Medieval mischief at Sidbury church

Sidbury church tours reveal medieval treasures

THIS week Nostalgia takes a trip out of Sidmouth into the Sid Valley with reader Jenny Ridd who writes:

I have recently moved back to Exeter after a long absence. In order to rediscover my home county, I asked my old friend Diane Gordon for suggestions of interesting places to go.

Being the former headmistress of Sidbury School, she naturally suggested I went to the village, and it was then that I remembered that some of my ancestors had migrated from Luppitt to Sidbury in the 19th century.

Following that, I picked up a leaflet advertising tours of Sidbury church, and I knew I was destined to visit.

The church tour was ably led by Alan Softly, expert on, and keeper of, Sidbury’s records. I had corresponded with his late wife, Barbara, years ago during my “ancestor quest” and bought books she had written about Sidbury.

I was delighted at the start of the tour when I immediately spotted my Griffin forebears, Clement in the churchyard, and Thomas on the churchwardens’ board. But it was the fascinating stories about other aspects of the church that grabbed my attention.

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The church is dedicated to St. Peter and St. Giles. Giles lived as a hermit in France with a hind for a companion.

One day King Wamba was hunting and the hind took refuge with Giles. An arrow missed the hind, but embedded itself in Giles’s leg, injuring him for life. Thus Giles become the patron saint of disabled people.

The church window shows Giles with an arrow through his hand, a variation on the story.

‘Green Men’ abound in the church. These are bosses always found with foliage growing from their mouths, ears or eyes, cleverly carved by medieval carpenters. He embodies the spirit of rebirth in nature, and pagan though he is, the Christian church adopted him to sit alongside angels and seraphim.

Also fascinating were two female corbels found on the outside. Known as ‘Sheela Na Gig’, this mischievous medieval madam blatently bared all, seemingly not caring what future generations might think.

Those medieval masons must have had a wicked sense of humour!

Along with the other marvels in the church, I went down into the Saxon crypt, one of only six remaining in Britain. There I saw the walls of the original pagan church and had the pleasure of holding a piece of stone cross, carved with the everlasting knot pattern, from about AD 680.

I held 1,400 years of history in my hands. I reached out across the years and absorbed their rich history. Is there any greater privilege than that?

*Sidbury church tours are at 2.30 on Thursdays until the end of September. Admission �1.

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