"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

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Herefordshire/Shropshire - Part 3: The Parish Church of St Laurence, Ludlow

St Laurence's, Ludlow, is without doubt one of those most beautiful churches I have ever visited. It is the largest Parish Church in Shropshire and is sometimes called "The Cathedral of the Marches". Parts of the present church date back to a building of 1199-1200 which itself replaced a Norman Church. The church was extensively rebuilt during the fifteenth century.

I only had about three quarters of an hour to look round (could have done with at least 2 hours really to take it all in and appreciate it fully) so I didn't get time to walk round the exterior of the church to get a better photo.

I thought this might be a type of graffiti but huge thanks to the lady on Twitter who advised me its a mark measuring sea-level.

Stained Glass Window in the porch.

Prince Arthur ((1486-1502) was the eldest son and heir to King Henry VII. He was made Prince of Wales in 1492 and in November 1501 he married Catherine of Aragon from Spain. They stayed at Ludlow Castle from January 1502 but on 2nd April Arthur became infected with the sweating sickness and died. His heart was buried at St Laurence's and 3 days later a funeral service was held. Following the service his body was taken and buried in Worcester Cathedral.

Lady Chapel - dedicated to Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Jesse window, showing the family tree of Jesus, dates from ~1330. Much of the glass was restored in 1890.

Queen Elizabeth I's parliament decreed that the Ten Commandents should be displayed in English in churches. This board was placed in St Laurence's in 1561 and the wording of the last commandment "Thou shall not desire thy neighbour's houses" is unique to Ludlow.

The organ is one of the finest parish church organs in England and has 52 speaking stops and nearly 4000 pipes. It is used at services, for recitals and concerts and to accompany international recitalists on CD recordings.

St John's Chapel was the chapel of the Palmers' Guild. The stained glass windows still contain much of the original 15th century glass and were donated by the Guild.

The Palmers' Window tells the story of the origins of the Palmers' Guild.

Apostles' Window

The Golden Window

Replica of a Medieval Organ

In Medieval Times church organs were only used on Sundays and Feast Days. There is plenty of evidence about pre-Reformation organs in churches and cathedrals but only 3 fragments of late Medieval British organs survive.

This is a reconstructed organ by Goetze and Gwynn organ builders. Fleur Kelly, artist, painted the door images and oversaw the decorative work in her studio. Lois Raine painted and gilded the case.

The Chancel

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

The Walter Tomb - tomb to Chief Justice Edmund Walter (died 1592) and his wife Mary (died 1583). Several other people associated with the Council of the Marches are also buried within the church.

Stained Glass

The West Window

The Three Mary's Window

It is believed the Font is at least 1000 years old and the oldest item in the church today. It was used as a water butt in the churchyard for centuries before eventually being returned to the church.

The Housman Quilt Tapestry was made in 1996 to celebrate the Centenary of A Shropshire Lad.


I've left the misericords to the end of the post as there are a couple of dozen of them and I've already posted quite a lot of photos! I think this time I got pictures of most of them. Beautiful as the stained glass is, these beautiful Medieval wooden carvings were the highlight of the visit for me.

Misericords are a ledge on the underside of a seat used to provide support for clergymen and the choir as they stood during long church services. There are 28 at Ludlow some date from around 1425 and more were added in 1445 and in the 1450's. Some of the earlier ones bear the mark of the carver in the form of an uprooted plant. Some of the subjects in the misericords are only found at Ludlow but other designs are found in other churches and so carvers may have had design books to copy. Some of the designs at Ludlow have connections with Richard, Duke of York, Ludlow being one of his strongholds whereas earlier misericords feature fables, moral allegories and warnings.

The interpretations below are based on the contents of the very interesting booklet I bought by Peter Klein entitled "Historic Ludlow - The Misericords and Choir Stalls of The Parish Church of St. Laurence, Ludlow".

This misericord shows the carver's mark of an uprooted plant. There is also a scene of domestic disagreement with a cooking pot on the hearth. It may be symbolic of Anger - one of the seven deadly sins. The leaf on the right appears in several of the Ludlow misericords and is a type of stylised foliage found in court manuscripts at the time.

Here we have the Green Man (or Jack-in-the-Green) who would have been represented at celebrations such as May Day and beating of the Parish bounds. The chained antelope was the personal badge of Henry VI (the carvings were made during his reign). Henry was a pious and saintly King and the carvings may be a reminder to avoid sin and loose morals.

A bishop and 2 mitres. The figure in the centre could be a portrait or a reminder of the influence of bishops in this church.

Although three ostrich feathers have been the symbol of the Prince of Wales for many centuries, when the misericords were carved the 3 feathers formed the badge of the Black Prince, Edward of Woodstock.

Below we an see an ass standing in a pulpit dressed as a priest addressing a congregation of farmyard animals. The two figures on the left seem to have seen the deception. This suggests the moral of avoiding false doctrine (a warning against the followers of Wycliffe (the lollards).

This design shows the Hart at Rest which was the badge of Richard II who was deposed by King Henry IV (the first of the Lancastrian Kings). Supporters of York regarded Richard as the last true King.

Here we have the carving of a King which could again be a link to the Duke of York as the portrait resembles Edward III or it could be the portrait of a biblical King such as David.

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

A carving of a Falcon and Fenterlock which was the personal badge of Richard, Duke of York who was manorial lord of Ludlow and owned the castle. All Souls College, Oxford, has an almost identical misericord and similar ones are found at Tansor in Northamptonshire.

The roses in this carving are symbolic of the House of York.

This could represent a schoolmaster or a pupil at the Palmers' Guild school - possibly showing concerned parents each side.

Again we have the Ludlow carver's mark of the uprooted plant - this design would seem to suggest a celebration of drinking wine but it is likely to bear the moral of the dangers of alcohol.

Below we can see a drunk person drinking wine straight from the cask probably suggesting a medieval monastery moral tale that the person in charge of supplies and stores should be wise and mature and sober!

A griffin (fabled to be the offspring of a lion and an eagle and believe to keep watch over hidden treasures). Personal badge used by Edward III.

Another misericord with the carver's mark of an uprooted plant. This one is very worn but it is suggested that a fox can just be made out and the scene may be from the adventures of Reynard the Fox.

This scene represents the sport of wrestling - popular in Medieval times.

Some misericords represent the months of the year and this design could represent January or February with a person dressed in warm woollen clothing living off his/her's stores.

A swan with two leaves at the side - the badge of the Bohun family. Mary de-Bohun married Henry Bolinbroke (later Henry IV). A very similar carving can be found at All Souls College, Oxford.

In Medieval symbolism the owl, instead of being wise, represented ignorance and being a creature of the night was said to have shunned the light of the Gospel. Here it is being mobbed by two birds. Again there is a similar misericord at All Souls College, Oxford.

This design represents the ideal of womanhood - perhaps mother and daughter or married and unmarried women.

A porter or pedlar preparing for a journey on the road.

A decorative design of leaves - similar examples can be found elsewhere.

The misericord below is one of the famous of the Ludlow carvings and again bears the carver's mark of an uprooted plant. The central figure shows a successful wealthy man. The carving on the left, although damaged, shows grave symbols. The carving bears the message that, despite success in life, it will eventually end in death.

The design below illustrates a common misericord theme. A mermaid in the centre has a dolphin each side. The theme is anti-feminine - the mermaid a siren may lure men away from the true path of salvation.

The design below is probably the most famous of the Ludlow misericords and depicts a scene from the Last Judgement in the Chester Mystery Play.

A dishonest alewife who has constantly served short measures is shown in the centre being thrown over a devil's shoulder. A demon to the left reads a long list of her sins and the devil on the right is playing a bagpipe as she passes into Hell.

Another tale of caution is depicted below. The central figure is a Harpy (a young woman's head with the body and wings of a bat) accompanied by 2 bats which in Medieval times were creatures of darkness symbolising evil. The Harpy represents an attractive woman without morals who will use her charms to tempt men (Adam and Eve).

The next carving may be a cautionary tale against misplaced vanity. The lady in the centre is wearing a horned head-dress or hennin. This style of headwear was popular amongst women in the 1430's but was hated by priests who regarded it as the Devil's work.

Finally, if anyone is still with me!! (sorry I know this is a long post with far too many photos - in retrospect I should have put the misericords in a separate post) there is a photo of one of the poppyhead benchends. Sadly, yet again I missed most of them - I really should have re-read the guidebooks before visiting). This one represents St Catherine.

I also managed to miss (yet again) the A E Housman plaque on an exterior wall and the Parvis Room with its medieval paintings. If and when we return to Ludlow I'll try and visit St Laurence again. Apparently you can go up to the top of the Tower with fine views of Ludlow which may give the family something to do!

The last post on our holidays will, I promise, be a lot shorter with fewer photos!


The Parish Church of St Laurence, Ludlow : Guidebook
The Stained Glass of St Laurence, Ludlow : A Short Guide
Historic Ludlow - The Misericords and Choir Stalls of the Parish Church of St Laurence, Ludlow by Peter Klein


Countryside Tales said...

Great stuff. I enjoyed it all. The misericords are amazing and all that stained glass- shows how wealthy Ludlow was.

Ragged Robin said...

Countryside Tales - Thanks CT - glad you enjoyed :) Really beautiful church.

Caroline Gill said...

What a post, RR! I love those misericords: we always spend ages enjoying the ones in Ripon Cathedral when we are there on occasional hols. I wonder if your mark is this. Thank you for your kind comment on my tree post. I'm hoping my link will work )it doesn't show up in the Preview!

Ragged Robin said...

Caroline Gill - Thanks so much Caroline - so glad you enjoyed. Wonderful display of misericords there - never been to Ripon Cathedral but would love to visit. Link is now showing up so will check it out - thanks :)

Ragged Robin said...

Caroline Gill - Oh thanks - link did work. Its fascinating (the lady on Twitter mentioned it was to do with Ordnance Survey)

Simon Douglas Thompson said...

Many's the time many years ago my stepfather and I looked for those marks. I used tob hold a levelling staff for him

@woodcarver_t said...

Hi Caroline thank you loved this blog lovely photography amazing carvings very informative apart from everything medieval I love stained glass

Ragged Robin said...

Simon Douglas Thompson - Many thanks Simon - interesting to read of your experiences with them. I'll be looking for them everywhere now :)

@woodcarver_t Thanks so much Peter for your very kind comment. I am so glad you enjoyed the post, carvings and stained glass :) I do quite a few posts on churches so will tweet you links when I go to one and do a post - tend to put on quite a few photos of stained glass which I love too :)

Deb said...

great post and lovely photos. I love the misericords and the beautiful stained-glass windows. Really interesting about the watermark-another one to look out for. :-)

Ragged Robin said...

Deb - Thanks so much :) Hope you manage to find some sea-level markers. Loved your first post by the way and the stone mason's mark :)

SeagullSuzie said...

I love the idea of the font being used as a water butt...no plastic water savers for them....just a 1000 year old bit of stone!

Pete Duxon said...

the church is amazing isn't it...... well worth a visit....

Ragged Robin said...

SeagullSuzie - Thanks for the comment - yes its brilliant re: the water butt - I am sure I read of a church somewhere more local where the font was being used in the churchyard (sadly, having a CRAFT moment and can't remember the name of the church!).

Pete Duxon - Thanks Pete - yes, the church is superb. Could have spent hours there. I want to go back!!!

Bovey Belle said...

Great post. We visited there when we were in Ludlow, some years back. I loved the pictures of the misericords, and their explanations. The fenterlocks look very like today's handcuffs . . .

Ragged Robin said...

Bovey Belle - Many thanks - so glad you enjoyed revisiting the church :) Agree about the fenterlocks!

David said...

Wow what a church and one which I have to say I have wanted to visit for some time. Being a bit of an organ music fan I have long known about Ludlow and its beautiful instrument but I never appreciated what fantastic stained glass the parish church of St. Laurence is home too. I particularly like windows which tell stories and that Great East window is something pretty special, to my eyes at least it looks very reminiscent to the Great East Window at York Cathedral!

The reconstructed medieval organ is a fascinating object as well.

Thank you for a most interesting and informative tour of this wonderful building :-)

Ragged Robin said...

David - Thanks so much for your lovely comment. I really do hope you can visit this church - it really is worth it :) Everything about it was so beautiful and interesting and such a lovely atmosphere and history galore :)

Again wish I had had more time to appreciate it rather than rushing around taking as many photos as I could! I'll check my photos from the visit to York Cathedral and also the Souvenir Guide and look at both East windows in view of your interesting comment. The church reminded me of somewhere too - I think it may have been Tewkesbury Abbey?

I am so glad you enjoyed the post.

With very best wishes