Why did they have so many churches in medieval times?

Most medieval people had a strong religious faith. They believed that God would judge their actions. Everyone went to church. Many people became priests, monks, nuns and friars. They led services, prayed, studied and helped the poor and sick.

People felt it was a good thing to give money to the church. The king and the nobles gave land for new monasteries and nunneries to be set up. Some of these estates grew very large and rich. All over England, thousands of new churches and chapels were built, enlarged and improved. Local landowners and merchants used their wealth to make their own parish churches beautiful or to support charities.

Are there any medieval churches in the Quantocks?

All the Quantock parish churches were first built in the 12th century or even earlier. Over the years, they were altered or even rebuilt, so what you see now may not be the original building.

  • Holford church was built in the 1100s. The large window and the extra room at the left were added much later.  It may have started off with a thatched roof.  Otherwise the look of this little church hasn’t changed much since early medieval times.
  • The Norman south doorway of Enmore Church. The rest of the church has changed since then.

The font is where people were baptised, when they became Christians, so it was very holy object. Often it is one of the oldest things in the church. This simple stone font is 800 years old.

  • When they built a new church in East Quantoxhead in 1854, they kept the original font from the medieval church.

Outside every Saxon and Medieval church stood a large cross to remind people that this was holy ground. They were used for preaching and during religious services. Most have been moved or broken, but some still survive.

  • The churchyard cross at Crowcombe is as old as the church. The shaft of the cross is made of ham stone and is carved with figures of John the Baptist, a bishop and a Prioress from the convent  that owned Crowcombe manor.

You mght notice yew trees in some old churchyards. There was an ancient belief that yew trees were sacred, representing immortality. Animals get ill when they eat yew, so they didn’t plant them in ordinary fields.

  • Yew tree, in Bicknoller church yard, is said to be 1000 years old, older than the resent church building.

In medieval times, the parish priest was one of the few people who could read or write. All the parish records and valuables were kept in the church in a secure chest.

  • This strong, iron-bound, oak chest is in Broomfield church. The medieval carpenter and blacksmith who made it did a good job.

In Medieval churches, the altar was so holy that most of the time only the priest could go close to it. To keep that end of the church (the chancel) separate, they put up a wooden screen like this one. On top of it would be a large carving of the crucifixion of Jesus.

  • The finely carved screen in Bicknoller church was moved here from another church. Many screens were taken down in the Reformation

This hole through the wall was so that people could see the altar from the other side of the screen.

  • The proper name for this hole is a ‘hagioscope’. ‘Hagios’ means ‘holy’ This is in Aisholt church.

Before clocks, a sundial like this would be useful for the priest so that he knew when it was time for the next service.

  • 13thc sundial on the wall of  West Bagborough church.

In the 15th century, when the Quantocks were doing well because of the wool trade, many churches were enlarged or given new windows or taller towers.

  • This splendidly decorated tower was added to the church of Kingston St Mary in about 1490.

Skilful local craftsmen, like Simon Werman were employed to carve beautiful oak screens, pulpits and bench-ends in many Quantock churches.

  • A carved bench end in Crowcombe church showing the legendary ‘Green Man’.

As well as all the parish churches, there was a nunnery was at Cannington, and a Benedictine religious house in Dunster. These were closed down in the 16th century.