Friday, 4 April 2014

Vaults and Elephants

On the border of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, and surprisingly near the ghastly conjoining of the M1, the M6 and the A14, is Stanford-on-Avon. Parkland trees surround the red brick Hall built in the late 17th century by Sir Roger Cave, a monument to the early aviator Percy Pilcher sits out in a field, and amongst the few houses of the village is the 14th century church of St.Nicholas. Don't do as I have done for years and just wander by, idly remarking on its imposing appearance, but get in there. Your eyes won't know where to look first, the nave and side aisles being stuffed with fabulous monuments, including an extraordinary one of 1896 to Edmund Verney. A life-size hussar in full rig steps up to place a wreath below a medallion portrait, at his side a shield and spear looking as if they were discovered like this, dropped hurriedly on the South African veldt. 

Last Saturday I once again stopped under the trees outside, seeing as if for the first time this oversize mound, lit just for me it would appear, against the dark east end of the church. My first thoughts got me very excited. Could it be an ancient tumulus, a reminder that the early church respected what had gone before on this very same spot? Fleetingly I entertained the notion that it might be the resting place of a deceased circus elephant, an example of which I know exists out in a Lincolnshire park. Back home I fruitlessly scoured my Pevsner and Shell Guide, hoping for at least a clue. Nothing. So, with more time to spare on Wednesday, I made the detour to Stanford again. Closer inspection of the mound showed two iron grilles half way up, presumably set in to provide ventilation to the inside of the mound. But for what? The answer came in the simple little leaflet propped up amongst the postcards. A list headed Finally, the visitor should notice concluded: Outside the church, at the east end, is a mound covering the family vault of the Cave family, Lord Braye's ancestors. Of course it is. I assume entrance was once gained from a doorway behind the altar. I've seen vaults outside churches and amongst lesser tombs in cemeteries, but never without some sort of inscription that at the very least would stop my wild imaginings about altruistic early Christians and elephants suddenly finding themselves in the eternal Big Top.


Linda said...

Fascinating post. Thank you so much for sharing. Greetings from Montreal, Canada.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Cor! Just checked this church out in reference books and online - it looks an absolute snorter!

Peter Ashley said...

Greetings from the heart of Unmitigated England Linda!

And yes Phil, essential viewing the next time you're negotiating the motorway junctions.