St. Martin's Church Building
The current church building, built in around 1090, is listed by English Heritage as Grade II*, one of only 6 per cent of the most architecturally significant buildings in the country. As we see it today, it has probably changed relatively little since Norman times, as the ‘crusader crosses’ incised on the door way indicate. These crosses were carved into the stonework of churches by knights giving thanks for their return from a crusade, and to blunt their swords to symbolise their adoption of a new, peaceful, life. The roof line may have been altered somewhat in the 17th Century, when the false ceiling over the Nave may have been put in; the last repairs, in 1997, and which cost £35,000, saw the replacement of some of the coping stones which were the original Caen stone. Hasted’s description of the church, published in 1800, describes the church as having no tower or steeple, but a drawing in 1807 shows it as present; this addition probably necessitated the construction of the buttress against the end wall of the nave, which contains the original Norman windows, although these have been filled in, perhaps at the same time. In the Victorian period the interior of the church was re-ordered - the arch that screened the chancel was removed, leaving only vestigial traces of the arch, and the pews, wooden rood screen and reredos added. The stained glass windows in the chancel date from that time; the lower two show St Martin as Archbishop and Soldier, and were made by the firm of Worral & Co, costing £11 in 1887. Worral’s, formerly Saunders & Co, made the windows for many other churches including Cork Cathedral and Studley Royal.
The church is of a classic, two-cell form, and apart from the alterations to the west wall noted in the History, the enlargement of the nave windows in perhaps the later 12th Century, the addition of a vestry and porch in perhaps the 13th Century, and then the more recent additions such as the bell tower, the pews and the new font, has survived much as it was built, around 1090, about 25 years after the Battle of Hastings. This lack of change is no doubt due to the fact that its patrons, firstly the Monastic Orders and then the Archbishops of Canterbury, all had greater things on their minds that the embellishment of the little chapel in Guston.
As we see it now, it contains all the essential features common to even the greater churches and Cathedrals – a nave, a chancel, pews, a pulpit, font, vestry, porch, an altar at the east end and so on. The lay-out is typically shaped by Anglican worship, with the pulpit next to the chancel, a result of the emphasis on the sermon within Sunday worship, but it also has the typically Anglican altar rail so that communion can be taken kneeling – a Nonconformist chapel would have had an altar table surrounded by seating, such as can be seen at Langley Chapel, in Shropshire. The emphasis on the congregation participating in the Eucharist, which led in Roman Catholic churches such as those designed by Pugin – St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham is a prime example – to the chancel screen being removed, also finds its echo here in Guston, where originally the view of the chancel from the nave would have been much restricted by the arch, of which only the traces remain.
As mentioned in the History, the roof has been subject to extensive repairs in the past few years, and the vestry floor also needed urgent repair when it started to collapse because of rot in the floorboards. The path and steps have been repaired to improve safety, and the west wall has been re-pointed in places to try to reduce damp seeping into the church. The next phase of work will seek to repair the stained glass and window protective grilles, and to improve disabled access from the road, although these two tasks are likely to take some time since they will require architectural specifications, tenders, Diocesan approval and also not a little fund-raising!
Perhaps the outstanding features however, are the main doorway and also the original Norman windows in the Chancel behind the altar, which are of particular note. In the Middle Ages, the Church would have been decorated by wall paintings, now obscured by the cement rendering but probably first vandalised during the Protestant zeal of the Reformation. At the same time the statues to Our Lady and St Martin in the chancel and St Nicholas and St Roke, probably in the nave, each with their votive candles and recorded in the 1531 Will of Edward Prescott, would also have been stripped from the Church. In the south wall of the Chancel is an alcove, which might have been the sepulchre and perhaps earlier a door to the chancel for use by the priest and monks when the nave was used by the laity as the parish church. St Roke, or Roch, is a French Saint who, during the Middle Ages, developed a following as a result of his care for those ill from the plague. When he fell ill himself, he isolated himself in a forest, where a dog found him and brought him food each day from its master's table. Statues of St Roch, always with his faithful dog, can still be found in many French churches.
In the photographs link, some impression of the church can be had. Due the large size of some of the images, they may take a little while to load, so please be patient as you make your ‘virtual tour’. Thank you.