A Visitor’s Guide to St Giles – The Church Building
In the church the first thing you will see is the font. It is over 500 years old. It has no always been by the door. Originally it stood next o a wall – the blank face is evidence of this. An Octagon shaped font traditionally represents perfection.
To the left (north) of the font (see picture above) you will see the Parish Chest. In it were kept the written records and items of value. It is made of oak and is very solid. It is over 500 years old. The side with two key-holes was the strong box. The wardens would have had a key each. Both wardens would have to be present to unlock it.
The roof was constructed with oak beams and was built in 1330. The beams were never cut to shape; foresters would bend the trees for their intended purpose. It has been said that the beams in ST Giles are similar to the ones used for the construction of ships. However over the centuries these beams have become as hard as iron and has only one major repair in 1928 when steel braces were put on some of the beams.
The Nave is the oldest remaining part of St Giles; other parts (i.e. the Tower and North Aisle) were added later. On inspection you will notice that the arches on the north side of the Nave lean outwards – over the early years of the building the downward forces of the roof pushed the wall outwards. However despite the lack of higher mathematics and structural engineers the building has stood the test of time.
In front of the first pew on the South wall you will see the original priscina where the priest washed the communion plates. This ceased to be used when the Chancel was built and a new priscina was placed in the ‘new’ sanctuary. Above the ‘old’ priscina can be seen an ambry – a secure cupboard where the communion plate, valuables etc. were stored. The Parish Chest replaced the ambry.
If you carefully study the nave you will notice that you see more of one of the walls than the other. Tradition has it that our Lord’s head was bowed towards his right side when he was on the cross. The stained glass window of Jesus on the cross in the North Aisle shows Jesus’ head leaning towards his right hand side. This area of the church is called the weeping chancel.
In the Chancel you see our Thomas Bray Memorabilia and a plaque dedicated to his memory. Thomas Bray was Rector of Sheldon from 1690 – 1730. He had written a bestselling book about Baptism and this brought him to the attention of the Bishop of London who was responsible for the Church of England in the ‘New World’.
Thomas went to visit Maryland. He was shocked by what he saw there. On his return he set up first missionary society called the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK). SPCK sent clergy to the USA with a small library of books. He also wrote the constitution for the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (ECUSA). He founded a Missionary Society that sent out Missionaries overseas the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel which today is known as USPG united).
Thomas also believed that the future of the Christian Faith was in is young people. So he set up the first School in Sheldon which remained open until Stanville School was opened in the mid 1950’s. In his school Thomas encouraged the children to grow in the Christian Faith. He taught the latest hymns – he would have enjoyed what we are doing today. Thomas also started a society to educate the children of the slaves taken from Africa to the New World. This society was finally closed in the mod 1920’s.
Thomas was one of the most important men in the history of the Church of England, yet he was content to remain Rector of Sheldon. His missionary societies gave birth to the Anglican Community (The Church of England is a member of the Anglican Family of Churches) of which there are over 70 million members world wid. Thomas never gave up on Sheldon and remained it Rector until his death.
In the Sanctuary Holy Communion is celebrated on Sundays and other days. If you look under the coverings of the Altar you will discover a wooden table. Behind the Communion Table is a Reredos of the Last Supper – when Jesus introduced the service of Holy Communion.
Behind the Communion Table, the statue on your right is of St Augustine. His consecration as Archbishop of Canterbury according to the tradition was on Sunday 16th November AD597. He was known for his missionary work in England which gained him the title of Apostle to the English. St Augustine died AD. 605 on 24th May.
To the left of the reredos is a statue of St Giles. Although he was born into a wealthy family in Athens, he lived as a hermit in a cave in the diocese of Nimes(France), a cave whose mouth was guarded by a thick thorn bush, and a lifestyle so impoverished that, legend says, God sent a hind (female deer) to him to nourish him with her milk.
One day after he had lived there for several years in meditation, a royal hunting party chased the hind into Giles cave. One hunter shot an arrow into the thorn bush, hoping to hit the deer, but it hit Giles in the leg instead, crippling him. The king sent doctors to care for the saint’s wound, and though Giles begged to be left alone, the king cam often to see him.
From this his fame as sage and miracle worker spread, and would-be followers gathered near the cave. The French king, because of his admiration, build a monastery of St Giles du Gard for these followers, and Giles became its first Abbot, establishing his own discipline there. A small town grew around the Monastery. Upon Giles’ death, his grave became a shrine and place of pilgrimage; the monastery later became a Benedictine house.
The combination of the town, monastery, shrine and pilgrims led to many handicapped beggars hoping for alms; this and Giles’ insistence that he wished to live outside the city, and his own damaged leg, led to his patronage of beggars, and to cripples since begging was the only source of income for many. Hospitals and safe houses for the poor, crippled, and leprous were constructed in England and Scotland, and were built so cripples could reach them easily. On their passage to Tyburn for execution, convicts were allowed to stop at Saint Giles’ Hospital where they were presented with a bowl of ale called Saint Giles’ Bowl, “thereof to drink at their pleasure, as their last refreshing in this life,” Churches dedicated to St Giles are often found at road junctions enabling travellers to visit whilst their horses were being shod at the nearby smithies, St Giles being their patron also.
The North Aisle originally dates back to the 1450’s but was restored in the 1860’s. However some original parts of the Old Aisle were retained. Above the organ you see a Pentagon shaped window, a strange shape to have in a church and it is believed to be the only one in Europe. It bears several depictions of the Early Church as well as the words “Holy, Holy, Holy.” It was blocked up to avoid its destruction by the Puritans and not unblocked as Thomas bray found a two story School adjacent to this window, and where the Vestry now stands. It was ‘rediscovered’ when the North Aisle was renovated in 1867.
It is thought the organ came from Elmdon Hall, the home of the Spooner Family. One of the Spooner daughters married William Wilberforce (The anti-slave Trade Campaigner). The organ is a classical tracker working by levers and a power by bellows. Before the introduction of electricity it was powered by a choir boy pumping the bellows. Notice that the black and white keys are opposite to the “normal” organ – due to a shortage in ivory at the time it was built.
The North Aisle retains a beautiful Tudor style stained glass window depicting the stories surrounding the death of Christ on the Cross. The glass dates back to the renovation of the North Aisle. Also in the North Aisle is another stone Reredos, which dates back to the 14th Century. The figures are thought to be St John, Mary and Christ; they were destroyed by the puritans after the civil war. The Reredos was moved to its current place in the 1860’s, prior to this it was sited at the west end of the North Aisle providing a backdrop for an Altar.
At the west end of the Nave is the Tower. In 1461 work was started to extend the church (by some 12feet) and to build the tower. The Mason’s bill can still be seen at the foot of the tower and reads as follows
In the year of our Lord MCCCLXI ye stepel was begun ye mason had two and forti pounds iiis and Viiid making of the stepel
There has been a church on this site for over 750years and may have been for 1000years. Its purpose – to proclaim God’s love for all, shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bells have had an important part to play in that proclamation – calling people to worship.
The Bells are rung from a platform in the tower. There are eight bells the oldest is over 400years old.
If you are 8 years and over, you can learn how to ring properly by contacting us. Bell Ringers meet on Fridays at 8.00pm.