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St Mary, Mundon


blocked south transept arch Mundon: Now and in England blocked south doorway
Mundon SEWN Mundon

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  I had not returned to Mundon for nearly four years, but I had often thought of it, and wondered how things were there. And one day in Holy Week 2017 I decided to go back. I cycled out from Chelmsford to Maldon, and then onwards, down a tiny lane running off at a crossroads on the road between Maldon and Latchingdon. A sign warned me, as before, that this lane has a dead end, and that it is very narrow. And after half a mile I left it for a narrower lane which heads off to the hall, high hedged and just about wide enough for two cars to pass, as long as they breathed in. The lane runs for a mile, and then I was directed for about a quarter of a mile down a dirt track towards my goal.

Despite my four years absence, the west end is so familiar from photographs there is again a little shock of recognition. The half timbered belfry curves around the little red brick building. The tiny churchyard is surrounded by woodland. There is silence apart from the early spring birdsong. Utterly rustic, entirely vernacular.

St Mary is a long, little church, if that makes sense. It is always open, and you step into darkness - obviously, there is no electricity - and the western quarter of the building is a simple crooked wooden structure, an aisled bell chamber. Then you step through a low arch into a Norman church with late 18th Century furnishings. Sounds idyllic, doesn't it? And it is.

The church was shattered by a stray V1 in 1944, patched up in the late 1940s and then abandoned by the parish. By the 1960s it was roofless and overgrown. In 1970, the Diocese obtained a demolition order to get rid of it. And then in 1973 the Friends of Friendless Churches obtained the lease. There was a restoration lasting three years at the hands of Laurence King. The Courtauld Institute rescued and stabilised the wall paintings which include trompe-l'œil decalogue boards. The furnishings were repaired and restored. The east wall had to be rebuilt, and the wooden bell chamber is entirely unconnected to the rest of the church, because they move at different rates.

This is a place where prayer has been valid, a place to be still and know. It is one of the loveliest small churches I have visited in England. It always makes me think of T S Eliot's Little Gidding from The Four Quartets:

If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.

Simon Knott, May 2017

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Behold the Lamb of God looking west
looking east Behold the Lamb of God looking west
this is the Lord, thy redeemer font seek ye the Lord while ye may
Trompe-l'il Our Father wall painting Please leave the cross here so that others can focus on prayer Trompe-l'il Creed wall painting

the Mundon dead Powell grave slab of the Parsonage Farm, Mundon
cast iron gravemarkers winged hour glass with crossed bones cast iron gravemarker
cast iron gravemarkers cast iron gravemarker cast iron gravemarkers

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