Friday, 1 June 2012

St Mary - Sporle

© Godric Godricson
Sporle is a Church that has been locked every time that I visit over the past few years. Now, the clergy will often say that “We’re open on Sunday!” and they’ll often say that in a prickly and reproachful sense. Sporle is a sort of affront to the idea of the Church of England being the Established Church in England. The building is locked and unwelcoming. The building and the Church Authorities have clearly turned their back on the people and on visitors. Shame on them.

A Church that I visit on the Isle of Wight had bottles of water and fruit drink available for visitors with clean cups to drink from and the sense of welcome was palpable. On the Isle of Wight it was clear that the Church Authorities wanted you to be there. They actually wanted to welcome the pilgrim and the visitor. Regrettably, Sporle does not bear witness to any welcome at all. Yes, you can visit a neighbouring property and request a key although that seems a little weak as a welcome. Who wants to trouble a local person for a key?

This lack of a welcome is more to do with the building of the Church and religious observance. The graveyard, however, also says something about the welcome given to the visitor and the genealogist. The graveyard as a place of monuments and a cultic place of ancestor worship is a disaster from the 1970’s and Sporle speaks of the vandalism of the Church Authorities who swept away headstones and monuments to the far reaches of the site. The idea was doubtless to create a  mowing platform for the municipal tractor. This disregard of history and antiquity is a real indictment against Parish Authorities who treat their own land and resource with such cavalier disregard.

As a result the graveyard at Sporle is a complete disaster with little to commend it to the visitor. The largely Victorian monuments are crushed against the perimeter and constrained to the fullest extent. Their message is diminished and the names of the dead are covered by the ivy and neglect. The site of the ancient priory is neglected and I almost fear what I’d see on the inside if the doors were ever open.

Sporle demands that we reconsider whether or not the Church of England is a fit and proper Authority to manage the history and cultural assists of England. Perhaps we should copy the French experience and take away the buildings from the denomination and allow the Church the use of the site for acts of worship. This arrangement would at least save the buildings and graveyards from cultural vandalism.

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