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  1. Although most of this blog series has focused on English churches, there are also a few Italian churches I've visited as well. Today we have the church of Santa Maria in Trastavere. Quite close to another famous Trastavere church, St Cecilia, St Maria doesn't have any evocative sculpture, but does have some beautiful art.St Maria in Trastavere

    The church is one of the oldest in Rome. It's believed to have been founded in 221 by Pope Callixtus I, and has been rebuilt several times since. Most of the current structure dates from the mid-12th century, when Pope Innocent II had the old church pulled down and rebuilt using materials from the Baths of Caracalla. Many centuries later some of these materials (the pillars in the church) were defaced when pagan images of Roman and Egyptian gods were identified on them.

    The covered portico at the front of the church is very interesting, as the walls are inlaid with Roman and medieval inscriptions and grave markers. These are apparently fragments of the original churches that were on this spot, and they given an interesting insight in to the people that worshipped and were buried here hundreds of years ago. You could spend a good few hours alone photographing and translating the Roman inscriptions and images along the front.

    The inside of the church features a series of beautiful 13th century mosaics by the artist Pietro Cavallini. The heavy use of gilt in the mosaics makes the whole end of the church glow. As you 'd expect from a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the mosaics depict scenes from her life, such the annunciation. There's also a series of 16th century frescoes, particularly in one of the chapels, where the Council of Nicaea is depicted.

    Among the notable burials at this church is Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio. Cardinal Campeggio has an important part in England's history, as he was the legate sent to England to rule on the validity of the marriage between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.

  2. Thriplow church stands on a small hill overlooking the Cambridgeshire countryside, close to the site of a Bronze Age tumulus (burial mound). The current church dates from the 13th century, as records show it was “given” to Peterhouse (the earliest College in Cambridge) in 1284. However Thriplow has been in existence since before the Norman invasion, so the current building was probably erected in place of an earlier Anglo-Saxon church. The font is believed to date from the Norman period, and some pillars and windows also suggest Norman origins.Thriplow Church, Cambridgeshire

    The Thriplow Society notes that the church was used several times as a place of sanctuary by people accused of committing crimes. Possibly the most shocking one they report is that of Peter de Cambere, who killed a young boy “when shooting arrows” – no indication if he was practising archery or deliberately firing them at people! He claimed sanctuary in the church, possibly from a mob intent on revenge, and eventually chose to go in to exile as punishment for his crime.

    In later centuries Thriplow was once again a target – but not for sanctuary. The church was one of many in the area visited by famous iconoclast William Dowsing, who travelled around Cambridgeshire and Suffolk mutilating any church that contained what he considered to be “Popish” symbols. Thriplow was damaged, Dowsing kept an extensive diary where he noted the work he carried out and mentions Thriplow in it.

    A south porch was added in the 18th century, and several of the memorials in the church date from this time. But in the following decades the church suffered from neglect, the British History website shows a list of parish vicars who were in charge of several other parish churches at the time, and since Thriplow was so small it appears to have been used for special services, instead of a regular communion. It didn’t help that Thriplow also appears to have a high proportion of dissenters, who refused to attend the Anglican church. Frequent services, including Sunday schools, began to be held in the early part of the 19th century, and Sir Gilbert Scott was employed by Peterhouse to carry out a restoration during the late 1800’s. This included rebuilding the 18th century porch and replacing the roof, which was then painted, as it would have been before the Reformation.

    Like Anstey church in Hertfordshire, Thriplow is built in a cruciform shape, with a central tower that holds a peal of five bells. Although it’s quite plain inside, it does have some interesting memorials (including two 13th century coffins), and the village itself is nice to walk around. If you’re interested in the history of Thriplow and the church, a Daffodil Festival is held every year (2017 will be 18 & 19 March) and includes talks held in the church itself.

  3. There’s a reason why Thaxted church is sometimes referred to as “the cathedral of Essex”. Sited on a hill, and with a tower that’s 181 feet high, the church of St John is far bigger than most parish churches in the area, and as a result it dominates the landscape.Thaxted Church, Essex

    The church was built in the 14th century, although there may have been one on the same site dating from Anglo-Saxon times. Thanks to a nearby Royal hunting lodge the church had more than its share of connections to the English Royal family. Lionel Duke of Clarence, son of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, paid for the erection of the south porch. Several generations later a north porch was added, this time arranged and paid for by King Edward IV. There is also a stained glass window with fragments showing a knight, which is believed to be Lionel’s son-in-law, Edmund Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March.

    Edmund isn’t the only stained glass fragment, several windows are made up with fragments of medieval stained glass. During the Reformation, stained glass was smashed, as the bright colours were considered to be another symbol of Catholicism. English churches were to be plain churches, and that included replacing the windows with clear glass. In some parishes, the local priest or parishioners would gather up the fragments and either bury it, or store it somewhere for safe keeping. Years later these fragments were rediscovered, and some churches had them reset in to new windows. In most cases the fragments are too small to be used for anything other than a jumble of colours, but in Thaxted some care has been taken to put together the more identifiable pieces. This includes the knight, believed to be Edmund, several saints, and Adam and Eve.

    Like many churches, Thaxted was part of the Victorian revival. The biggest evidence of this comes in more stained glass, several windows were replaced with designs by the Victorian glazer C.E.Kempe. One window depicts a series of images depicting notable church donors, including King Edward IV. Another Victorian addition is the largest of Thaxted’s three organs, which was built in London 1820 but moved to the church from St John’s Chapel, Bedford Row in London, in 1858. This organ was restored in 2014, after years of being virtually unplayable.

    I also really liked the various memorials that were dotted around the church, particularly the very old ones on the floor. There’s a medieval brass depicting a priest, and one memorial that particularly caught my eye was a grave slab from the 17th century, listing all the deceased children of John Rayner, and highlighting that his wife Elizabeth was the mother of 13!

  4. Yesterday's post on Reed was about the Anglo-Saxon features of the church, when I started writing this I didn't realise the next day would be similar! The beautiful church St Bene't stands in the middle of Cambridge, where many people walk by it without realising how old it is. In fact it's the oldest church in Cambridgeshire, and boasts an Anglo-Saxon tower!015AA

    The actual date when St Bene't's (the unusual name is a contraction of St Benedict) was founded is unknown, but was probably built around 1020, during the reign of King Cnut. Despite Cambridge's history as a college town, the church was one for the locals until the 1350s, when land just behind the church was purchased and used to build a new college - Corpus Christi. The first building, now known as "Old Court", ended up being the College's only building due to an on-going lack of funds. As a result there was no college chapel until the 16th century, and neighbouring St Bene't became the College's place of worship.

    The tower isn't the only remaining Anglo-Saxon feature, inside the church the tower doorway is an arch dating from the 11th century, and parts of the walls (especially the corners) are also Anglo-Saxon. Other parts of the church, namely the chancel and nave, were remodelled or rebuilt in the 14th century. Most of the bells in the tower date from the 1600s, and the church went through the usual Victorian restoration during the 19th century. If you step through the main church door and look up you'll see a series of painted wooden angels on the ceiling, probably done during the restoration.

    St Benet's is free to enter and holds services every day. If you're already visiting Corpus Christi, go and see their old spiritual home too!

  5. If you drive along the A10 towards Royston then you may pass by a few signs for the turning towards Reed. You'll probably ignore those signs, but should you decide to follow them then you'll find a small village. Down a side road is the equally small church of St Mary. You'll probably think it's nothing special, but this church shows so much evidence of it's Anglo-Saxon origins that it's second only to the abbey at St Albans. No other church in Hertfordshire has this much original stonework remaining.Reed church, Hertfordshire

    The most obvious Anglo-Saxon feature is a bricked up door, which is more visible on the outside of the church. The doorway itself it blocked with flint, but the Anglo-Saxon stone frame is still very visible, including the Ionic-column pattern carved in to the stone under the capitals (the horizontal stone at the start and end of the arch). More Anglo-Saxon stonework is visible on the corners of the outside walls, and while the tower dates from the 14th century it's believed that it may have been built on top of a smaller Anglo-Saxon base.

    More recent additions include the porch, which was built in 19th century, although the door inside the porch is believed to date from the 15th century, as is the carved stone font. The church has very little stained glass as most of it was destroyed in previous centuries. There's a local rumour that one of the smashed medieval windows was buried. When it was eventually dug up it was installed in the church at neighbouring Barkway instead.

    It may be a tiny, unimpressive church at first glance, but if you're interested in Anglo-Saxon stonework then Reed church is a must-see!