St. Andrew’s – Church History

The 13th century church which was almost completely destroyed in the bombing in 1943 was considered to be a fine example of the Early English period. Pevsner, in the Devon volume of his “Buildings of England” considered the architectural details of the windows “the grandest in Devon” (except for Exeter).

The church was unusual in that an aisle was added to either side of the sanctuary making the chancel more than twice the size of the nave with its single aisle. A rood screen and loft separated the chancel from the nave, and parclose screens separated the chancel aisles from the sanctuary. One expert considered that these screens were carved by the same craftsman whose work can be seen in St Edmund`s Church in Kingsbridge.

The church is approached via a lychgate, under which bodies were rested before being taken up to the church for a burial service. To the right of the gate is a mounting block, an aid for equestrian church-goers in years gone by.

The church has a rather unusual circular tower (5) with a conical roof at the south west corner of the main tower. This gives access to what was the ringing loft of the main tower. The churchyard has many interesting gravestones, the oldest dating from 1706 has been placed on a buttress at the west end of the church. (1)

The porch (3) is the only part of the church not badly damaged in the bombing. The porch arches are very fine examples of “Early English” style and fine Purbeck marble shafts can be seen by the inner doorway. A chamber over the porch is reached by a stairway in the right hand wall.

Bombed church showing the devastated sanctuary (altar area) 1944

Bombed church showing the devastated sanctuary (altar area) 1944

Just inside the church are photographs of the church before and after the bombing.

Looking up you can see the hand carved wooden bosses of the high arched ceiling – behind each of the 144 bosses is a coin placed by there by the craftsmen who helped to rebuild the church in the 1950`s.

The font (4) which dates from the 14th century stands at the western end of the church; though overturned it was not badly damaged in 1943. The font is carved from granite and is octagonal in form. The carved panels show grotesque human faces, two with protruding tongues perhaps to exorcise the devil at baptism. The font is considered to be one of the best examples of that period in the country. It is thought that the stone came from Roborough.

The replacement west window was designed by Marion Grant and represents the “Te Deum”, a hymn of praise. The niche (6) in the arch supporting the north east corner of the tower contains a figure representing Bishop Walter de Stapleton, rector here in 1300, who became Bishop of Exeter and subsequently Lord High Treasurer of England. He was murdered by a London mob in 1326.


Church screens destroyed in the bombing pre WW2

The ornamentation along the top of the screens across the transepts is all that survives of the finely carved mediaeval screens destroyed in 1943. The chancel has a piscina in its southern wall (7) where sacred vessels were washed after mass. The altar of Portland stone was presented to the church by the Women`s Institute of Aveton Gifford and is of an interesting modern design.  The east window is also designed by Marion Grant and represents Jesus Christ Triumphant; it is considered one of the finest in a parish church in Devon. The two chancel aisles were not rebuilt after the war, but their foundations can be seen at the east end of the church. The one on the south side (2) was a chantry chapel for Andrew de Cardinan, and the first chantry priest was appointed in 1284.


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