Sedgemoor Pages
Berrow
Church
Picture of Church
Berrow Church, standing in the middle of the Burnham and Berrow Golf Course, has one of the finest settings of any church in the country. Its tower can be seen from several miles out at sea. It was whitewashed and served as a mariner's beacon. 
The early village of Berrow was situated just to the south of the present church and was close to the sea, which was nearer the church than it is now. With the drainage of the marshes the village moved inland away from the church and the old village is now covered by large dunes. 
It is known that there was a church in Berrow in 1020, but nothing of this building remains. In about II 00 a fairly substantial church was erected but all that remains is the base of the chancel arch. This round carving is typical of the Norman style and does not fit with the Early English arch which rests upon ft. 
The present church was built in about 1280. The chancel and tower arch, the columns inside the church, the doorway and the windows all indicate the Early English style and this period. 
The Church is built of Carboniferous limestone from the nearby Mendip Hills,with the softer Ham Stone being used for carvings. The dark cream stone to be seen in places is from Doulting. 
In the porch of the church is a holy water stoup, where the faithful would make the sign of the cross upon themselves before entering the church. The porch also contains two ancient stone bench seats. 
The main font is fourteenth century, with carved foliage round its side . In the chancel is a second font which is a century earlier; it was discovered in 1926, buried in the churchyard. This is of very plain design, and even larger. It is tub-shaped, and both fonts were clearly designed for totally immersing the unfortunate infants when they were baptised. 
The original piscina can still be seen on the south side of the altar. In this little basin the Water used to wash out the communion vessels was poured so that it could drain back to the earth. 
In the north wall of the nave is a fifteenth century niche which would originally have contained the statue of a saint - probably the Virgin Mary - to whom the church is dedicated. For a long time the niche was blocked up and was only discovered in 1926. 
Inside the niche was discovered an extremely fine Tabernacle Crosshead which now stands in the chancel. Originally this cross head was on top of the preaching cross, the base of which can still be seen outside the main door. It was bricked up for safety, probably because the Roundheads wanted to smash it. 
On one side of the crosshead is a Calvary with Jesus on the cross, the feet only being crossed, watched by his mother, her hands delicately together on her breasts, and by St. John, his left hand supporting his head in an expression of sorrow. 
(Below the crucified Christ is a solemn face. Originally this face was on both sides, but it is only preserved on the one side. This could be Adam.) 
On the reverse  side are three popular medieval female saints. In the centre  is Our Lady with the infant Jesus in her arms surrounded by Mary Magdalene with her pot of ointment, and Catherine of Alexandra with her  famous wheel. All three figures are crowned. 

On either side of the main carvings are a knight, presumably St George, with a sword belt, a lance in his right hand and a small shield slung over his shoulder, the armour being that of the latter part of the thirteenth century, and a bishop, perhaps St Andrew, the patron saint of the diocese. The right hand is raised in blessing and the left holds a long staff. 
The tower is fifteenth century and in the Perpendicular style. This was a period when most villages in Somerset were rebuilding their towers: each village trying to build a more magnificent tower than the others. Berrow's tower, like the church itself, is small compared to many - a fact that probably indicates that the village was not large and not particularly prosperous. 
The south side of the church has four of the grotesque gargoyles in the shape of gorgon heads that medieval folk so enjoyed. The gargoyle on the south west corner appears to be eating an animal. There is also a sundial of f irestone placed in the embattlement front wall. 
Many of the windows clearly date from later periods than the rest of the church, their stonework being of a more developed style. On the exterior of the north wall, just opposite the pulpit, a leper's squint has been blocked up. There was a bad outbreak of leprosy in fourteenth century England. The unfortunate sufferers were forbidden to live in a village, but had to live in isolated huts; if they saw anybody they had to move away from them; and it anybody spoke to them they had to stand to windward of them. The lepers were not allowed to take part in the church services but could only peep in at the priest celebrating Mass. As the skin thickened lumpy excrescences and open sores developed, toes and fingers fell off, and a fetid smell came. Life for lepers, deprived even of joining in Christian worship must have seemed grim indeed. 
Near the door on the south side of the nave are two twelth-century recumbent figures, representing a civilian and his lady. They were evidently originally inside the church as tops of a tomb, but who they are had long been unknown. Wind and rain have severely damaged them. 
The Reformation seems to have left little permanent mark on the church, though a rood screen has disappeared; all ancient glass has been smashed; and much statuary is also probably missing. 
The seventeenth century was a far more positive period. A feature of this area of Somerset is the fine wood-carving to be found in many churches. The vicar's prayer desk bears the date 1631 and the initials of the church-wardens of that time. 
The old base of the pulpit bore the date 1621. Owing to its decayed state it was removed in 1885 and a new one added but the pulpit itself is an excellent example of Jacobean carving. 
The Jacobean beam, now at the west end of the south aisle was probably the supporting beam of a minstrels'gailery that once was at the west end of the church. The beautiful and quaint lettering is as follows: "I was set upright and even, 1637. They are of the Lord accursed that in their dealings are not just". Then follows the initials of the church-wardens. A door beneath the west window, now blocked up, gave the musicians access to the gallery from outside. The church account books record the purchase in 1778 of a bass viol and a hautboy (oboe). 
The Royal Coat of Arms on the south side of the west wall dates from the 
Reign of Charles 1. The date, 1663, was presumably added when his son, Charles I 1 came to the throne. Painted on six wooden panels, this must have been hidden away when Oliver Cromwell ruled. 
There is a peal of six bells. The old treble bears no date. The tenor was cast in 1668. Two other bells were cast in 1721 and 1774 respectively. 
The three oldest were re-cast in 1909. One bell bears the inscription: "My treble voice makes hearts rejoice"; another: "My sisters all now sing, With mee while I do ring." 
The Holy Table was presented to the church by the Dean of Wells in 1885. 
It is believed to be the one referred to in Macauley's 'History of England' as having been slashed by Lord Grey, Monmouth's second in command, when he found Monmouth's troops carousing at it. Certainly it is seventeenth century. 
Outside the church gates is a stone mounting block which dates from the time when people came to church on horseback. 
The twentieth century too has seen Berrow Church further beautified. In the north wall is a fine 1914-1918 war memorial window based on the hymn 'Lord of our life and God of our salvation.' In the centre light Christ is represented as eternal youth victorious over death and sin. His right hand is raised in blessing and in His left He holds the sphere, symbolical of universal kingship. He is surrounded by cherubim and seraphim, and at His feet lies the dragon of death and evil, pierced by the cross of self-sacrifice. 
The right-hand light representing War, and the roundel below it, are an illustration of the second verse of the hymn: 
"See round Thine ark the hungry billows curling; See how thy foes their banners are unfurling; 
Lord while their darts envenomed they are hurling, Thou canst preserve us. " 
The left-hand and the roundel below it represent Peace - swords beaten into ploughshares and spears into reaping hooks, with, in the back-ground, the city- crowned hill of which Isaiah dreamed. 
Another fine window is that in the tower vestry. Designed in 1970, it depicts a ship - an early Christian symbol for the church - driven by the wind of the Holy Spirit through time. The window is illuminated by the wonderful sunsets over the sea at Berrow, and throws colour into the body of the church. 
In 1974 there was a major restoration of the chancel. A large organ - in two parts - dating from 1904 was removed, together with much heavy furnishing, including a wooden reredos. The chancel windows were re-glazed. The effect has been to restore the chancel to its original proportions and to create space and light, as can be seen from the illustrations. At the same time a new organ was installed at the west end of the church, so reverting to the traditional pattern of music coming from the back and filling the body of the church. 
St. Mary's, Berrow, is a church with a tradition of living and faithful worship, where God is praised every Sunday, the communion celebrated and the word preached. It strives to serve both village and holidaymakers, and a warm welcome is extended to all.

Gargoyle
 
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