More than a Millennium of Faith

by Gerry Lynch last modified 08 Sep, 2014 05:04 PM

Saxon Church in the Pewsey Vale awarded grant that should help secure it for centuries to come.

The tiny Saxon Church of St Mary’s in Alton Barnes is one of the architectural gems of the Pewsey Vale. It has been a place of prayer and Christian worship for more than a thousand years. The time when it was first built is closer to the time of Christ than it is to our own. It has just received a significant grant which should help secure its future.

St Mary’s  is one of 16 Parish churches in the Vale of Pewsey team ministry. The parish was mentioned in the Domesday Book and its name derives from the Saxon "village by the stream". The parish contains a long barrow at Adam's Grave, a section of the Wansdyke and a famous white horse, cut in 1812.  The tiny church is predominantly Saxon with subsequent modifications. There is a fine Georgian gallery and some interesting monuments. There are several stained glass panels as well as delightful small engraved panes by Laurence and Simon Whistler.

The Alton Barnes Saxon Church project aims to safeguard the Grade I listed building and engage the community in discovering more about the Church and its past. Urgent repairs to the roof and walls will be carried out and the timber floor, panelling and memorials will be conserved. Working with other community groups, including the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society (WANHS), technical evaluation and guidance and research will be provided to help with interpreting the Church’s long history. The value of the Church is described in the Chairman of the National Trust - Simon Jenkins’ – book “England’s Thousand Best Churches”.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has now awarded the project development funding of £19,900 to assist with plans to apply for a full grant within the next two years. Development funding is normally only awarded when the Fund believes the project has potential to deliver high-quality benefits and value for Lottery money.

Michael Balston, chairman of the fund-raising group, said: “We’re delighted and relieved that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this support. After 1,000 years the building sorely needs attention to keep it weather tight. We hope we can ensure that it will remain at the heart of the community for centuries to come. This is an incomparably special place seething with history and we must play our part to keep it intact and vibrant.”

Explaining the importance of the HLF support, Nerys Watts, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West, said: “St Mary’s Church and its setting provides a great insight into the long-standing and varied heritage of the local area. With HLF’s grant, the history and important architecture of the church will be conserved and opened up to a wider audience for future generations. HLF is pleased to support this worthwhile project.”

In an era where thinking is often incredibly short-term, it is humbling to be in a building were people have been praying for around forty generations. Let us hope and pray that St Mary’s will still be witnessing to the Christian faith for a thousand years to come.

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