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totally unprepared for anything of the kind, our guide-book not even mentioning Bramfield. But it is ever so; hand-books abound in information about well-known spots, but of noteworthy places out of the regular line of travel (as an almost invariable rule), you may search through their pages in vain for any description. How much the ordinary tourist misses who trusts solely to his guide-book!
Bramfield church possesses one of the finest carved oak rood-screens we have ever seen, and this in an out-of-the way village place of worship! The carving of this is wonderful in its elaboration and in the exquisite rendering of the ornamental detail. As may be perceived by some remnants of colour still existing, this screen was all formerly painted and gilded, and a superb bit of art craftsmanship it must have been when in the glory of its perfect state; some of the painted figures at its base of apostles and lesser saints still remain, though in a damaged condition; I have seen pictures on rich men's walls attributed to old masters infinitely inferior in execution. It would be interesting to learn how it came that so beautiful a screen had place in so small and remote a village church.
But the screen was not the only thing of beauty we discovered here; in the chancel we found one of the finest altar-tombs we have ever come upon, the finest not as to size or as to the wealth of ornamentation, but as to the wonderful beauty and rare merit of the sculpture. This monument is of pure white marble, and has the representation of a man above clad in full armour and kneeling; beneath the
A POEM IN MARBLE.
warrior is a woman of sweet expression reclining on a couch tenderly holding an infant in her arms. Who, we wondered, was the artist whose brain created this perfect design, and whose hand wrought the inanimate marble into the semblance of life? The figure of the woman almost seems to breathe, and there is a touching look of untold sadness in her face that haunted us for days long after. Flaxman might have been proud to have sculptured this; even that mighty genius never conceived a nobler work, nor did his chisel ever carve cold marble into a finer or more tender poem.
We asked our guide if he could give us anything of the history of this interesting monument; we could only get from him a set story that he had evidently learnt by heart and repeated in a profitless parrot-like fashion. As I happened to write down his remarks in my note-book on the spot, I am enabled to reproduce them here verbatim. 'He went to the wars; she thought him dead; she fretted herself to death; he was not killed, but returned home to find his wife and baby (that she had given. birth to in his absence) dead; he died of grief two years after.' Who the 'he' was the boy knew not. 'We allus calls him he.' This was not satisfactory, nor very helpful in making matters clearer. We were unable to read the inscription below the monument, as the harmonium was carefully placed in front of it. It seemed to us that a much more suitable place might have been found for the instrument, but for some curious reason hard to understand, more often than not in country churches,
where there is anything of more than ordinary interest to be seen, it is sure to be in some such manner hidden away; a strange fact upon which I have already remarked. We made bold to move the obstructing harmonium, and learnt that the monument was to the memory of Arthur Coke Esqre. third sonne of Sir Edward Coke,' and to Elizabeth his wife who Christianly and peacefully departed this life the 14 day of November, Anno Domi 1625'; the said Arthur Coke also 'Christianly and peacefully departed this life the 6 day of December, Anno Domi 1629.'
Upon the north wall of the church we observed an old fresco much faded and damaged, but sufficiently clear to show the original design and intention. It represents four angels holding four cups round a cross; there are holes still remaining on the cross, and presumably there was here originally a crucifix, the angels holding the cups to catch the blood from the wounded Saviour. An extract from Dowsing's famous 'Journal' gives the following particulars as to his dealings with Bramfield church: A. D. 1643-4. 115. Bramfield. April 9th. Twenty-four Superstitious pictures, one Crucifix and picture of Christ, and twelve angels on the roof, and divers Jesus's in capital letters, and steps to be levelled by Sir Robert Brook.'
As we were leaving the church our guide pointed out to us a very curious epitaph, hidden, of course, beneath some matting; this reads as follows:
A CURIOUS INSCRIPTION.
Between the Remains of her Brother Edward
and of her Husband Arthur
After the Fatiges of a Married Life
For four years and three-quarters, bating three weeks,
She Resolved to run the Risk of a Second Marriage
The same instrument with wich he had formerly
Touched the most Vital part of her Brain.
After a struggle for above sixty Hours
But the certain and Merciful Friend to Old Age
She Dyed on the 12 day of Sept.
In ye year of our Lord 1737 and her own age 44.
Strolling down to our carriage we met the rector, with whom we chatted about his interesting church, and he told us that the rood-screen was the finest in the kingdom. Speaking of the beautiful monument to the warrior, wife, and child, he said that there was some ancient armour placed above it, but that he had had this removed to the rectory to be cleaned, as it was very rusty. We saw the armour in question hanging in the rectory hall and rusty still; it consists of two helmets, a breast- and backplate. Let us hope that it will soon be back over the monument;
then the children can look at it and wonder and romance about it, should the sermon be wearisome or overlong.
As we have found out in more than one instance. during our journeyings, articles do get removed now and again from country churches (it may be for safer keeping), but unfortunately it frequently happens that they are not readily to be seen in their new homes, and when the articles are of interest this fact is most annoying to the traveller. Let me quote an instance in point. Certain relics of Charles I., consisting of his watch, the shirt worn by him on the morning of his execution, his silk drawers, and the sheet in which his body was wrapped, were bequeathed by the owner to the parish of Ashburnham for ever, to be exhibited as great curiosities.' These relics, which were formerly kept in the church and could be seen by any traveller in those parts, have been removed to Ashburnham House and are not now shown.