Saturday, 10 September 2022

Along the Golden Valley in Herefordshire cont'd.........

St Faith's Church in the Herefordshire village of Bacton stands in an elevated position looking down over the River Dore in the Golden Valley.

This ancient church contains two very rare Tudor treasures, one of which is the Blanche Parry Monument, which was commissioned by Blanche for herself 12 years before her death. For 56 years Blanche was the close confidante of Queen Elizabeth 1, Chief Gentlewoman of the Queen's Most Honourable Privy Chamber and Keeper of Her Majesty's Jewels. The monument shows sculptured effigies of both herself and the Queen along with a 28 line inscription. It is dated to before November 1578 and is the earliest known depiction of the queen as Gloriana signalling the propagation of the queen's iconography and cult of virginity beyond the court. The inscription was designed to both demonstrate Blanche's closeness and importance to the queen, and bolster the royal image. The wording concludes with the lines -

So that my time I thus did pass away
A maid in court and never no man's wife
Sworn of Queen Elizabeth head Chamber always
With maiden queen a maid did end my life
 

Blanche's epitaph appears to prove that Queen Elizabeth did live and die a maid (virgin). Having composed the inscription herself for her own church monument, Blanche would never ever have dared lied to God for fear of harming her chances of entering heaven. 

The other rare Tudor treasure is the Bacton Altar cloth; its true identity was only realised 6 years ago. For centuries this little church had possession of an exquisite Altar Cloth, a cloth which had been treasured by generations of parishioners. In 1909, it was decided that the Cloth should be framed in oak and mounted behind glass on the northern church wall away from any light in order to protect and preserve it.
A replica cloth now hangs in Bacton Church
The Cloth stayed on the wall until 2015, when historian Ruth Elizabeth Richardson, who was writing a biography about Blanche Parry, came to look at it. Whilst studying it, she realised that the cloth was of incredible quality and rarity. She shared her photographs with Eleri Lynn, the Dress Historian Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, who also went to view the cloth. As soon as she saw it she realised that it was something very special. Following Eleri Lynn's close scrutiny and study of the fabric she quickly realised that the fabric had previously been a dress, as evidenced by a distinct pattern cutting of the fabric, and that it was almost cetainly a dress that must have been worn by Queen Elizabeth 1. Dating puts the fabric squarely in the 1590s, due to the style of the embroidered florals. The embroidery shows a striking resemblance to a dress worn by Queen Elizabeth 1 in the Rainbow portrait hanging in Hatfield House.
The garment is made of cream-coloured silk and Italian cloth of silver giving strong clues as to its owner. The elaborately embroidered colourful flowers, the animals and vegetation all done in silk along with the use of silver and gold thread were under Tudor "sumptuary laws" reserved for senior members of the royal family only. Unusually, the embroidery was stitched straight onto the fabric, indicating expert workmanship and therefore an elite owner.
No other piece of fabric of this date and nature exists anywhere else in the world, which makes it significantly important. It has now been valued at well over one million pounds. 
Our time here is rapidly drawing to a close if we are to find and locate our final destination before making tracks for home.
The Sat Nav. takes us down into the valley and back up into the hills seen in the distance. We turn up the final road which appears to be very steep and narrow so we abandon the car and continue to walk up to the top of the hill.


Are we nearly there yet?
This Neolithic chambered tomb is over 5,000 years old. Today only the large stones of the inner chamber remain which would once have been covered by a long earthen mound i.e. "barrow". The chamber is formed by nine upright stones, and topped with an enormous capstone, estimated to weigh more than 25 tonnes. How did those Neolithic people move it or lift it? This tomb has never been excavated, but similar examples in the
region have been found to contain incomplete skeletal remains of several people, together with flint flakes, arowheads and pottery.  During the period of their use chambered tombs would have served as more than just burial places or sites of ritual. It is thought that they may also have been used as a status symbol and a territorial marker. 
           

26 comments:

  1. Oh three for one today! The statues, then the wonderful silk/silver embroidered fabric, and finally the Neolithic site! Simply fantastic. So glad you told of the stories for each of them too!

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    1. I am delighted that you enjoyed reading this post Barbara and I enjoyed your comment three for one.

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  2. What a find, the silk dress of Queen Elizabeth I. And so good that Mrs. Richardson and Eliri Lynn saw the exceptional especialness and value of it, and that it was protected.

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    1. The fabric conservation was undertaken by Historic Royal Palaces. It was put on public show for a few weeks but it now safely tucked away in Hampton Court Palace.

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    1. It was a really interesting discovering these treasures on our day out.

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  4. Always good to see cattle in the landscape. I like the tomb and the small sculptures.

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    1. The whole idea behind the monument is really interesting and so far removed from our thinking today.

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  5. Wonderful knowledge to read about. Silk, oh my, how beautiful it must look in reality.

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    1. Now it has been carefully conserved I understand it is quite something to behold.

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  6. We were at Arthur's stone earlier in the week. Quite a special place and part of a much larger ritual landscape.

    Thank you for the heads up on St Faith's at Bacton - I am going to have to visit there now - I'll try and do a Golden Valley tour of all the churches of interest I've not yet seen. If you are that way again, look up St Margaret's Church (near Vowchurch) which is just amazing and has a wonderful rood screen.

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    1. Thank you very much for the reminder. St. Maragret's is somewhere that we do intent to visit sometime. I believe that it is quite hard to find as it is a couple of miles away from the village and is in fact isolated in a field next to a farm. I know that it also has a wonder carved Tudor loft too.

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    2. My friend had to use her Satnav - no way could we have found it otherwise! Well worth the search though.

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    3. Thanks pre-warned is pre-prepared - hopefully.

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  7. P.S. I read about the amazing survival of one of Queen Elizabeth I's dresses as the altar cloth - we owe Blanche Parry a big debt - and for the knowledge that she and the Queen were virgins both at their deaths.

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    1. I am sure that you will enjoy your visit to this little church - if you haven't yet visited Dore Abbey then do drive on for 5 more miles and visit it too.

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  8. I had always assumed that Elizabeth I was a virgin since that reference appears frequently (although short of examination I don't know how that could be known), but I had no idea that there was a "cult of virginity." Maybe ancient practices could show us how to control the world's out of growth human population!

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    1. I must admit that I am not an expert on the Tudor 'cult of virginity' but according to 20th century scholars it came about because she vowed herself to a life of perpetrual virginity, and entered into a symbolic marriage with England as her husband. Scholars claim that she was able to convert her unprecedented weakness as a celibate queen into a powerful propagandistic claim that she sacrificed personal interests in the name of public service. Her chastity was therefore interpreted not as a sign of political or social deficiency, but rather as a symbol of the power of a woman who survived to govern despite her illegitimacy, and the subordination of female to male.

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  9. What a lovely and interesting story and your pictures are just amazing!!
    Love, Titti

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    1. Dear Titti - so pleased that you found it interesting and thank you for your kind comment.

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  10. What an interesting trio of treasures, Rosemary. I had not heard of Blanche Parry before. The Elizabethan cloth is an amazing find.

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    1. It is interesting just how many treasures keep surfacing, especially within churches. Many precious artifacts were carefully hidden away by the local people during the Reformation.

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  11. What a fascinating post, dear Rosemary. Blanche Parry is a new name to me, and what an interesting life she had. The statues are absolutely charming. As a lover of fabric, I was entranced to read the story of the altarcloth, and now I want to go back to Hampton Court to see it! Looking at the replica, I can see how the pieces would have pattern matched around the skirt of a dress. And there it is, in the Queen's portrait. One wonders what happened to the remainder of the fabric. How amazing and commendable that the striking Neolithic tomb has not been interfered with. I am afraid that in Australia it would have been dug up long since :)

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    1. Dear Patricia - I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing the fabric and learning its story.
      There are several Neolithic tombs close to where I live which are so large that you can walk into them.

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  12. Thanks for thinking of me, Rosemary. I have emailed Jonathan. Merçi encore - David

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