I am largely recovered now, save for my stoma and weariness at the end of the day, and grateful to be back. And so we have our first jaunt away - to a cottage on Exmoor. Where I visited this little church, part of the old Eggesford estates of the Chichester family, the unlikely Earls of Donegal (of whom the sailor Francis Chichester was a descendant). The church sits in open parkland above the Taw, but despite its fine position it was not a building that had much appeal. It is chiefly an unremarkable mid-Victorian restoration, with an interior that would be dull and dowdy were it not for the elaborate and disproportionately large memorials.
The scene-stealer - partly because it confronts you on entering by the north door - commemorates the Earl and his two wives and seven children: all nine predeceased him. There is thus a poignancy here, though you have to look hard through the grandiloquence to see it. But to be fair, the sculptor has caught some of that poignancy in his detailing.
Diagonally across the chancel is the Earl's tomb for his parents, laid side-by-side in the time-worn fashion. This monument is equal in grandiloquence to the first, and its epitaphs fulsome in the praise of this early coloniser of unhappy Ireland. A third bleakly classical monument (unfinished? cannibalised?) to a later owner of the estate completes the trinity.
I can think of few things more painful than the death of a child, which seems outrageously against the natural order. Earlier generations, you might think, were accustomed to it, but I doubt it was ever less painful. But there is a particular sadness in these aristocratic attempts to hold on to the dead, who for all their nobility and riches remain just as dead, and the Earl presumably still as forlorn. But after five hundred years it is difficult to see these displays of grief and dynastic pride as anything other than ostentatious. Vainglory and lots of money have somehow overwhelmed natural feeling. I would suggest a simple test , if we could ever learn the answer - did the tenantry in Devon and Donegal mourn their landlords' passing?
Hoskins thought these monuments the finest of their kind in Devon., but this is not a church that speaks of much spirituality: it feels coldly unloved. And high on the hill above the church is the decayed ruin of the great house.