Mark Fox continues his look at Island churches by visiting Holy Cross, Binstead.
The medieval church of Holy Cross in Binstead is one of the Island’s hidden gems. Christian worship has taken place on this site for nearly 1,000 years, and it is one of those churches that you can feel the presence of many previous generations of worshippers.
It is located between the centre of the village and the coast. Now it is surrounded by houses and a golf course, but once it would have stood in an open space on high ground dominating its surroundings.
The church would have served the local community which then would have been focussed on the local quarries, and it is of that local stone that the church is built.
Originally it consisted of nave and chancel. In the 13th and again in the 18th centuries remodelling and enlargement took place. At the latter time a porch was added. Above the archway of the porch is a small carving of a bird and cross symbolising the Holy Spirit. The changes culminated in 1844 when the nave was pulled down and rebuilt.
Inside the church feels warm and welcoming, and it is immaculately kept. Around the walls are memorials of various kinds and some fine stained glass. In the north aisle are two windows of particular note by Gabriel Loire of Chartres. There are also windows by Lawrence Lee, and it is good to see important restoration work being carried out.
The wooden altar dates from the 16th or 17th century and has some notable carving. The wooden panelling around the chancel is also very fine and dates from 1932 when it was brought from Winchester College Chapel.
The pews, a much later addition, tend to add a slightly cluttered feel, and with a church of this age it is important to try and imagine the interior without them. In that way you can gain a much better sense of the openness of the space.
In the belfry hangs an ancient bell inscribed in black letter ‘Sancta Maria ora pro nobis,’ which local legend suggests came from the old monastery at Quarr.
Outside a Sheela Na Gig, locally known as the ‘Saxon Idol’, is carved on a stone gateway to the churchyard. This is the old Norman arch of the old doorway to the original Norman chancel.
On the churchyard in general I have to agree with Pevsner, who says: ‘[It] has been cleared of most of its tombstones, a deplorable practice in a place with a tradition of stone carving.’ However to note is the headstone of Thomas Sivell, a ferryman shot in 1776 in the mistaken belief that he was a smuggler. Also resting a little way off are all four of my grandparents. All lived to great ages and unlike their neighbour were never mistaken for anything other than models of respectability!
Here I must end with a confession. I know this church well as generations of my family have worshipped in it. The church is a living reminder that those who worship there today are merely custodians of a long and vital thread of life at the heart of the community. The church is well worth a visit.