Wednesday, 30 July 2014

St James, Birdham

Sometimes it is the modern stuff that gives the greatest pleasure even in an ancient church.
St James is a plain church and it was very badly treated by the Victorians who swept the old chancel, the galleries and the three-decker pulpit away and cleaned all the stone so brutally there is very little character left. The big 15th century tower is almost the only interesting feature now.
But take a look at the east window. It was installed in 1978 when parishioner David Graham-Wood became Master of the Worshipful Company of Glaziers, a City livery company. It was designed by Michael Farrar-Bell.
The main action takes place on a fishing boat where Jesus is calling James and John to be disciples. Their father Zebedee is at the tiller.
In Mark's gospel, of course, this takes place on the Sea of Galilee, but behind the boat rise Chichester Cathedral and the South Downs. Yachts scud over the waves, a tractor ploughs and a combine reaps. Above fly local geese, duck and other birds not usually seen in the Holy Land. Hanging in the nave is an embroidery designed by Yvonne Hudson and made in 1984, depicting the lives of local saints. St Cuthman is shown arriving at Steyning pushing his mother in a barrow. St Wilfred teaches the men of Selsey how to fish with nets, and St Dunstan tweaks the devil's nose with a pair of tongs. St Thomas a Becket is shown visiting Pagham, where he owned land, and St Richard of Chichester tends figs, which he did while he waited for the stubborn and greedy Henry III to confirm his appointment as Bishop.
Even the war memorial over the north door is particularly touching. Many of the names come in pairs, a reminder that war can take a whole generation of a family.