touching place

ALL SAINTS, HILLESDEN, BUCKS

Hillesden reminds us that there is still some empty countryside, even within 40 miles of London. when you enter the remote hamlet of Hillesden, there is no sign of a church, and you have to drive another mile to reach Church End to find it. This is a striking building from c. 1493, of the period when the Perpendicular style metamorphosed into Tudor Gothic. Enter the north porch, stop and look up at the fan-vaulting and admire.

You are entering a largely unspoilt building which was respected by its restorer Sir Gilbert Scott, who grew up down the road at Gawcott. That baroque family pew in the north aisle is definitely not Gothic Revival; beyond it in the north chapel are some monuments to the Denton family. Look up in the chancel for one of the finest features of the building, a frieze of angels up at cornice level.

The highlight, though, is in the east wall of the S transept, stained glass in the Flemish style, depicting scenes from the life of St Nicholas, and dating from the 1510s. First the legend of the cups: it starts with a boy falling overboard from a ship (en route to the shrine of St Nicholas), clutching a golden cup, the cup that his father had promised if a son was born. But St Nicholas kept the boy from harm – he and his parents are shown in front of the altar of St Nicholas in the next scene. Then below this there is the Jew whose treasure has been robbed setting about a statue of St Nicholas with his staff (humiliation of relics?); the saint duly appears to the robbers – scared stiff, they make restitution in the next scene.

These stories are straight out of Jacobus de Voragine’s The Golden Legend, first printed by william Caxton in 1483, and a runaway best seller. No one can say that Hillesden’s glass painters weren’t right up to date.

Map reference SP 685286

Simon Cotton

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