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Chubbing with Chums from Church to Pub

Chubbers discover architectural treasures

Since attending St. Michael and All Angels, I’ve been captivated by the gentle resignation on the faces of medieval men carved into the arches along the nave. So when I discovered the two mischievous looking gents carved near the altar, I was filled with wonder. One is on his haunches ready to leap, but where? The other’s hands are pressed into his ears, as if he’s refusing to listen, but to what?

It’s not like me to become passionate about something as simple as stone and mortar, no matter what form it takes, but the architectural oddities in village churches here in England have inflamed my curiosity. An opportunity to learn more came when I joined the “Chubbers”-- fellow church members who share an interest in architecture and history. Each month we tour a different church in Lincolnshire villages, and then eat lunch at a pub, which is usually within walking distance of the church.
John Roberts
John and Stella Roberts, who spearhead the group, said the chubbing concept began in Cheshire where they lived before settling in Langtoft. The vicar there combined the words “church” and “pub” and came up with “Chubbers.” It’s a delightful day of learning historical tidbits about each church. Then we mosey over to the pub for a cup of tea or a pint with friends and eat some of the best English fare in the country. These church-pub excursions seem like a natural merge when thinking about medieval times. Back then, villagers provided grain so their church heads could brew an adequate supply of ale. Rather than drinking the deadly polluted water, people supplemented their diets with ale, devouring as much as a gallon a day.
Carving of man with hands pressed against his ears
As a bonefide Chubber, I’ve grown to appreciate the churches that sit like museums in the center of most villages. In medieval times, these architectural treasures were the center of social life, and folks believed they were the very road leading to heaven. The original wood structures gave way to stone around 1200. The time and effort spent building even the humblest church, like ours here in Langtoft, boggles the mind.

Architecture was the most celebrated art form during the Gothic era, which took in the 12th through 16th centuries. Yet, it seems that the grand structural designs were often secondary as innovative artisans tried to solve engineering problems. The end result was a perfect blend of mathematical science and the awe-inspiring art we see today.

Carving of man ready to leap from church
It’s been more than 800 years since the first stones were laid in many of our village churches. Nearly every century since, craftsmen have added towers, spires and other features to provide a continuous living history. Each church has something unique to intrigue its visitors, but it’s easy to recognize the signatures of the same masons on many of the churches in our county.

In earlier times when people died, they often left money to the church in return for a promise that parishioners would pray for their souls. Wealthier churches honor these souls with ornate box pews, glorious stained glass windows illustrating Biblical scenes, imposing monuments, extravagant memorial tablets or alabaster effigies.

Rev. Janet Beadle shares the history of St. Firmin's Church in Thurlby which was probably built as a fortress and sanctuary in Saxon times. Janet serves as vicar for village parishes in Langtoft, Thurlby and Baston.
Since the mid 1600s, it’s been mandatory that every Church of England displays the Royal Coat of Arms. Another common feature is the amusing array of animated faces, called grotesques, carved into the arches to support the roof posts. The faces were carved by masons, often as a tribute to family members or mates. Many carvings raise unanswered questions, like the two gents near the altar at our church and the mysterious mermaid that peers from the nave in at All Saints Church in Stamford.

Other carvings have delightful stories that have been passed on through the centuries, like the infamous gargoyle at St. Benedict’s in Glinton. A friend said the figure was carved by a “very irreverent stone mason with a robust sense of humor” who was hired by the bishop at nearby Peterborough Cathedral. For some reason, the bishop refused to pay the mason who had already carved several gargoyles, which double as downspouts, projecting from roof gutters. In a lasting message to the bishop, the final gargoyle was carved with his bum facing the cathedral.

At one time, churches were filled with statues and colorful scenes depicting heaven and hell. During the Reformation and Puritan movements in the 1500s, all statuary was destroyed and the walls were whitewashed. Some churches escaped the rampage and faded remnants of color still grip the walls.

Many village churches are open during the day for the unannounced tourist, and pamphlets are usually available to highlight unique architectural features. So if you ever find yourself in England, take time to swing off the main roads and visit a few medieval churches.

In the past year, I’ve seen several splendid churches with fellow chubbers. But the most beautiful by far is our cozy little church here in Langtoft. Humble as it is, it sits like an unpolished gem in the center of our village and hearts.

This feature first appeared in The Daily Journal, Accent on Travel section, Kankakee, IL.

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