May 23 – A visit to Wedmore, the Birthplace of England

Market Day in Wells

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

We arrived early at Wells cathedral this morning after parking in Ash Lane and walking through the Vicar’s Close. It is such a delight to be working somewhere so beautiful and full of new things to see and to learn. Vicar’s Close is claimed to be the oldest purely residential street with original buildings surviving intact in Europe. It comprises numerous Grade I listed buildings, comprising 27 residences, originally 44, built for Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury, a chapel and library at the north end, and a hall at the south end, over an arched gate. It is connected at its southern end to the cathedral by way of a walkway over Chain Gate. Construction started in 1348 and it has a wonderful cobbled road. One of the buildings seems to be used for music lessons or practise as it backs onto the school of music and every day we hear different instruments being played. We have heard clarinets, flutes, oboes, violins, violas, cellos and piano practise. We discovered this place on our second day and so we walk through the close twice a day now on the way to the cathedral. It is a place that all the visitors have to seek out too. The chimneys are very tall in the Vicar’s Close and apparently, they were made taller so that the choristers would not get asthma and other breathing problems.

During the day, Anne, one of the cathedral guides came to see the Medieval Mosaic. She specialises in stained glass windows so she took me into the cathedral to talk about the various windows. Her husband, Michael Blandford was photographing the Jesse stained glass window. He came around later to see the mosaic and while we were talking he mentioned several churches around the district that we might be interested in visiting including the church at Wedmore. I looked it up on my church micro map and found that there were three church micros in Wedmore so we said we would go there after work today. He offered to meet us there and set up a light especially so that we would get a great view of their amazing wall painting.

When we arrived about 6, Michael was here and gave us a really interesting tour of the church. Wedmore was the Old Birthplace of England. After winning the Battle of Ethandun in 878 AD, Alfred the Great caused the Viking leader Guthrum and his followers to be baptised at Aller and then celebrated at Wedmore. After this, the Treaty of Wedmore was signed here and the Vikings withdrew to East Anglia. King Alfred started the unification of England under a single King and this was completed under his grandson.

The wall painting is of St Christopher crossing a river carrying the child Jesus. There is an interesting story about why the wall painting survived. There used to be a triple Jacobean pulpit (desk) with a tester in front of the wall painting and other wall paintings all over the chancel arch. During the Reformation, the walls were whitewashed and later when it was being cleaned the wall paintings were found but destroyed because of the whitewash. St Christopher was found, still in an excellent condition when the pulpit was removed. It is actually three paintings on top of each other. St Christopher carrying the child Jesus across the river was from 1460 and there is another ghost picture of Jesus behind the head from 1480 and the sailing ships and the mermaid at the bottom is from 1520. It is a wonderful painting and we felt very privileged to be able to see it. This church dates from the 1200’s and had two aisles added, the south aisle in 1450 and the north aisle in 1480. It has 90 corbels probably carved by the stonemasons of Wells cathedral. The East window is a lovely Clayton and Bell window from 1890 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 50th year of reign. At the top of the window are three other kings who also reached 50 years of reign. Underneath them are four monarchs with two important scenes from their lives underneath them. King Alfred with the burning of the cakes and converting Guthrum; William the Conqueror with the oath swearing scene and Harold with the arrow in his eye; Queen Elizabeth 1 with Sir Francis Drake putting his cloak across the puddle and the Armada; Queen Victoria with her crowning and becoming the Empress of India. A stunning window and a real pleasure.

The church has some wonderful 13th-century ironwork on a replacement door from 1677. The chandeliers are lovely and date from 1779. They are still used regularly and have candles on them. There are ninety corbels in St Mary’s possibly carved by the same carvers that made the corbels in Wells Cathedral. In 1550 the stone altar was hidden from the ravages of the Reformation as stone altars were banned. The medieval slab altar was not discovered under the chancel floor until 1880.

There are some wonderful bench ends made by Zoe Gertner in the 1970’s depicting rural life. Zoe Gertner specialises in teaching woodcarving, her woodcarving courses being for people of any age from 8 years upwards and from all walks of life. Zoe is a fully qualified teacher who studied anatomy and kinesiology as part of her Honours degree. A professional woodcarver since 1980, Zoe is experienced in all aspects of wood carving, and her carvings can be found in Somerset churches as well as in private collections all over the world.

We thanked Michael for his interesting tour and in return, he asked to accompany us to find St Mary’s church micro as he was fascinated by our hobby. The cache was quickly found just outside the church grounds and we were able to show him. Then we headed off to the Baptist church where we looked for a while before suddenly understanding the hint and finding the cache easily once we were looking at the right pole. Actually, it was more of a waratah than a pole but maybe that is not a commonly used word in England. The church micro at the Methodist church eluded us and it was on a difficult corner and we had to give up after thoroughly searching all the obvious places and a great many not so obvious ones.

We drove home over the Mendip Hill calling in at the church in Rodney Stoke. The church was not open which was hardly surprising but we found the church micro without a hitch. On the main road, I realised we were about to pass the final for a puzzle that I had worked out the other day so we pulled into the car park and were greeted with excellent views out from the Mendip Hills towards Glastonbury. It was a wonderful warm evening and it was one of those times when you thank geocaching for bringing you to such a special spot. A brilliant evening to a lovely day.