||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
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
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
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.