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The Church of the Ascension, Woodlands

This Article was originally written by the rector of The Woodlands Church of Ascension
 (D. J. Paskins) in 2013 as a guide for visitors to the church. 

It has been slightly edited by the webmaster and illustrative pictures added. 


 

The Church of the Ascension, Woodlands, is the only church with this title in the Diocese of Salisbury. It bears witness to the Lord Jesus Christ, risen, ascended and glorified, and yet is a simple, brick built structure with a rather plain exterior, standing as a reminder that he who was exalted to the highest heaven is he who came down to earth from heaven (Ephesians 4.9-10) and was born "in a lowly cattle shed." The architect was G. F. Bodley R.A. He designed great cathedrals in Tasmania and Washington, but knew what was fitting for the little village of Woodlands.

 

The Church was given by Harriet, Countess of Shaftesbury, in memory of her husband, Anthony, the 8th Earl, and was dedicated in 1892. Separating from Horton, the new parish was endowed in 1926, and the church consecrated on June 16th , 1929. Woodlands was part of the Shaftesbury estate until after the Second World War. Most of the inhabitants were employed by the Earl or his tenant farmers. Though plain and humble, this Church of the Ascension has been well-loved and cared for over the years. It offers spiritual peace and a welcome to all who enter. This little church is full of all kinds of interesting things and this text highlights some of them.

 

A tour around the church

The first thing you see on entering is the Font. Here the sacrament of Baptism is celebrated, marking our "coming in" to the church, that is, becoming members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven – hence its position, a reminder to those who have been baptised, and an invitation to those who have not. (The picture -above left - shows the top of the font cover.)

The massive, rugged bowl is of Saxon/Norman origin, and is set on a later base. Tradition has it that it had been in Knowlton Church (now a ruin within the earthworks about two miles west of Woodlands) and was said to have been used by Saint Aldhelm, the first Bishop of Sherborne (d.709) It was found being used as a stepping stone in a brook at Horton -rather appropriate, given that Baptism marks that first step on the Christian's life of pilgrimage, the crossing over from death to life. When the 7 th Earl of Shaftesbury was told this story in 1842 he wrote "If I or my family are ever rich enough to build a church at Woodlands, this stone should be repaired and restored to its holy and original purpose."  It once had a tall, ornate conical cover, designed by Sir Gilbert Scott and was cordoned off when not in use, to emphasis its sacred function.

 

At first the community was served by "priests in charge" as the board behind the font indicates. They only became "Vicar" when the parish was formed. Before the church was built services were held in the school. You can see the "chariot of fire", a symbol of ascension into heaven.

 

The worship offered here may be spoken or silent – when sung it is supported by the organ It was given in the 1990s and came from the redundant Methodist chapel in Martin, just over the border in Hampshire.

Three central columns form arcading down the middle of the nave; as far as is known the only other church built thus is a 14th century church in Hannington, Northants. Many of the hassocks (kneelers) in this part of the church have been lovingly worked and given in memory of loved ones. On the Nave Altar is inscribed the Chi-Rho monogram, formed by the first two Greek letters of "Christ". Again we see the chariot of fire symbol. A modern cross was given by the youth of the village in memory of Beverley Read in 1980.

 

On the walls the Stations of the Cross tell the story of the suffering of the Lord, from his condemnation to his burial. They are the focus of the traditional devotional service held here on Fridays during the season of Lent, in preparation for Easter. They were given in memory of Albert Edward Barker. The scripture texts in Latin along the roof beams celebrate the triumph of the Lord, risen from death and gloriously ascended into heaven – translated they read, along the south side: "O magnify the Lord our God and fall down before his footstool, for he is holy”, (Psalm 99.5); along the north side: “They shall give thanks unto thy name, which is great, wonderful, and holy” (Psalm 99.3)

 The South Nave Window (by Faith Craft Studio) was donated in memory of Noel Knapp and shows St. Paul's and Lincoln Cathedrals, the arms of Hurstpeirpoint College, the insignia of the Guild of the Servants of the Sanctuary, Durham University and Lincoln Theological College. The main window represents the celebration of Mass — the celebrant and server being Fr. Knapp and Noel his son. Charles Frederick Cooper Knapp ministered in this place from 1897 to 1945. Noel was to have been ordained priest, but sadly was killed in a road accident. Beneath the main window are shown men of the village keeping vigil around the bier. 

The Parish Memorial is a large "pieta", the Blessed Virgin mourning her crucified Son, with the names of the fallen inscribed on the oak panelling. The credence table beneath was given by Elfreda Reuter in memory of her sister, Beatrice.

 

The Saint George's Altar was given by the S.Y.A. (Seven Years Association) and was made locally. Five Russian Orthodox icons have been incorporated in the altar front and on it stands an unusual and remarkable Crucifixion group. These items were procured by Fr. Knapp after the First World War, where they had been used by priests ministering on the Russian Front. St. George is Patron Saint of Russia as well as England.

 

Our Lady's Shrine was the gift of the local Mother's Union. The carving was the work of Fr. Knapp. The two brass vases on this altar were part of the gift donated in memory of Beverley Read. The fine oak prayer bench was given in memory of Lt. Col. Dendy. Many people have given chairs in memory of loved ones, including the handsome oak seat commemorating Bert Thorne, churchwarden for many years and a native of Woodlands.

 

The Rood Screen ("rood" is an old word for the Cross) symbolises man's alienation from God, but also the access won for us by Jesus. The way to God is now open. Passing through, notice the unusual choir stalls, made by Anthony Cutler, with curious carvings by F. Gilliat.

 

The South Choir Window (by the Faith Craft Studio) shows Eddi, the priest of Wilfred (in Kipling's poem in "Rewards and Fairies") and St. Isidore, patron Saint of farm workers. (pictured right)

 

 The North Choir Window (by Beyaert of Bruges) shows the archangels Gabriel (who appears in the Book of Daniel and in St. Luke's Gospel) and Raphael (mentioned in the Books of Tobit and Enoch, and associated with the ministry of healing). Between them is St. Cecilia, the early Christian martyr and patron saint of musicians.

 

 The Altar Rails are in memory of Hubert Edmund Thorne who was killed on 20th of December 1954 while serving with the R.A.F. The Sanctus Bell, traditionally rung at the Prayer of Consecration at Holy Communion, was also given in his memory by his mother. The Sanctuary Lamp was given to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

 

 This Sanctuary is the heart of the church. At the Altar is celebrated that Holy Sacrament which is known by a variety of names in Christian tradition, Mass, Holy Communion, Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, the divine Liturgy. Each of these brings out a particular meaning of the rite which Jesus instituted on the night he was betrayed, which we call Maundy Thursday. It is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”, at once a showing forth of his death on Good Friday, a proclamation of his Resurrection at Easter, and a pledge and anticipation of Kingdom come, likened by our Lord to a joyful wedding reception.

 

 The High Altar is at the East end of the church, where the sun rises, for we celebrate the Rising of the Son. The gilded carving reminds us of the saying of Jesus, "I am the true Vine, and you are the branches" (St. John 15) United with him we live, flourish and bear fruit; cut off from him we shrivel and die. The windows (by Burlisson and Grylls) celebrate our fellowship with some local saints through whom the Light shone. From left to right we see St.Wulfhilda, who founded the Priory at Horton; St Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury (d.1099); St. Aldhelm, first Bishop of Sherborne (d.709); St. Birinus (d. 650), called the "apostle of Wessex" in recognition of his work in spreading the Gospel.


Above the Altar is a carving of the Angel of the Lord bearing the tetragrammaton, the four-letter Hebrew name of God, represented in English by YHWH. This name was held so sacred that it was not spoken – coming across it written in the Bible the reader would instead say "the LORD". Over the Altar is a rare hanging pyx, where the consecrated bread and wine are reserved, a sign of the Lord's presence and available to be taken to the sick and housebound as required. The inscription refers to Holy Communion as food for the pilgrim and bread for the God's children. It's possible to see the pelican – said to nourish its young on its own blood, it is an ancient symbol of Jesus giving his life for us.

 

On the South chancel wall is shown his conception of how we might share in the Resurrection at the Last Day. The Latin text on the south side is from Psalm 47: "God is gone up with a merry noise, and the Lord with the sound of the trump." The north side has St. Paul quoting Psalm 68: "When Christ ascended up on high he led captivity captive." The message carved in the Nave Altar reads: "Go forth in Peace."

If you pass through the churchyard, with gravestones and monuments, you  leave via the lych-gate (given by the villagers in memory of Fr. Knapp in 1952). "Lych" is an old word for corpse, and here the coffin is received prior to the funeral service. These things remind us of our mortality, but we put our faith in Jesus, risen, ascended, glorified, and affirm our faith in him "God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son to the end that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life." (St. John 3.16)

 

In the Churchyard can be found an interesting Memorial to two very young children, Winifred Dorothy Froud and Allan Mortimer Froud who died within 10 days of each other after a Horse and Carriage accident at Remedy Gate in 1897. In contrast their sister lived until 2002 when she died aged 104.

 

Rev. D. J. Paskins, Rector.

 

 
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