If you are interested in the treasures of other Hampshire churches, do have a look at http://www.hampshire-history.com/category/architecture-artefacts/churches/church-treasures/.
Today I am going to look at a few of the items in the churches of Soberton, Corhampton, Exton, Warnford and East Meon.
[All photographs are © David Hughes]
St. Peter’s church in Soberton is originally Norman but was extended and rebuilt during the 13th century, then again in the 15th and 16th, with further additions in the 19th century. A small tower of an earlier date was replaced in 1525 by a larger structure and it is here that there is a carving – high up, so hard to see – that allegedly gave rise to a legend that the tower was built by servants!
The carving has a skull and two heads, together with a key and what might be a milking pail, though some think it is a purse. According to the mediaeval legend, the tower was built by a butler and a dairymaid, represented by the carvings of the two heads, and this idea is borne out by a plaque in the tower, which says:
This Tower Originally Built By Servants Was Restored By Servants 1881
Whatever the truth of the legend – and it does sound unlikely! – the Victorians evidently believed in it sufficiently to be able to persuade domestic servants across Hampshire to raise £70 to have the tower restored. How very bizarre!
St. Peter’s does also have another memorial with a potentially intriguing story behind it. In the 13th Lady (or Curle, named in honour of Walter Curle, Bishop of Winchester 1632-1647) Chapel, there are two fragments of a headstone, each with the outline of a tulip flower carved into the corner.
The dedication is to a man called Robart, with a date of 1712 and, although nothing is known about him, there has been speculation that he might have been caught up in the “tulip mania” of the mid 17th century. At that time, tulip bulbs were much sought after and they were bought and sold like any other valuable commodity, especially in the Netherlands.
Prices eventually reached silly heights before the market collapsed.
The village of Exton forms, with Meonstoke and Corhampton, a group of three small communities that straddle the River Meon a few miles south of the river’s source. In Exton’s 13th century church of St. Peter and St. Paul there is a memorial plaque to e lived at a time of great political upheaval and terror in the country during the English Civil War. He was apparently a great diplomat, and was dean for thirty years until he was removed by Cromwell and retired to his estates near Exton, where he died in 1654 and was buried in Exton’s church.
What is rather fascinating is that John wrote the epitaph for his memorial ten years before his death, and he included in it a cryptic message.
Towards the bottom of the plaque is the following line, with certain letters capitalised:
VenI VenI MI IesV IVDeX VenI CIto
The Latin here is: Veni, veni mi, Iesu, Iudex, veni cito, which translates as: Come, come my Jesu, Judge, come quickly.
But this line is a chronogram, which is derived from the Greek χρονος meaning “time” and γραμμα meaning “letter”, and is an inscription in which a date is hidden. The idea is that, taking the highlighted capital letters, you interpret them as Roman numerals to work out the encrypted date. So, V is 5, C is 100, M is 1000 and so on. From what I have read, the letters don’t have to be in the correct order! As I understand it, the date here is supposed to be when John wrote his epitaph. So if he died in 1654, in theory, the hidden date should be 1644. However, try as I might, I have so far failed to make the Roman letters spell out 1644! Please, if anyone else can solve the puzzle, do let me know…
There is another, almost charming, memorial in Exton’s church: a headstone with an inscription to Richard Pratt of Preshaw (a few miles from Exton), who died in 1780. We must deduce that Richard was a bookish sort of chap, for the carving on his headstone shows a man with an elegant bookcase behind him, but a figure who we must presume is Death is summoning him away from his reading.
There is yet another interesting headstone, in the church of Our Lady in Warnford, a mile and a half north of Exton, along the River Meon, a church that is set, alone and alongside the ruins of the old manor house, in the middle of a mediaeval park. (I referred to the reason for this is my History Girls blog for June.) This headstone is a great deal older than Richard Pratt’s: it is 13th century and has no inscription. But the simple cross on the stone apparently marks out the grave as that of a crusader.