Churches

How can churches help us find out about the Past?

The church is often the oldest building in the village. It is a good place for a history detective to start. You can usually spot where people have enlarged and improved their churches over the years. In the past, nearly everyone went to church, and when they died they were buried there. The church was part of everyday life. So the church, the churchyard and the church records can tell us a lot about the past.

 

The earliest churches were made of wood, the same as all the other buildings. But people wanted their churches to last, so they began to use stone. Often the Lord of the Manor had the first stone church built, when he built his own house.

 

Some church buildings began as part of a monastery. When Henry VIII closed down the monasteries he destroyed most of the buildings, but some churches survived.

 

Not all churches and chapels are old. Newer churches can look very different. People with different religious beliefs have built their own meeting places, or adapted other buildings. If there aren't enough people, places of worship are sometimes closed down.  Then the buildings might be used for something else.

Which Quantock churches do you want to find out about?

Quantock Church Fact Boxes: Explanation

Dedicated to
Most churches are dedicated to (named after) a Christian Saint. There are one or two exceptions.
Plan

Churches nearly always face the same way, with the altar at the East end. The main entrance is usually in the South wall.

  • Nave the main part of the church where the people (congregation) sit.
  • Chancel: a smaller area, at the east end of the church. It contains the main altar, and is often the oldest surviving part of the church.
  • North/South Aisles: extensions added next to the chancel to make more space for the congregation. They replaced the north or south chancel wall with a row of pillars.
  • Tower: usually at the west end of the church.
  • Vestry: usually a small room added to the side of the church where the priest’s special clothes, altar covers, communion vessels, registers etc. were kept.
  • Porch: often the south doorway has a porch where people could shelter.
Made of
  • Random rubble: building stone that has only been roughly shaped, and used in any order to make a wall.
  • Details: doorways, window surrounds, arches and other parts of the building, using good quality, carefully carved stone.
Age
Many churches are hundreds of years old but have been altered, improved and enlarged over the years. Sometimes you can’t easily tell which are the oldest parts. A good clue to the age of different parts of the church is the style that was used for details like windows.
Special features
Every church is different with its own special or unusual features. We have listed a few for you to look out for, but you will spot many more.