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Female Saints, Stanford on Avon | by Aidan McRae Thomson
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Female Saints, Stanford on Avon

Detail of the 14th century south aisle east window at Stanford on Avon.

 

St Nicholas's at Stanford on Avon is simply a churchcrawler's delight, one of the most rewarding village churches a visitor could hope for. There is so much to admire here, the building itself is mainly 14th century in an attractive mixture of stone types, with a sturdy west tower crowned by chunky Georgian pinnacles. From outside several blocked windows are noticeable, the result of several of the grandiose monuments within. The interior is light and spacious, thanks to the almost total lack of seating in the nave and aisles, just a few pews aligned with the nave arcades to keep clutter to a minimum. The original timber ceilings remain above, with some amusing bosses in the nave.

 

There is much ancient woodwork in the chancel, mostly tudor linenfold panelling (brought here from nearby Stanford Hall). There is one misericord seat, and the woodwork of the screen and pulpit are also medieval. At the west end is a post Reformation gem, the 1630 organ made for the chapel of Whitehall Palace and ejected by Oliver Cromwell. It ended up in the possession of the local Cave family of Stanford Hall and found sanctuary here.

 

The Cave family are the main reason for the wealth of monuments in the church, a collection representing most periods from the medieval to the early 20th century, some of very fine quality. The earliest is the 14th century priest in the south aisle, the rest are from tudor times and onwards, including fine tudor alabaster effigies in the nave, a large Elizabethan monument in the north aisle, a grand Jacobean monument in the chancel, two big early 19th century monuments at the west end (these last three all block windows), and the slightly unnerving Zulu War memorial in the north aisle, with a soldier stepping off his plinth. The walls throughout the church are adorned with large colourful hatchments that add to the building's character.

 

The monuments and furnishings would individually be ample reward elsewhere, but there is more still in the superb collection of medieval stained glass, one of the most extensive in any parish church. Not much of it is in situ, except for sections of the east window and the remaining chancel windows with their complete series of the 12 apostles in 14th century glass. The end windows of both aisles have much glass of the same date, with good traceries and female saints in the main lights. The bulk of the aisle windows are glazed with a collection of later donor panels,roundels and heraldry, though all are worthy of examination. (The glass was completely removed for several years during the 1990s, to be restored and re-ordered by the Barley Studio in York; I visited a couple of times to find the church looking very different, being entirely plain-glazed).

 

Being close to my home town of Rugby, this was one of the first medieval churches I was taken to see in childhood when I first developed an interest in them. It left a lasting impression and is one of my all time favourites.

  

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Taken on April 14, 2012