The Isle of Wight Society

December 2018

Traditional Christmas

Sarah Burdett

For a memorable experience walk along to your local Church for their Christmas carol service or Christmas Eve service.  Hopefully it will be dry, perhaps crisp and even, and so peaceful.

The windows of the church will shine out in the darkness.  Glorious colours may greet you.  Think of the people who have walked that way before you, over perhaps hundreds of years.  You are following a tradition.

On the Island we have over sixty churches just in the Church of England denomination alone.  Each of those churches has to be maintained, which can be a nightmare with dwindling congregations.  Luckily many of our Island churches are Listed Grade 1, and therefore can apply for, and often receive, Heritage Lottery grants.  Our Island population equates to the town of Woking, where there are just 4 churches to be maintained.  

We have so many churches because we have had small rural communities for so long.  Strips across the Island from north to south were the first parishes, taking in the clay lands to the north, the chalk hills and the more productive land in the middle.  Gradually the parishes became smaller as new churches were built by benefactors, so that the local people would not have to walk many miles to attend church.  However, Newchurch parish still included Ryde and Ventnor until 1866.  

Those looking after the older churches have often found that the stonework around the windows has begun to decay.  This is when the stonemasons have to carve new stone work, fitting it carefully to match the old window frames.

During the day we see the light flooding into the churches, often through richly coloured Victorian glass. While the stone work has been repaired many of these windows have been lovingly repaired and re-leaded to give them a new lease of life.  This has happened here at the Newport Minster Chapel, where Queen Victoria gave a new memorial to Princess Elizabeth who died at Carisbrooke castle, the young daughter of King Charles Ist.

Look at the churches at night this year.  See light shining out through the stained glass.  Let yourself feel part of a tradition stretching back hundreds of years.

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Isle of Wight Society
East Cowes Heritage Centre, 8 Clarence Road
East Cowes, PO32 6EP

Tel: +44 (0) 1983 280310

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