Church Tourism Week

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Chichester Cathedral artwork by Marc Chagall

Today is the start of Church Tourism Week, an annual celebration of heritage and historic churches.

Whether you are religious or not the stories about or contained within our thousands of churches reveal more about our heritage and life than many other buildings. For example, many churches are quite austere inside with white walls on which change memorials to local worthies. Visit St Peter and St Pauls Church at Chaldon near Caterham in Surrey and you will see the west wall painted with a mural showing heaven and hell. It was only restored in 1989 after having been whitewashed over by our Victorian ancestors. In mediaeval times churches would have been colourful as pictures helped tell the story to illiterate villagers of the bible.  This is the case at St Teilo’s Church which has been transported to St Fagans National Museum of History just north of Cardiff. Every wall is covered with bravura art telling stories to inspire mediaeval folk.

Apart from the majesty of some of the buildings such as our cathedrals or abbeys, some of the finishing touches placed by builders or craftsmen such as misshapen figures and animals are what attracts us. In some you can now sleep the night away, many have restaurants or coffee shops. They are adapting to an age where not just parishioners come and see but the wider world visits.

In Lincoln and Salisbury cathedrals you can see copies of Magna Carta. In Hereford Cathedral there is the Mappa Mundi, a mediaeval map dating back to the thirteenth century and one of the most important documents to show us how our long-gone ancestors saw the world. In other buildings such as Chichester Cathedral and   All Saints’ Church in Tudeley near Tonbridge in Kent you can see stained glass windows designed by the international artist, Marc Chagall.

But not everything is inside a church. Visit graveyards and you will come across all manner of intriguing things. In many Scottish graveyards you will see skull and cross-bone motifs on headstones. Were all these people pirates? No, it was a symbol to remind people that all are mortal yet seeing it for the first time attracted my attention to seek out others. In the graveyard of St Padarn’s Church in Llanbadarn Fawr in Mid-Wales you’ll find the grave of the bathing machine proprietor as well as a WWI, Victoria Cross holder. And we all know of famed inscriptions on graves such as “I told I was ill” and “Under this sod lies another.”

How many are apocryphal and how many are genuine?  You just need to look and see. I did just that in cemeteries around my village and found four previous inhabitants of the house in which I now live!

This is what the visitor can see on any ordinary day visiting a church or religious founddation. But during this special week, churches have added other attractions a list of which can be found on their website.

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