the Virgin, Belstone
There has been a parish church at Belstone since at least
1260AD, the date when the first recorded priest, William de
Speccot, was appointed. However, at the time, Belstone Church
was 'void by official sentence' and it seems probable that a
priest was here well before that date.Indeed, the incised granite
cross, which stands on the south wall of the Church, near the
Lady Chapel, has been dated from somewhere between the 7th and
the 9th centuries.This indicates that there has been active
Christian worship in the area since before the Norman Conquest
and the Manor of Belstone is recorded in the Domesday Book,
confirming the existence of an established farming community
from the Anglo-Saxon era. Tin streaming on the moor and granite
quarrying and cutting seem to have made Belstone wealthy enough
to afford to build a church, even in such a remote place.
There is some evidence in the building of its Norman origins,
but the present small and solid granite building, built to withstand
the Dartmoor winters, dates from the 14th or 15th century. the
earliest surviving written record of it is in an 'Inventory
of Church Goods' compiled in 1547. the first reference to the
Church being dedicated to St Mary the Virgin is later still,
in 1738. A contempory Visitation Report complements the parish
on the good state of the Church fabric, but this appears to
mark the beginning of a long period of neglect and decline.
By the early 19th century a series of reports testified that
the whole fabric was in a very sorry state. A partial restoration
was undertaken in 1855, including the rebuilding of the singing
gallery, a traditional feature of many small churches.
There is also a record of an unusual and distinctive feature
of chuch life in Belstone: men and women were seperated during
services at this time, with the men sitting on the south side
of the Church and women on the north. By the 1870s the Church
had again become very neglected and decayed and there was a
further major restoration in 1881 which swept away all the old
pews, carved rood screen and rotting floor. Much of the present
day simple granite church building dates from this restoration.
The ancient font is a relic from the earliest church
building in which parishioners have been baptized,
perhaps since the time of William de Speccot's day. The
organ stood originally in the private chapel of the Tudor
manor house, Knole House in Sevenoaks, Kent. The open rood
screen was erected as the parish memorial to those killed
in the first world war. A granite stone with an incised
cross stands in the church; it has stood in various places
being first discovered in a mid 19th century demolition
of the Church meeting room and alms houses, it was then
part of the Rectory wall, but when this was demolished in
the 1930s, the cross was returned to the Church and leant
against the outside of the north wall. It was placed in
its current position in 2005.
The centre piece of the high altar is a copy of the Madonna
and Child by Marie Basaili, the original of which is in
the National Gallery.There are several fine stained glass
windows, most installed as part of the 1880 restoration,
but there are modern examples as well. Set in the floor
of the south aisle are three 17th century gravestones bearing
the names of old Belstone families. There are also some
interesting gravestones in the church and churchyard, several
of which are listed Grade II.
The arms of King George III are over the vestry door.
When King, he ordered that the Royal Arms should be placed
in all churches as a reminder that the monarch and not the
Pope was the final authority in England.
The peal of 5 bells dates back to 1751 and bear the following
1) God bless the Church; 2)Prosperity to
the Parish; 3)God save the King; 4)Thomas Reddaway and Simon
Coombe, Churchwardens; 5)I call the quick to church and
the dead to grave. In 1995 the bells needed rehanging and
at the same time a sixth bell was added with the inscription:
6) God bless the Parish.
Before leaving St Mary's Church, 1000 feet up on the
edge of Dartmoor, do not forget to pray for the present
priest and people of this parish, for the multitudes that
need God's grace in today's world and for the departed priests
and parishioners over so many generations. Our prayers will
be with you.
Let us always pray that the Church may
be the body of Chrust,
in loving sevanthood, humility
that as pastors and teachers, prophets
givers, carers, and listeners
whole people of God may make Christ known.
Belstone community website can be accessed here
Copyright (c) GB 2008