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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Martin, Harold, William and Priscillian

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas JANUARY. 03, 2021

[155-365] 3rd. January 2021- The earliest documentary evidence for there being a church in Sherford dates to 1288 in the tax record. So we still have tax records for 1288, there's a surprise. Was reading and writing first invented so people could pay tax?

The Church was dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours in 1457. The French connection arose because the lands around Sherford belonged to the mother of King Harold, who was killed in the Norman invasion of 1066. Those lands were subsequently confiscated by the new Norman ruler William.

With traces of original colouring, the paintings of the Saints are absolutely charming and perhaps by a continental hand but are definitely influenced by the Flemish style. A pretty unusual feature for a rural church situated in the depths of Devon.

Make of this what you will.

Martin of Tours; 316 – 8 November 397) was the third bishop of Tours. He has become one of the most familiar and recognizable Christian saints in France, heralded as the patron saint of the French Third Republic, and is patron saint of many communities and organizations across Europe. He served in the Roman cavalry in Gaul, but left military service at some point prior to 361. He was consecrated as Bishop of Caesarodunum (Tours) in 371. As bishop, he was active in the suppression of the remnants of Gallo-Roman religion, but he opposed the violent persecution of the Priscillianist sect of ascetics.

Obviously I had to Google Priscillianist, wouldn't you?

Priscillian (died c. 385) was a wealthy nobleman of Roman Hispania who promoted a strict form of Christian asceticism. He became bishop of Ávila in 380. Certain practices of his followers (such as meeting at country villas instead of attending church) were denounced at the Council of Zaragoza in 380. Around 385, Priscillian was charged with sorcery and executed by authority of the Emperor Maximus. The ascetic movement Priscillianism is named after him, and continued in Hispania and Gaul until the late 6th century. (Wikipedia)

The main body of the present church was built during the 14th century from local slate with the later 15th century additions. There were further renovations that took place towards the end of the 19th/ early 20th century.

Perhaps the most significant change for the parishioners themselves occurred in 1897 when the village population was at around 450, over four times larger than today. According to the information leaflet displayed at the church, it was only at this point in time that the church finally had pews installed in the nave, which seems centuries later than most other churches!

The attractively carved rood screen stretches across the entire width of the church. The central panelling is painted with figures of apostles and saints but sadly, many are now totally obliterated south of the chancel, as seen below.

The fine tracery detailing on the medieval rood screen is almost identical to that of St. Saviour’s in Dartmouth which is dated in its church accounts to 1496. St. Martin’s is believed to have been carved just a few years later in the early 16th century.

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