07 April 2008

St. Thomas Becket, Salisbury

I know, I know. It appears that I have a fixation on Salisbury, first with the Cathedral, and now St. Thomas Becket. But I love this church. It was built in 1220 by the builders of the cathedral, so they'd have a place to worship while working on the cathedral. That always struck me as a beautiful thing, to know that these stonemasons and laborers and craftsmen were men of faith. And it's interesting to remember that St. Thomas had been martyred only fifty years before, so when this church was dedicated to him, he was rather a "new" saint.

The Church of St. Thomas is actually prettier from the outside than this picture shows. This is a side view, and doesn't show the fa├žade or the full tower. The present building is actually an extensive expansion and renovation of the original, and is built in the Perpendicular style, which was the very latest architectural fashion in the 1300's, allowing for huge expanses of glass windows. Although I used to go here often to pray, my strongest memory is both fond and terrifying. This was the place where I first officiated at Evensong as a young theological student. Those of us at the Theological College used to have to go out to preach or officiate at Morning or Evening Prayer, all as part of our practical training. Several of the churches around Salisbury had to endure this, and when my turn came it was Sarum St. Thomas that drew the short straw.

You can scarcely see it in this picture, but there is one of the finest examples of a Doom painting over the arch of the sanctuary. It had been whitewashed over for the duration of several generations, but was finally uncovered and restored. Christ the Judge is the central figure, with lots of figures of the saved and of the damned. One of the more amusing aspects of this is that the painting apparently was given by a wealthy merchant. There are plenty of bishops amongst the damned, but there's not a single merchant headed to hell!