A perfect little Saxon church, not hidden away in the depths of the countryside as you might imagine, but in Bengeo on the outskirts of Hertford, the county town of Hertfordshire, just twenty miles from central London. Of course it's seen a few changes in a thousand years but the basic plan and construction are as near to the original church as any you'll see.
On the doorpost as you enter you may notice this odd little circle scratched into the stone work. It's not just the work of idle hands waiting for the church to open though. In the centre there used to be a spike which cast a shadow on to the stone, like a sun dial. It's a medieval Mass Dial, the radial scratches indicating the time of the next mass - an essential thing in days when no one had watches.
The door posts themselves are thought to be Saxon survivals, but the door itself is "newer", dating from the fourteenth century!
Inside everything is as plain and simple as can be. At one time box pews were in place though these were a later addition as in the early church everyone was expected to stand for services. The chairs, covered by plastic sheets, are strictly for our soft modern society, for the church is still used for some services and also weddings and occasional concerts - the acoustics are said to be very good. There is however a larger modern church nearby which is the main church in the parish.
Aha! Longtime readers of this blog will be saying, "That looks like a medieval wall painting, whitewashed over in the seventeenth century and recently re-discovered". And they would be dead right. There were other paintings too which are badly faded and as I was examining one, trying to make sense of the faint outlines, a gentleman acting as a steward to show people around the building, produced a watercolour painting done at the time when these works were uncovered. It showed how much detail had been lost forever.
He also drew my attention to the crudely carved face on one side of the chancel arch. Its purpose now lost in the mists of time.
The chancel arch may also be from the Saxon period. The work might appear rather rough-hewn and basic - but it's still standing after 1,000-odd years!
The piscina (where the communion vessels are washed) dates from the 12th or 13th century.
The tiny stained-glass window in the chancel is however the work of the Victorian restorers. At that time the church was neglected and semi-ruinous and it was only through the efforts of a family living nearby that the church was saved. Luckily though funds were limited so, although the building was saved, much of the church was unaltered.
I left the church to continue my walk (more of that net time) but there's time to show you a couple of random shots, also taken in Hertford, later in the day as I walked to get my train.
The gentleman depicted above is the Rev Samuel Stone who was born in Hertford and went on to become the co-founder of Hartford, Connecticut.
And standing nearby is what's called "The Old Verger's House" which is thought to be the oldest domestic building in the town. It dates from around 1450.