The gothic tower of St Mary’s Church Warwick is the defining feature of the town of Warwick, which can be viewed from miles away, especially by those approaching from the direction of Stratford-upon-Avon along the A429. I can imagine that in past centuries travellers would have reached the top of the hill and said, “Ah! here’s Warwick!”
From the top of the church tower you may obtain an excellent view down onto Guy’s Tower in Warwick Castle; and likewise, from Guy’s Tower, one of the very best views of St Mary’s Warwick may be obtained.
At St Mary’s you may find one of the greatest medieval treasures in the UK, retaining the glorious craftsmanshp of pre-Reformation England: the magnificent, richly ornamented Beauchamp Chapel.
The Chapel contains several tombs of the Earls of Warwick and other famous historical individuals, such as Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and his wife Lettice, and their infant son who tragically died young, and was known affectionately as the Noble Impe.
Within it you may find the tomb of Ambrose Dudley (earl from 1561 to 1590), who was granted Warwick Castle by Elizabeth I and whose brother Guilford married Lady Jane Grey. Also entombed in the Chapel is Sir Robert Dudley, [image] Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite, who died in 1588 and here lies alongside his second wife, Lettice Knollys; and also the tomb of their son, the Noble Impe, (image) who died in infancy in 1584.
Of particular note, too, are the long scrolls of plainsong music carried by angels, while the feathered figures of other angels play musical instruments of the period. They may be seen high in the tracery of the side windows, and on occasions St Mary’s hosts concerts by musicians such as the York Waits, who play replicas of the very medieval instruments – shawms, rebecs and sackbuts among others – played by the angels.
On a number of occasions visitors report the sound of a ghost choir singing psalms in the chapel when there’s nobody there.
If you stand in the nave and looks toward the chancel and altar, you may admire the vaulting of flying ribs, one of the finest examples on this scale in England. There are many memorials in this part of the church, and underneath it is a vault which was commonly called the bone-house or charnel house.
A mysterious dark figure is often seen at the altar in the evenings when the verger comes to close the church. When the verger moves down the aisle to ask him to leave, the figure disappears into the choir stalls and doesn’t reappear. A search of the choir stalls shows them to be empty. So far no research has uncovered the history behind this figure.
from Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman
Find out more by preordering Paranormal Warwickshirehere.
The Tudor house at Coughton Court, for centuries the family seat of the Throckmorton family, is one of the loveliest National Trust properties in Warwickshire and it has a variety of gardens, both formal and natural, including an enchanting bog garden.
The grounds slope down towards the banks of the River Arrow.
The grounds are particularly notable for a stunning walled RHS garden which was designed by two members of the Throckmorton family, Clare and her daughter Christine, professional garden designers.
Nearby are two churches: the nearest, St Peter, is Anglican and was built in the late 15th century by Sir Robert Throckmorton. It began life as a Catholic church but after the reformation became Church of England.
The paranormal tale which I recount in my book Paranormal Warwickshire is connected to the graveyard of the Anglican church.
Beyond that the Catholic Church of St Peter, St Paul and St Elizabeth was built in 1855, when the family could at last worship openly as Catholics. The family have remained true to their Catholic faith for many generations, and in the sixteenth century they found their way around Elizabeth I’s religious laws, as so many Catholic recusants did in those dangerous and turbulent times.
Another curious anecdote relates to the coat of arms which formerly hung over the front entrance. To find out more, do preorder Paranormal Warwickshire here.
The Throckmorton name is of course linked to the Gunpowder Plot and a fascinating exhibition in the house tells the full story.
Discover more about the intriguing history, the curious anecdotes, and the many poignant associations with the most dramatic periods of English history at Coughton Court in my book Paranormal Warwickshire.
Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon is known as Shakespeare’s Church, because the Bard was baptised there, and because he is buried there. The story of his association with this church, and the presence of several clues that he may have drawn direct inspiration from the church and its graveyard for his literary works, makes this church a place of pilgrimage for those who love Shakespeare.
The church is located beside the River Avon beyond the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and it has strong spiritual resonance, for many reasons beside the fact that it is a place of worship, and has been a centre of holiness for centuries.
Speculating about Shakespeare’s own faith, and his position on matters of religion, has long been a fruitful area of debate and enquiry among Shakespeare scholars, and it is fascinating to hunt for evidence of his own beliefs within his works – and to draw our own conclusions from this.
Since he lived in times of great religious turbulence, it has been speculated that his own father had true Catholic sympathies (despite the fact that at the reformation, he was forced to whitewash over the medieval splendour on the walls of the Guild Chapel). It is known, too, that during Shakespeare’s period of schooling, the young boy destined for literary greatness would have come under the influence of a schoolmaster who was a strong Catholic.
As in matters of politics, so in matters of religion – and since they were inextricably bound up with one another, Shakespeare would have needed to tread a delicate tightrope as he wrote his plays. What he wrote cannot be seen in isolation from the pressures that would have been placed upon him by Elizabeth I and James I. And yet his originality of thought, his humanity and profound insight into human nature shone through all this.
One of the most often-told tales of this church concerns the inscription upon Shakespeare’s grave.
Discover more about the intriguing history, the curious anecdotes, and the many poignant associations with Shakespeare at Holy Trinity Church Stratford-upon-Avon in my book Paranormal Warwickshire.
The medieval manor house at Baddesley Clinton is one of my favourite National Trust properties. Full of secrets and stories, this is the style of architecture I most love, timber-framed, set within a moat, full of secrets and stories, with its nooks and dens and unexpected corners and disappearing staircases… and of course the much-loved priest-holes.
Not so much loved, I imagine, by the sixteenth century Jesuit priests who had to hide in them for days to escape Elizabeth I’s priest-hunters; although they would certainly have been grateful for the sanctuary, knowing the alternative; arrest, trial and execution by hanging, drawing and quartering.
No, we are the ones who have the luxury of loving the priest-holes; for today we gaze with awe and wonder at the sheer ingenuity, physical strength and building skills of the master priest-hole builder, Nicholas Owen (later canonised by the Catholic church).
The original house was built here in 1400. Its name derives from a Saxon called Baeddi, who first cleared the site in the Forest of Arden where the house stands, and the de Clinton family, who dug the moat in the 13th century.
For 500 years the house was owned by the Ferrers family, passing from father to son for twelve generations. The Ferrers family remained loyal to the Catholic faith despite periods of persecution after Henry VIII’s split from Rome.
Edward Ferrers built much of what we see today, from 1526 onwards.
Many curious tales are told of the house, many by National Trust staff. One of the tales concerns the lingering presence of an unfortunate 15th century priest, one Willelmus Foster, who was killed by the hot-headed owner of the manor, Nicholas Brome (1450-1517) in a fit of misdirected jealousy.
It is in St Michael’s Church, close by the manor house, that we may find ample evidence of Nicholas’s attempt to make amends. This is a fascinating story in which repentant Nicholas went to elaborate lengths to save his soul, according to the accepted beliefs of the time.
He funded the construction of two towers in two churches, one of which is at the church in nearby Packwood, and the other of which is here at Baddesley Clinton. They are called the Towers of Atonement.
Nicholas also became a member of eight religious fraternities, praying each day for the souls of their members. Thus he was spared the usual penalty for murder, according to the law of the land (i.e. paying in the traditional manner for murdering the priest). It may also have had something to do with the fact that he was the lord of the manor.
It makes a fascinating story for us today, and it is recounted in the church, where Nicholas may be seen kneeling in prayer, resplendent in the stained glass of the east window.
He did however, as a final spiritual insurance policy, make reparation for his sins by directing that he be buried just outside the west door of the church, under the step where the doormat is placed, so all who entered the church might walk over him.
This is the seventh in a series of glimpses into my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.
Abbey Fields in Kenilworth are a well-loved open space with a lake, adjacent to the thirteenth century parish church of St Nicholas. For centuries this land belonged to St Mary’s Abbey, before it was dissolved in 1538. This abbey gained its status in 1447 having previously been a priory for Augustinian canons.
Today parts of the cloisters remain, as do stones from the former chapter house, and also parts of the gatehouse and arch leading from Abbey Fields into the churchyard.
The lake here would have formerly been one of the stew ponds where the monks bred fish for their tables.
When I walk through Abbey Fields, past the cloisters, along beside the Finham Brook, or through the archway into the shady and atmospheric churchyard, I cannot help but think of those former inhabitants, the monks and the abbot, and of their daily ordered existence for so many centuries on this land where I walk.
Poignant feelings arise: an awareness, perhaps, of those who have occupied this same space before us, and who have imprinted upon it their hopes and dreams, their faith and doubt, their joys and sorrows.
Curious incidents have been reported here; both eerie sensations, and sighting of apparitions. You can find out more about these in my book Paranormal Warwickshire, which is coming out in November.
This is the fifth in my series of glimpses into the pages of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.
St Mary’s Church Warwick stands close to Warwick Castle, at the heart of England’s history. The church foundations date back 900 years, and it is believed a Saxon church stood here before the Norman conquest. The first Norman earl of Warwick began a collegiate foundation here modelled on the cathedrals of St Paul’s, Lincoln, York and Salisbury; and his son completed it in in 1123.
The church therefore has been a centre of faith for many centuries, and the rich atmosphere within this magnificent building bears testimony to that. St Mary’s holds many treasures, the greatest of which is the elaborate Beauchamp Chapel, commissioned by Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick from 1401 to 1439. The chapel today offers us a rare glimpse of medieval splendour, much of which was destroyed in English churches after the Reformation.
Around and behind the church building we are drawn into a different world: in the graveyard, many curious tales are told by those who walk among the tombstones.
Since my last post in this series a reader has given me the story of a modern day angel encounter.
I’m grateful to my author friend Anna Hopkins for giving me this story, passed onto her by the lady vicar who experienced it.
This story took place in the days before mobile phones (rather like my story here in my previous post in this series!)
The lady, whom we shall call Audrey, had accepted two teaching engagements on either side of the Pennines, one for Saturday afternoon and one for Sunday morning. She was offered accommodation in both places, and decided she’d rather get to her Sunday place on Saturday night, than have to get up early.
So off she set. It was quite late, on a winter day, after a thick snowfall. Then disaster struck. She skidded into a snowdrift. It was dark and cold and she realised she had no emergency kit. She’d forgotten to bring a blanket, or a hot drink, or anything.
She knew there was no way she could move her car. It looked like she was in for a long, cold, dangerous night up in the hills, with all the possibilities of freezing to death – even if she ran the car heater as long as possible. All she could hope for was that someone would come along. So she shut her eyes and prayed, hard.
Then she heard engine noise behind her, and two great motorbikes drew up. On those motorbikes were two men, dressed in leathers. They seemed so big and tall.
Her first thought was, ‘Oh no, now on top of all this I’m going to be mugged!’
They knocked on her window and spoke to her. They never removed their helmets, just got her out of the fix.
Throughout this incident, she just thought they were bikers. Once they set her going on the road, she obviously couldn’t stop, so she looked in her rear view mirror to wave at them. But they were gone. They had come from the same direction as her, and so should have overtaken her.
They would not have had time to have roared off back the way they came in the few moments it took her to look in her mirror. Even then she didn’t think anything other than, ‘that’s odd’. It was only when she arrived at her destination, and recounted the story, that her host said, ‘They must have been angels.’
At which point Audrey put it all together – the size of them, their sudden disappearance – and realised she’d been saved by angels.
I’ve written about angels and supernatural experiences before on this blog. Check out these posts:
Like the fussy angel played by Michael Sheen in the deliciously funny and clever ‘Good Omens’ by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett?
More, perhaps like this angel depicted by Vincent Van Gogh?
or maybe like the powerful and moving Knife Angel that appeared at Coventry Cathedral in 2019?
Or perhaps even, the guardian angel Clarence.
We met him in the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life.
In the TV sitcom Rev, the main character Adam Smallbone (played by Tom Hollander) reaches a point where he has been betrayed, lost his church, his self-respect, and his vocation, and feels he has failed all those who believed in and depended on him.
In a state of despair, he goes up a hill carrying the cross intended for the Easter Sunday service. At the top of the hill he meets a homeless man (played by Liam Neeson) who dances and sings with him, knows and understands what’s going on for him, and offers consolation and hope. He transforms how Adam feels about his situation. Then he disappears.
This kind of encounter takes on the shape of what I would call an angel encounter.
This I would define as: a situation where you are in personal crisis of some kind, and you are helped in a timely manner by a person who appears unexpectedly, transforms your situation, and then disappears quietly. Throughout the encounter, this stranger seems surrounded by an aura of graciousness, gentleness and kindness.
I’m starting a new series of occasional posts here on my blog, entitled:
I know many people hold on to belief in angels – whether they be guardians, guides, or protectors – even in this supposedly secular, materialistic society in which we live here in the UK.
In this book Peter Stanford gives a history of humankind’s belief in angels, beginning long before the historical origins of the Christian faith, and continuing right up to the present day, with the interest in angels ever popular through folk religion and other spiritual outlooks.
Peter Stanford uncovers much intriguing material, and also includes an examination of the appearance of angels in great art. Throughout he maintains an objective, academic approach which he combines with his own views.
Today, many of those who believe in angels see them as ‘independent agents’, outside traditional faith structures.
As Stanford says, People have… believed in angels for millennia… the only difference today is that this reliance on angels as dwellers in time and space is happening outside of organised religion… Angels once… largely belonged in religious narratives and institutions… but… have somehow detached themselves from the declining institutions and are now thriving on their own.
At the end of the book Stanford remarks: I have lost count while researching and writing the book of how many times I have been asked if I “believe” in angels.
Many other authors too have written on the subject of angels, from a wide variety of viewpoints. A popular author on the subject is Theresa Cheung and I blogged about her book Angel On My Shoulder on 28 February 2017
The book is full of authentic first-person accounts. Several things fascinated me about these:
1) I could identify with a number of them from my own experience, though I’ve tended to think of them as synchronicity; 2) Each one had a distinct element of the supernatural; 3) Far than being sentimental, they all demonstrate strength and simplicity.
Several describe sudden and shocking bereavement. In each case the narrator of the story has experienced a compelling supernatural intervention which has totally changed their attitude to the tragedy and to death itself, and has provided the sort of comfort and reassurance that others might achieve only through long-term counselling or psychotherapy.
The author’s stance in relating the stories is measured and balanced. She fully accepts those who take a “reductionist” view of these events and prefer a rational explanation, and she invites us to make up our own minds.
I found the whole book very convincing, not least because of the cumulative effect of so many testimonies from different people unknown to each other, who have all had similar experiences. It had the same effect upon me as another book I’ve reviewed calledMiracles by Eric Metaxas.
In her summing up, Teresa Cheung refers to organised religion no longer providing the structure and certainty that it used to (maybe because so many feel it doesn’t meet their needs, and appears irrelevant to their lives). The stories in this book suggest, to one way of thinking, that many may be connecting with “the divine” totally outside the confines of “church” – through angels.
This, interestingly, is the same conclusion that Peter Stanford comes to.
In this occasional series on my blog, I’ll consider modern-day angel encounters.
I’ve written about angels and supernatural experiences before on this blog. Check out these posts:
I first heard of this book via my local independent bookshop Warwick Books, and planned to go to an evening with Gaby Koppel, to hear her talking about ‘Reparation‘.
The subject of the book – a young Jewish woman’s research into her mother’s past as a survivor of Nazi persecution during World War II – immediately appealed to me, but in the end I wasn’t able to get to that evening. Instead I ordered the book later, and now having read it, how I wish I had been there to see Gaby Koppel and hear her talk about her inspiration for the novel. When you’ve finished reading a novel, that’s when you are hungry to find out details about the author’s personal biography.
This is one of those books which will surely increase your knowledge in a number of areas, not least insights into how Hungary is currently addressing its baleful wartime past, and a vivid description of the fiercely insular life of the Hasidic Jewish community in Stamford Hill, in London; and indeed into how a modern Jewish person with no religious belief feels.
Alongside that, it is a heartfelt and passionate exploration of a mother daughter relationship. And the book helps you to understand wherein Jewish identity lies. It is undoubtedly based on the author’s real life experience of her Hungarian mother and her German father. And the main protagonist, Elizabeth, works in TV production just as Gaby does in real life.
As I began the story, for some time I found the first person narrator’s attitude to her mother Aranca very judgmental and sardonic, expressed in waspish style. Then gradually I began to see how Elizabeth had developed this attitude, and to understand the pressure on her of her mother’s volatile and temperamental behaviour and alcoholic episodes.
As my reading of the novel progressed I liked Elizabeth more and more, with her sharp and sassy wit, and her habit of always saying exactly what she thinks. She is a character who never wears a mask, and I often felt myself identifying with her thoughts and feelings.
As for Aranca herself, known always as Mutti to Elizabeth, she comes over as very challenging and exasperating, but the more we understand what she has suffered in the past, the more we empathise with her. And I was captivated not only by her quest to seek reparation from the Hungarian government for her past losses, but also by Elizabeth’s accounts of her relationships with Dave and with Jon, and by her exploration of how being Jewish profoundly affects every area of life.
I was fascinated by what we learn in the story about the Jews, about their feelings, beliefs and attitudes, and in particular about the Hasidic Jewish community. Reading this book opens up the lives of others to us, and I believe stories like this teach us to respect and accept our differences, and the various ways in which people seek to express their identity.
Psychological, paranormal, mystery
fiction and non-fiction
Author of Mystical Circles, A Passionate Spirit and Perilous Path
My next book Paranormal Warwickshire will be published by Amberley Publishing in June 2020
I’ve recently been to see the film Tolkienabout the early life of the great author who created The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. As one who has loved the creations of Tolkien, both his writings and his art, since I was at university, I looked forward greatly to seeing this film.
I was aware that Tolkien’s family have distanced themselves from the film so I was intrigued to find out for myself what could be the cause of their objections.
Nicholas Hoult’s performance as young Tolkien is admirable, and I often found the story very moving. The film sets out to show what might be considered Tolkien’s formative years – his childhood move to Birmingham, the loss of his parents, the transfer of his care to a priest, his lives at school and university, the relationships he formed, his early relationship with Edith who became his wife, his experience in the trenches in the First World War and his early married life, moving towards the time when he began writing The Hobbit.
Some of the criticisms levelled at the film have included the fact that no mention is made of his Catholic Christian worldview which played a vital part in his conception of Middle Earth and can even more clearly be seen in The Silmarillion. But this didn’t strike me as a major fault in the limited context of this film, since I had not expected it to cover more than a few elements which may have played their part in the creation of Middle Earth.
The film opens with a grim scene in the trenches and we return to this again and again in flashback. Then we move on to idyllic sunlit forest – woodland at Sarehole Mill, known to have inspired Tolkien. Throughout the film we are offered scenarios in which the film-makers speculate about the experiences from which may have sprung many elements in Tolkien’s fantasy world: the eye of Sauron, the two Towers, the Nazgul, the Dark Lord, the Ents, the Elvish princess Arwen, the close Fellowship of the Ring, the devotion and loyalty of Samwise Gangee to Frodo; and behind the action we often hear the voices of Lothlorien.
I enjoyed all this, accepting that the film-makers could not necessarily be expected to stick to known facts. From the point of view of a writer myself, I know that often when we write, ideas arise from the unconscious, and we cannot even say necessarily where any of them came from: unless it strike us unexpectedly. Thus it would surely have been for Tolkien as he created Middle Earth.
I was fascinated, though, to learn of Edith’s love for Wagner’s Ring Cycle – a love I share – and how this would have influenced Tolkien. And also to learn of the influence of his professor in Philology, played by Derek Jacobi, who says: “There’s a comfort in distance, in ancient things.” Tolkien’s passion for creating languages, complete with structure and vocabulary, comes over strongly.
And the film ends again back in the woodland at Sarehole Mill with Tolkien encouraging his children to speak to the trees, and speaking to them of their power: “little people just like you… little in stature, not in spirit.”