Notes on Essex Churches Canewdon to Fyfield
Medieval carving and grave-robbers...
This section of church photos includes examples of the skilled work of wood carvings from across the centuries. In St Mary and St Clement's church in Clavering, the late 14th century roof rafters are decorated with wooden roof angels which look down on the congregation. One angel is covered in feathers - representing the 6 winged seraphim - medieval actors portraying angels in pageants and mystery plays wore suits of feathers like this. Angel roofs appear mainly in East Anglia (including Essex) where the the highly skilled craftsmen who also built hammerbeam roofs were located. (A good example of a hammerbeam roof can be seen in Chrishall Holy Trinity Church.) The image-destroying iconoclasts of the Reformation found it difficult to reach these angelic "idols" high up out of reach, and for this reason roof angels are now the largest surviving body of major English medieval wood sculpture. The magnificent architecture of St Peter's church at Coggshall also contains wooden angels but these are the equally impressive work of Victorian sculptors.
In Danbury, the St John the Baptist church houses some amazing examples of 13th century wood carving. These are the so called Crusader "Knights of Danbury" which are carved in oak. The effigies of these knightsc are thought to represent members of the St Clere family who owned the manor in the 12th and 13th centuries and used the North Aisle of the church as their private chapel. In the same church, the ends of the pews are decorated with the traditional poppyhead - an ornate fleur-de-lis - as well as carvings of both real and mythological beasts. Most are Victorian replacements but 3 original 15th century pew carvings survived.
St John the Baptist, Finchingfield also has some interesting medieval woodwork. Along the top of a carved screen dated around 1350, the wood worker has carved some quirky figures including a gryphon, a half-human winged lion, and end figures playing a double recorder and bagpipes. Other fine examples of carpentry in this folder include the Jacobean pulpit with octagonal sounding board in St Edmund, East Mersea. Equally, the beautifully-carved Elizabethan pulpit on a 15th century stem at Clavering is worth a look.
In the early 19th century, graves were sometimes protected from grave-robbers -so-called 'resurrectionists'- by enclosing the grave with a steel cage, also known as " mortsafes". There is also the legend that if it was suspected a recently-deceased woman was a witch, the cage was positioned across the remains to prevent her from escaping back into the world of the living. Examples of this grave protection can be seen at Eastwood - St Laurence and at East Mersea - St Edmund.