Past Remains

A view of yesterday from today

St Michael's Church, Musbury, Devon

The village of Musbury takes it's title from the Old English name of the ancient hill fort rising above it, the name loosely, and amusingly, meaning 'ancient place overrun by mice'...a descriptive way of saying that it's deserted! The church of St Michael sits high above the village, half way on the hill beneath the fort. The oldest part of the present-day church is the tower, which dates from 1420, but it is thought that an earlier structure would have existed on the same site; possibly a far simpler building without aisles, situated where the nave is now.

Like many buildings in the area, it is built of local flint rubble and freestone blocks; Beer stone having been used for the dressings to the openings, quoins, parapet coping and internal arches. Ham stone was also used, particularly in the tower parapet, and the roof is made of slate. Quarry tiles were laid in the sanctuary and aisles when the church was rebuilt during the 19th century, and the old stone slabs let into their former places.

The most prominent feature of the church is the Drake family memorial, which was built in 1611 and further extended circa 1646. The family lived at nearby Ash, now known as Ashe House. The figures represent, from left to right, Sir John Drake and his wife, Amy Grenville, his son Sir Barnard Drake and his wife Garthrud Fortesque, and Sir John Drake (Sir Bernard's son) with his wife, Dorothye Button. The east window next to the memorial was dedicated to the memory of Robert Hamlyn Mervyn Drake in 1970.

An interesting bit of information from Wikipedia about the supposed connection between Sir Francis Drake and the Drakes of Ash...

"The Drake family of Ash rejected a claim by Admiral Sir Francis Drake (c.1540–1596) of Buckland Abbey, whom they considered to be below the rank of gentry, that he was descended from their ancient Drake family of Ash, and a famous physical confrontation broke out in the court of Queen Elizabeth I between Admiral Sir Bernard Drake (c.1537–1586) of Ash and Admiral Sir Francis Drake of Buckland Abbey when the latter made claim to the armorials of Drake of Ash."

The addition of the south aisle, at the end of the 15th century, increased the width of the nave. This meant that the tower is no longer on the original east-west axis of the church. The west door was subsequently realigned to match the nave inside, as can be seen in the photo below. This answers a question of mine, as I have often noticed this anomaly on other churches I have visited and wondered why that was. 

The beautiful Venetian mosaic reredos of passion flowers set in marble, in the photo below, was one of many gifts bestowed upon the church by the Drake family. This one was a gift from Sir William Drake in 1874.

I hope I don't offend anyone but I have to say that, despite the many lovely features and interesting history of the church, I felt it to be very cold in atmosphere and unwelcoming...even hostile. This is somewhat unusual for me as I find most churches, even the darkest of them, quite peaceful places. However, being rather sensitive to buildings, it does make me wonder why.

Oddly enough, I was showing some visiting friends around Seaton Parish church and they commented on how warm and welcoming it was. I told them about this church and how uncomfortable I'd felt, and the wife of the couple immediately picked up on it as possibly having been incumbert by stern, paternalistic clergy in the past. It would be interesting to find out if there's any truth to that, but there are no 'feminine touches' here, such as flowers or candles, so maybe the atmosphere has affected peoples attitude towards it.

The exterior, however, is delightful. Just outside the porch is a step in which fossils have been embedded; in homage to the Jurassic Coast perhaps.

 More photos can be seen in the Photo Gallery album.

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