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18 September 2014
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Clues from the Past in Kirtling Parish Church

By Carol Davidson Cragoe
The fittings

Image of a carved wooden angel on the wall at Kirtling parish church
A wooden angel that survived the destruction of the English Civil War ©
Most of the liturgical fittings, such as the pulpit and pews, that we see at Kirtling today were installed in the 19th century. Only the font, another product of the 15th-century parishioners’ renovations, is medieval. That this should be the case is a testament to two things - reformation and restoration.

The Reformation of the mid- 16th century stripped Kirtling of all of its images. The medieval windows would have been full of stained glass, and brightly coloured pictures of saints and religious scenes would have been painted on the walls. There was a rood screen across the chancel arch, and above it the rood, a life-size representation of the Crucifixion.

'The pictures have gone, but ... some of the angels are still there.'

All these images were destroyed at the Reformation as being 'superstitious' or 'idolatrous', because the Protestant reformers believed that people were worshipping the actual images rather than God. This process of destruction did not stop at the Reformation.

During the Civil War, the parliamentary commissioner William Dowsing came to Kirtling. He ordered the destruction of 'three superstitious pictures and 14 carved angels in the roof'. The pictures have gone, but perhaps he did not come back to check because some of the angels are still there.

After the turmoils of the Reformation and the Civil War, religious life calmed down. Most churches received new fittings, such as pulpits and box pews. At Kirtling both the pulpit and the pews are 19th century, however, as all the old fittings were swept away during a ‘restoration’ of the church in 1862.

The 19th-century restorers believed that they were putting the church back to what it had been in the Middle Ages, but in the process they often threw away a great deal of history. Guide books often refer to 19th-century restorations as ‘modern’, but as we move into the 21st century, they too are becoming part of history.

Published: 2005-02-01

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