Saturday, May 16, 2020

Hailes, Gloucestershire

At the abbey gate

A few hundred yards from the station in my previous post is the little church of Hailes. It’s one of those Cotswold churches that serves a tiny community – a couple of houses by the station, another near the church itself, a few scattered cottages and farms. Maybe there have never been very many houses around here. It’s likely that the church started out not as a parish church in the usual sense but as the capella ad portas, or chapel at the gate, of Hailes Abbey, in other words a small place of worship for the laity, specifically those who were visiting the abbey. There were a lot of visitors at Hailes because this remote monastery was a major place of pilgrimage – in the Middle Ages people flocked to visit the shrine of the Holy Blood of Hailes.

Like the abbey, the church is mainly 13th century. The windows are small and mostly narrow 13th-century lancets, and the architecture is simple – just a nave, chancel, porch, and a little timber-framed turret for the bells. Inside it’s very plain except for some lovely but fragmentary medieval wall paintings. But there is no going inside and looking at these in this time of social distancing and church closure, just time to pause for a moment and look, and think about those who still look after our churches and ensure their preservation. It’s usually quiet here – there are services, but not that often, and also occasional concerts of early music in the summer. In the building’s 13th-century heyday things would have been very different: a constant traffic of pilgrims arriving and departing, a confusion of bustle, subsiding as people calmed down and made themselves ready to enter with appropriate reverence and solemnity the great and famous abbey across the road. Now it is mostly tractors, callers at the fruit farm, a few cyclists – and cherishable calm.

No comments: