St Michael and All Angels
Facts and Figures -
Church of St Michael and All Angels, Eaton Bishop, Herefordshire, HR2 9QD
Grade: I Date Listed: 26 January 1967;
English Heritage Building ID: 155353
OS Grid Reference: SO4430439104;
OS Grid Coordinates: 344304, 239104
Latitude/Longitude: 52.0475, -2.8135
This delightful country church boasts some of the finest medieval stained glass in England The exact date when St Michael and All Angels church was founded is not known, but it seems very likely that a stone church with a nave and chancel existed here prior to the Norman invasion in 1066. The triangular roofline of this early building can be seen clearly against the current west wall.
The squat, rectangular tower was added in the 12th century, possibly by the Bishop of Hereford. It is likely that an earlier tower existed, based upon the Saxon style of windows, and the shape of the tower. Sometime in the 13th century the church was expanded, and the nave heightened and widened. One Early English capital in the nave survives from this period.
The font is 13th century, with the addition of a Victorian bowl. The pulpit is a wineglass design, boasting wonderfully carved wooden panels. In the chancel is a 14th century sedila composed of three bays.
The church is situated at the highest point in the village – about 400 feet above sea level. The wall construction uses local sandstone and the spire in covered with oak shingles. The Victorians tiled the floor of the chancel, when the original tombstones were moved into the vestry.
A rare feature is the almost complete carriage drive around the church. However, the most notable feature is the medieval stained glass of the East window considered by Nicolas Pevsner to be “the finest decorated glass in the country…”.
The East window has one of the oldest complete examples of a medieval stained glass window in the country installed circa 1320. A remnant of medieval distemper decoration is visible around the window in the south wall. A major restoration occurred in 1885 and the 422 pipe organ was installed in 1888.
And now we come to the glory of Eaton Bishop - the wonderful medieval stained glass of the chancel. The east window is composed of five vertical lights, diminishing in height from the centre panel. The glass which adorns the windows was created between 1320-40, and was probably made in France, but designed and assembled locally. The leftmost (north) window is centred on a figure of a Madonna and Child. Next comes St Michael weighing souls. The centre window depicts a Bishop, though to be Walther, Bishop of Hereford, to whom the manor of Eaton was given by William the Conqueror. An alternative interpretation is that the bishop figure represents St Barnabas. The next window shows the Archangel Gabriel, and the final (southernmost) window depicts the Head of Christ.
At the base of the east windows are placed 'donor panels'. These extensions of the main window scenes are intended to commemorate the person or organizations who paid for each window. One donor panel has the word 'Cantor', a reference perhaps to Adam de Monmouth, cantor at Hereford Cathedral, who may have been responsible for the window.
During the Second World War the glass was removed from the windows for safe keeping and stored in the nearby vicarage. An interpretive panel illustrates the east window and explains each figure and its meaning.
Taken as a whole, the stained glass at Eaton Bishop is an extraordinary medieval monument, and well worth a trip to see.
A more modern note is struck by a large naval ensign (flag) hung at the west end of the nave. This was flown by the HMS Alcantara during action in the south Atlantic in 1940.
We would like to express our heartfelt Thanks to David Ross for the text above and for many of the photographs of our beautiful church which you see on this site. More of David's work can be found at http://www.britainexpress.com/counties/hereford/churches/index.htm.
Further reading on the glass can be found at http://vidimus.org/issues/issue-04/panel-of-the-month/