Sunday, August 25, 2013
Torbryan's stolen panels and an appeal
Readers of this blog, especially those who live in the United Kingdom, may have read about the recent theft of two painted panels from the 15th-century oak screen in Holy Trinity Church, Torbryan, Devon. These panels, depicting St Victor of Marseilles and St Margaret of Antioch,† are very rare. Very few medieval painted screens have survived in our churches – many disappeared during the iconoclasm of the 17th century and not all the other survivors are of such good quality as the Torbryan panels. To make matters worse, the neighbouring panel, portraying a female saint, was also badly damaged during the theft.
The church at Torbryan is one of 341 in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), a charity that cares for and conserves churches that have been made redundant by the Church of England, and are of historical and architectural significance.* The CCT maintains the churches so that they meet community needs (all remain consecrated so that occasional services can be held in them) and encourages people to visit them. They do terrific work, conserving and looking after these fragile buildings and the artefacts inside them, and keeping the buildings open so that people can enjoy and appreciate them, and they deserve our support. Several of the churches I've posted about in the past – for example Billesley (Warwickshire), Little Washbourne (Gloucestershire), and Inglesham (Wiltshire) – are cared for the CCT, and I hope my enthusiasm for these buildings comes through from my posts.
One way in which the CCT is furthering its work is with a project called History for the Future. This involves an appeal for funds towards work to conserve important and historic fixtures and fittings in various CCT churches – items from a Norman door in Hertfordshire to a stunning collection of monuments in Derbyshire. There will be the added benefit of match-funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. For four years, HLF will match every pound raised by the CCT History for the Future appeal. Churches that stand to benefit are several of my personal favourites – St Mary the Virgin, Shrewsbury, with its glittering 14th-century Jesse window, All Saints' Cooling, Kent, with its Dickensian associations, and St John the Baptist, Inglesham, with its extraordinary multi-layered wall paintings. There's information about the appeal here, and I'd encourage all who can to contribute.
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† St Victor of Marseilles was one of the Christians persecuted under the Roman emperor Maximian. Victor denounced the worship of idols and refused to offer incense to Jupiter and was subsequently tortured before being crushed under a millstone. He is therefore often shown with a windmill and sometimes also, having been a soldier, with a sword.
St Margaret of Antioch was a probably legendary figure, said to have been the daughter of a pagan priest at Antioch. A noted preacher who converted many to Christianity, she was said to have suffered various tortures, including being swallowed by a dragon, which later burst asunder so that she might escape. She was a very popular saint in the Middle Ages, having promised divine protection to those who study her history, burn lights in her honour, or dedicate churches to her.
* The photograph at the top of this post, showing the damaged screen after the theft, is courtesy the CCT and used with their permission.The photograph of the screen prior to the theft is by Diana Neale.