Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Burton Church

It’s said that no one knew about Burton church until a hunting party came across it by accident, and even today it is not easy to get to because it stands in the private grounds of Burton Park.
But you can walk, and the walk is very lovely. A public footpath starts at the Catholic church in Duncton, just 500 yards away on a ridge with a stunning vista over the park and the Downs beyond.
Burton church dates back to Norman times but was practically rebuilt in 1636, when the war drums were beating in England.
The Gorings of Burton Park were recusants, Catholics who had stayed loyal to Rome, and diehard Royalists to boot. They covered the interior of the church with biblical texts in black letter that amount to political propaganda.
Notable is an extremely rare coat of arms of Charles I, with the motto “Christo auspice regno” (I reign under Christ’s authority) and the text “Obey them that have the Rule over you, heb, 13, 17”. It is amazing they survived the Commonwealth – and in fact the whole church has survived amazingly intact from that period, being spared Georgian ‘improvement’, Victorian ‘restoration’ and even the comprehensive redevelopment of Burton Park into housing about ten years ago.
In fact, the new residents have transformed Burton church from a neglected relic into a thriving congregation.
The original 15th century rood screen is still in place, with its delicate tracery and battlemented top, though the rood or crucifix that would have stood on it has gone. An original bench is kept in the west end, and the Victorian pews incorporate a lot of old linenfold panels.
Several large monuments to the Gorings give the small church a crowded feeling. In the chancel, a little lady barely four feet tall lies beneath a pointed arch with crockets carved on it, a charming memorial. The monument to Sir William Goring, who died in 1553, is a tomb chest with columns supporting a vaulted canopy, with brasses let into the back. Sir William’s brass has gone, but his wife Elizabeth still kneels there, dressed in a tabard covered with her family badges, very unusual for a woman.
On the south side of the nave is the brass to John Goring, who kneels at a prayer desk in his armour. A scroll coming from his mouth reads ‘Delicta juventut meae, et ignorancias meas, ne memineris Domine’, from Psalm 25 v7. The King James bible has it: “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness' sake, O Lord.’
What on earth had the young John Goring got up to?
At the top of the hill, Catholic descendents of the Gorings erected a church in 1866 designed by Gilbert Blount and dedicated to SS Anthony and George, with a presbytry on one side and a school on the other. It was run by Jesuits, who are commemorated with a rather military-looking line of identical gravestones next to the chancel.