"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Friday, 5 December 2014

Ludlow - Part 2: Parish Church of St Laurence

St Laurence's Church is, without doubt, the most beautiful Parish Church I have visited and unsurprisingly it is often called "The Cathedral of the Marches".

Parts of the present church date from an earlier building built in 1199-1200 which replaced an earlier Norman church. The church was extensively rebuilt in the 15th century. The site was a revered place for many centuries before the first church was built. A pre-historic burial mound was located on the site which gives the prefix "lud" to the town's name of Ludlow. The tower is 135 feet (41 metres tall) and was built in the mid-fifteenth century.

The Palmer's Guild (a palm branch being a token of pilgrimage) was associated with the church in medieval times. The wealthy organisation had many local members.

Prince Arthur, the eldest son of Henry VII, as mentioned in the last post, spent his honeymoon at Ludlow castle but he died on the 2nd April, 1501, of the sweating sickness. His "entrails" were buried in St Laurence and following a funeral service his body was taken to Worcester Cathedral for burial.

Hoping to visit the church I had done a bit of "homework" before our trip to Ludlow and I knew I needed to look out for the misericords and that the stained glass, particularly the Palmers' window were features to look out for. I only had half an hour in the church whilst B, D and E visited some of the shops and there was a Christmas Bazaar in the church nave and north and south aisles so the church was full of people. I did manage to get quite a few photos of the misericords as the chancel was very quiet but I am afraid I didn't get many of the stained glass partly because I kept getting sidetracked looking at craft items for sale and also because it wasn't very easy to get an unrestricted view of some of the windows. It didn't help either that I was carrying a load of bags containing items purchased earlier and only had one hand free to wield the camera! I was particularly upset to have missed the Palmers' Window mainly because, as usual, I didn't get chance to read the church guidebook until I got home.

The font is believed to be at least 1000 years old and is the oldest item in the church. For centuries it was used as a churchyard water butt before being returned to the church.

The stained glass in the West Window dates back to the restoration of the church in 1859-1869. The glass is by T Williment (Queen Victoria's heraldic painter) known as "The Father of Victorian Glass". The larger panels represent the manorial Ludlow lords and other people connected with the town's history.

Sorry the next photo is rather blurred but the stained glass is so beautiful I just had to include it.

A few of the monuments in the church.

This church banner was made by the Royal School of Needlework and designed by Sir Ninian Comper.

The East window is one of the finest examples of a hagiographical (biography of a Saint) window in England, if not Europe. It depicts 27 scenes from the life of St. Laurence. It was originally made in the mid 15th century and restored by David Evans of Shrewsbury in 1832.

This is the Housman Quilt made in 1996 to celebrate the centenary of "A Shropshire Lad" by A E Housman. Housman was greatly inspired by Ludlow. He died in 1936 and his ashes are interred in the walls of the church.


Choir stalls from the medieval era often had hinged seats with bracketed ledges underneath. They are called misericords from the Latin meaning mercy because the clergy and choir using the seats could lean on them during long church services.

There are 28 misericords in St Laurence - one of the largest collections in any Parish Church. They were carved in the 15th century - some around 1425 and others around 1447. Some of the subjects used in the carvings are only found at Ludlow but many other designs are found in other churches and it would appear carvers had a design book or drawing to copy. The earlier misericords at St Laurence often feature cautionary tales, fables and moral allegories. Others show a Yorkist influence due to Richard, Duke of York, being manorial Lord of Ludlow and owning the castle.

The misericord carving below is possibly symbolic of one of the seven deadly sins - Anger. It shows a scene of domestic strife with 3 male figures - the one on the right appears to be restraining the other two. On the left is a large cooking pot on the hearth and the leaf on the right (found on other Ludlow misericords) is a type of stylised foliage.

And here we have the Green Man, or Jack-in-the-Green! The figure is often regarded as a relic of pagan imagery adapted for Christian decoration. In the centre is a chained Antelope - the personal badge of Henry VI who was king at the time the misericord was carved. It is possible that the Green Man carvings were meant as a warning to beware of loose morals and sin.

Below in the centre a mermaid is depicted with a dolphin on each side of her. The mermaid symbolises a seductress luring men away from the path of salvation via passion to their destruction. This is one of the most common subjects found in English misericords.

The Hart at Rest was the badge of Richard II who was deposed by the first Lancastrian king, Henry IV. Supporters of the Yorkist cause therefore thought that Richard was the last legitimate English king. There is a hound on each side of the hart - suggesting the chase.

The misericord below shows the personal badge of Richard Duke of York - a Falcon and Fetterlock. Richard was the manorial Lord of Ludlow and owned the castle.

The centre figure here represents a King which could be a biblical King but it also bears a resemblance to to Edward III one of the Duke of York's ancestors.

It is believed that the figure in the centre could be a pupil or teacher at the Palmers'Guild School that once existed in Ludlow. The faces on each side, one male and one female are very similar to those that appear on a misericord at All Souls College, Oxford, where they seem to suggest mourners. Peter Klein who wrote the excellent leaflet on The Misericords and Choir Stalls which I bought suggests that on the Ludlow misericord they could represent worried parents!

In the centre of this carving is a griffin (legend tells that griffins were the offspring of a lion and an eagle) with a griffin's head on each side. Griffins were believed to act as guards of ancient treasures and, thus, became symbols of watchfulness whereas in French bestiary they were symbolic of the Devil.

The scene in the misericord below represents Winter and shows a country dweller at home living off his stores - a pot over the fire on the left and sides of bacon in the pantry on the right.

Below we have a swan with leaves at each side - a swan appears in the badge of the Bohun family - Mary de Bohun married Henry Bolingbroke who later became Henry IV. There is a very similar carving again at All Souls College, Oxford.

An owl being mobbed by two birds. Today we think of owls as being wise but they represented ignorance in medieval symbolism and as nocturnal creatures symbolically they were ignoring the light of the Gospel.

It has been suggested this misericord represents the ideal of womanhood. It could be a mother and her daughters or, alternatively, married and unmarried women.

An angel playing a musical instrument - a very common theme in medieval churches.

Sorry, I have tended to ramble on but I hope some of you have found the information interesting. If ever you are anywhere near Ludlow it is really well worth a visit and I hope we can return soon.

References :)

The Parish Church of St Laurence Ludlow guidebook.

"The Stained Glass of St Laurence, Ludlow - a Short Guide"

Information on the Misericords from "Historic Ludlow - The Misericords and Choir Stalls of the Parish Church of St Laurence, Ludlow" by Peter Klein.


Margaret Adamson said...

I am not surprised that you this is your favourite church as your beautiful photographs show it off wonderfully. I loved all the stain glass windows and the wooden carvings. Have a lovely weekend.

Ragged Robin said...

Margaret Adamson - Thanks so much Margaret - just sorry I couldn't show you more of the stained glass.

Have a lovely weekend too :)

Deb said...

What a beautiful old church. I love the carvings and the stories behind them. Thanks for sharing. :-)

Ragged Robin said...

Deb - Thank you so much - I am so glad you enjoyed it :)

Chris Rohrer said...

So many historical places everywhere. I think that is what people told me about visiting England and the rest of the European world. I remember Italy, France and Spain have many places to visit....and there were so many! It must be nice to have places like these around to enjoy. I'm not particularly a religious person but I can understand and appreciate the devotion that went into making these places. However, it's gross to think they just buried his entrails at first. Yuck! That's the kind of stuff I always find interesting:)

Ragged Robin said...

Chris Rohrer - Thanks Chris - I do hope you get chance to visit here one day - so much history and places to visit as well as good birding :)

I have to admit I am not particularly religious either but I do love the atmosphere of old churches and cathedrals and the history they contain not to mention the beautiful stained glass :)