St Mary's Church, Sudeley Castle, Winchombe

PUBLISHED: 16:15 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:34 20 February 2013

St. Mary's

St. Mary's

Ravaged by Oliver's armies and abandoned to ruin, the church of St Mary's now hosts more hospitable affairs

The stained glass windows and stones of St. Mary's, the beautiful little 15th century church in the Sudeley Castle gardens have been witness to over 600 years of Christian ritual for the people who have lived and worked at Sudeley and in the parish. It has also been ravaged by Oliver Cromwell's armies, abandoned to picturesque ruin and lovingly restored by its 19th century owners, the Dent family. Now gracefully retired to a chapel at ease, it still opens its doors for family services, evensong and occasional special celebrations of some of Sudeley's illustrious past inhabitants.

These events are imaginatively created and directed by the present Vicar of Winchcombe, John Partington and are very enjoyable to attend. Recently there was a service to celebrate the life of Queen Katherine Parr on the anniversary of her death 460 years ago, and her remains, after being dug up and re-buried many times, now rest below her most exquisite effigy near the church altar. I had been much looking forward to attending this event until I was unexpectedly delayed with other duties, in the form of my three over-excited grandsons, taking priority. Their parents, who had been in France on a short sun-seeking break, were held up by heavy rain and blocked roads from Bristol and I was still required on 'grandma shift'.

Fortunately the heavens had relented briefly the week before for a very happy family occasion - the christening of my youngest grandchild Jake, an 18-month-old cherub- resembling bundle of energy. Parents and grandparents, godparents and a few friends, plus a handful of children gathered in the church where we took part in a charming, heart warming and child friendly service devised and lead by the resourceful Rev. Partington. The children hopped, sang and clapped to favourite hymns and songs and the parents behaved like demented paparazzi taking photographs. Jake, the guest of honour, stomped and sang along and let out a loud chuckle when lifted at the font for the Baptism. I don't know what this means for his character but we will hope for the best.

The relationship between Emma Dent, the Victorian chatelaine of Sudeley and her spiritual leader, the Reverend Noble Jackson, was not so convivial according to Emma in her diaries. Jean Bray's delightful book The Lady of Sudeley tells us of dark days in the parish.

This was an era of passionate religious controversy where differences of style could lead to fierce antagonism. Mr. Jackson, formally a friend and the curate of St. Mary's, when promoted to Vicar of Winchcombe appointed a 'ritualist' to take his place as the new curate of Sudeley. John Dent, Emma's husband was incensed, complained to the Bishop about this 'Romanism' on his doorstop and asked for his removal.

Emma exacerbated the situation by directing that Catechism should be dispensed with at the local King's School. On hearing of this the Rev.Jackson lost his head and became very abusive. More insults and outrages ensued, culminating in the vicar refusing to say the burial service correctly over people he disliked or disapproved of (including John Dent) and the feud between the former friends was to run for the rest of their lives. Even The Cheltenham Examiner reported on the unfolding story.

Emma bitterly quotes 'How incredible it seems that a man of 50 should retain such uncharitable and cruel views. Poor Rev'd Noble Jackson - I am sorry to say he is another example of the uncertainly of men having been admirable in one position being unable to bear a promotion to power.' Records do not reveal what the Rev. may have said about Emma!

Fortunately, today the parish of Winchcombe and Sudeley seems at peace with itself. Our kind and versatile vicar of both churches and several more in the vicinity is able to devise ceremonies to suit all tastes, sizes and leanings, and The Gloucestershire Echo doesn't seem to be the least bit concerned. How lucky we are.

The Lady of Sudeley is on sale at Sudeley Castle and all bookshops and I can highly recommend it to anyone who would enjoy an intimate insight into the life and secret thoughts of an extraordinary Victorian woman,.........

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