood shields the chancel, whose wall surfaces are covered with delicate stone carving – you might be at Albi. A  stunning stone reredos with carved saints and Angels of the Passion is below a huge, light east window. Hugo Francis Meynell Ingram’s effigy lies under a crocketed ogee arch (modelled upon the Percy tomb at Beverley Minster) to the liturgical south of the chancel. Emily’s later tomb is on the other side of their chantry chapel; beyond that is the All Souls’ chapel.

The architectural historian James Stevens Curl says, ‘Hoar Cross was an exercise to show how exquisitely lovely late English Decorated and Perpendicular Gothic could be’; the late Henry Thorold wrote, ‘It is a church to pray in.’ Just go there, and respectfully agree.

Reflect: ‘For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways’ [Ps. 91.11].

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