St.Mary The Virgin, East Chinnock, Somerset
St. Mary The Virgin at East Chinnock is a classic case of 'you can't tell a book by its cover' as I very nearly drove past this church on my way home. I'm glad that I did not because a seemingly ordinary church had a fascinating collection of modern glass with an equally interesting story behind it.
www.flickr.com/photos/barryslemmings/sets/72157594430654602/ to see the full set.
There has been a church on the site since the end of the 11th century endowed to the Cluniac Priory of Montacute. It remained with the priory until the Dissolution in 1538/39 when it then passed through various private hands.
The tower is 15th century with a church clock of two faces put up as a war memorial in 1919. There are five bells, the oldest is 1659. The porch and south doorway are 13th century, the nave was half its present width but was widened sometime after 1835 when the roof was found to be in poor condition and the population was then 700 and growing. The pews are made from New Zealand kauri timber brought back as ballast on ships which took East Chinock families to New Zealand in the 1840s when the English rural families fell on hard times.
Now the glass... I am no great fan of modern glass but I found the glass at East Chinnock affecting in more ways the one.
In 1944 Gunther Anton, then a young Luftwaffe rear gunner, was shot down over the Southampton area and sent to a prisoner of war camp near Yeovil. In 1945 he was allowed out of camp and came to East Chinnock to work on a local farm. Aged 18 he was anxious about his family and came into church to pray regularly. He returned to Germany in 1948 and built up a business with his father manufacturing stained glass windows.
He had not forgotten the people of East Chinnock and as master glazier of Leonburg, near Stuttgart, he returned in 1962, 1967, 1969 and 1982. On one trip his glass was impounded by HM Customs as they could not believe so much glass was a gift.
He completed the exterior windows in 1982 but later built a huge glass brick screen across the rear of the church on which the Lamb of God was installed. This last was completed in 1988 and he lived long enough to see the windows dedicated before dying in 1989. The windows were a gift to the people of the area, a thanksgiving for his safe return to Germany and an act of reconciliation.